Birdman (2014): Alejandro González Iñárritu's Oscar-winning film featuring a tour de force from Michael Keaton

A meditation on the meaning of art, success and failure, life and death, and human existence

Birdman, Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, Movie Poster, starring Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, Zach Galifianakis
Birdman (2014) - By Alejandro González Iñárritu
Our Rating: 9.0
IMDb Ratings: 8.1
Genre: Comedy | Drama
CastMichael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton
Country: USA
Language: English
Runtime: 119 min
Color: Color

Summary: A washed-up actor, who once played an iconic superhero, battles his ego and attempts to recover his family, his career and himself in the days leading up to the opening of his Broadway play.

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is a 2014 Oscar-winning drama film co-written and directed by Mexican filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu whose previous assignments include Babel, 21 Grams, and Biutiful. The movie stars Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, and Zach Galifianakis in major roles. Birdman is a departure from the contemporary style of filmmaking. Iñárritu devises a technique (perhaps, taking a leaf out of Alfred Hitchcock's Rope) that gives an illusion as if the entire film were shot in a single extended take. Birdman's strong albeit bizarre dialogue and impeccable slapstick timing on one hand hark back to the works of the American screenwriter and playwright David Mamet, particularly Glengarry Glen Ross, while on the other, it strongly reminds of the films like Barton Fink and The Player in that it deglamorizes Hollywood while exposing its hypocrisies in a rather tongue-in-cheek manner.

Michael Keaton as Riggan Thomas and Edward Norton as Mike Shiner in Birdman, Directed by Mexican filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu, Oscar-winning film
Michael Keaton (left) and Edward Norton in Birdman
Birdman tells the story of Riggan Thomson—a washed up Hollywood actor, essayed by Michael Keaton, once famous for playing an iconic superhero called "Birdman"—as he battles both his inner demons and outer foes in a desperate attempt to reinvent himself as a Broadway director by staging a new adaptation of a Raymond Carver short story called "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love". But, there is more to Riggan than meets the eye. Is he a tormented artist so committed to his art that he goes to the point of living his act? Or, is he a paranoid schizophrenic with suicidal tendencies? It is this dichotomy associated with Riggan that gives Birdman its true meaning and impetus. At the 87th Academy Awards, Birdman won in four of the nine categories it was nominated including the Best Picture and Best Direction, edging past critics’ favorite BoyhoodPatricia Arquette bagged the solitary Oscar for the Best Supporting Actress.

Emma Stone as Sam Thomson and Edward Norton as Mike Shiner in Birdman, Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, Oscar-winning film
Emma Stone (left) and Edward Norton in Birdman
Birdman offers a nice blend of realism, surrealism and magic realism—à la Gabriel García Márquez. The movie has a strong undercurrent of dark humor but that doesn’t stop Iñárritu from posing several serious questions about the meaning of art, success and failure, life and death, and human existence. Birdman doesn't feed any definitive answers but rather allows the viewers to engage at their own intellectual planes. Birdman exalts artists, celebrating their commitment and dedication to art, while it belittles critics, deeming them incompetent to judge artistic works. While Birdman is best seen as a parody on the comic book superhero films that Hollywood churns out year in and year out, there’s no denying that Birdman is a significant superhero film in itself. Perhaps to exaggerate the effect (although Iñárritu hasn’t acknowledged it publicly whether it’s deliberate or not), almost all the major actors cast in the movie have, at one point or the other, been associated with a superhero flick: be it Michael Keaton (Batman), Edward Norton (The Incredible Hulk), or Emma Stone (The Amazing Spider-Man). Given the Academy’s lack of regard for the superhero genre, Birdman’s Best Picture win at this year’s Oscars is truly historic.

Michael Keaton as Riggan Thomas in Birdman (2014), Birdman's voice talking to Riggan, Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, Oscar-winning film
A Still from Alejandro González Iñárritu's Birdman
Overall, Birdman is a formidable work of cinematic art that’s highly entertaining as well as deeply though-provoking. The innovative techniques employed during its filming make it an essential viewing for every student of cinema. Birdman is brilliant on the technical front: be it Iñárritu’s innovative direction or Emmanuel Lubezki’s Oscar-winning cinematography. While the entire cast puts up a brilliant show, Michael Keaton and Edward Norton deserve special mention for their sublime performances. For Norton, Birdman marks a return to form. As to Keaton, he delivers a performance so emphatic and complete that it can be easily described as the performance of the decade. One wonders what kept him from unleashing himself on the celluloid all these years. It’s a pity that Keaton missed out on a well-deserved Oscar win. Alas, the Academy seldom fails to disappoint! An important facet of Birdman that this critic would like to throw light is its ending. Iñárritu makes a creative choice by choosing an ending that’s open to interpretation—one that a thinking viewer would truly appreciate. A must watch!

(This review was first published at mad about moviez)

Readers, please feel free to share your views/opinions by leaving your comments in the box below. As always your feedback is highly appreciated!  


Birdman (2014) Trailer (YouTube)

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  1. What's your take on the ending? Does Sam's (Emma Stone) smile tells us something? or is it just a splendid moment of magical realism that doesn't need to have any specific explanation?

    1. Well, Arun, my guess is as good as yours! And, frankly speaking, I don't really care... as a cineaste, I was left thrilled and excited and that's just what I expect from a movie like Birdman. As far as I am concerned, the real and the surreal are not that far away but then again there are not really the same... that's the whole beauty of it.

      Please do share your interpretation of the same...

  2. I felt the same as you. I was more enamored by the proceedings rather than interpreting what each thing meant. It's like the third act of 2001 space odyssey. We shouldn't look for a comprehensible theory. However, to delve deeply into the film's subtext, we definitely have to experience it more times.

    1. I couldn't have agreed more... I have already watched it twice and it has only grow on me... some of the scenes featuring Keaton are just pure gold!


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