Film #171: Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014)

birdmanDirector: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Language: English
Length: 119 minutes
Watched: 30 November 2015

I was feeling in a filmy mood on the day I went to this movie, and I went to a double-bill of it and the next film at the Waseda Shochiku cinema near Takadanobaba, a small cinema that specializes in double-bills of rereleased stuff. Birdman had won an Oscar in February 2015, for Best Picture of 2014, and while I’m not one to give much consideration to such things, I still feel like I haven’t seen quite enough Oscar-winning films. Perhaps I should watch the more recent 2015 winner, but I’m not actually sure what it is – given that I actually researched it the other day, that shows how much I pay attention!

Anyway, Birdman starts with magical realism in the opening shot. The title character is Riggan, played by Michael Keaton, a washed-up actor who is best known for his role as the thinly-veiled Batman knockoff twenty years ago. The film follows him, apparently hearing voices that tell him to smash things with his magic powers or something, during the days of rehearsal before a big performance of a play.

It’s notable in that 90% of the movie appears to be a single take, with a camera practically swimming through the tiny halls of the New York theatre keeping up with all the action. Unlike movies such as Russian Ark, it’s obvious enough that it’s not really a single take, but stitched together with CGI, but still, that with the smallness of the space in which the movie takes place creates a claustrophobic atmosphere right from the very beginning.

Artistically, the movie is pretty sound. On a simplistic level, the play-within-the-film reflects the moods and feelings of the characters on the several different occasions that the same scene is acted out, although there seem to be several levels to this, that if I wanted to unpick, I’d have to watch the film again to try and understand a deeper level.

However, I’m not sure if I’m interested in watching the movie again. Plotwise, although definitely more unpredictable than most, it didn’t capture my heart like some other movies might have, and I found a lot of the characters to be assholes, including the main character, and his nemesis in Edward Norton’s character. The magical realism stuff was definitely incongruous with the rest of the movie, even though it is present literally from the opening shot, and stories of mental illness like this one can be told without recourse to magical realism, so I found it unnecessary.

The performances were good, certainly, and a stand-out moment for me was an angry soliloquy from Emma Stone as she rants at her father, visually also striking as it’s to a bright red (or yellow – I think my memory’s playing tricks on me). In the sense that I’m tempted to use the word “soliloquy”, the film definitely, and aptly, has a theatrical sensibility in the way it, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it would be well suited to the theatre in itself.

So basically, although it’s not necessarily the movie I’d choose to go and see, it was good, and I felt enriched by the experience. Was it Best Movie-worthy? I think that depends on what it was up against. But certainly it is artistically literate.


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