Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2014
Riggan Thompson (Michael Keaton) goes to Broadway.
The actor Riggan Thompson wants to prove he’s more than Birdman. He decides to adapt, direct and star in Ray Carver’s What we talk about when we talk about love.
This is my chance to do some work that actually means something.
The rehearsals are mediocre. Thompson wants to stop everything, especially after Ralph (Jeremy Shamos) gets injured on the set. His friend and producer Jake (Zach Galifianakis) boosts his ego just enough to keep the boat afloat. The talented Mike Shiner (Edward Norton) unexpectedly gets on board thanks to his girlfriend Lesley (Naomi Watts), giving some fresh air but also some stress to Riggan.
Thompson needs to deal with the journalists who do not really care for what he’s trying to accomplish. He deals with her moody daughter Sam (Emma Stone) who’s only obsessed with social media. He deals with his mistresses Laura (Andrea Riseborough) and her changing mood. Finally he deals with the New York critic Tabitha Dickinson (Lindsay Duncan) who promises him to destroy the play.
Eventually, Riggan makes it to the opening night, which goes beyond expectations. Riggan is exhausted though. He does not realize what’s going on and attempts to commit suicide on stage during the last act.
The play was a triumph. Even Dickinson had to admit it. The next morning Riggan wakes up with a new nose. He made it. Everyone talks about him as a brilliant actor. He opens the window to look at the sky and decide to jump.
Sam gets back in the room but can’t find her dad. She first looks down, worried. Then, she looks up, happy.
Birdman is about a performance.
Riggan is an old actor who thinks he looks like turkey with leukemia. This is probably his last battle. What he’s trying to achieve is to prove to the world – and himself – that he’s a true actor. He’s been haunted his whole life by the character of Birdman, like Mark Hamill has been reduced to a Jedi. Carver was the reason why Riggan wanted to become an actor in the first place. That’s why he wants to step on stage. He wants to pay a tribute to his mentor in a way that will make him remembered for ever as a true artist. For that he will need to show you can come from Hollywood and succeed in New York. He will have to reconcile both worlds. This is not going to be easy.
This is the theater.
Broadway is a very political place. You don’t show up without permission. And above all you have to be nice to the right people.
You don’t get to come in here pretend you can write, direct and act your own propaganda piece without coming to me first.
In this environment, the artists have to take all the risks, unlike the critics who hide behind their Martinis or the audience who hide behind their Twitter accounts. The artists step on stage, every night, and give everything they have. They are exposed.
Carver left a piece of his liver on the table every time he wrote a fucking page.
Riggan has to be a captain that takes his ship at destination. And the journey is shaky. He’s like a CEO who needs to manage different teams and egos. He has to handle everyone’s anxiety, on top of his own emotions. The ship is very fragile. Everyone gets very emotional and dramatic. It’s normal, they’re actors. They have to be sensitive. Shiner can’t get it up unless he feels it’s real! Those guys fight everyday not to get trapped in their own head, like Riggan who keeps hearing the voice of Birdman. Even though Lesley made it to Broadway, she’s not reassured. Laura can’t have a baby. Mike can only be himself on stage, anywhere else he acts.
Everyone seems to think it’s easy for Riggan but he’s being laughed at by the journalists, disrespected by Mike and not even taken seriously by his own audience.
Hey, is this for real or are you shooting a film?
The audience is everything for the actors. They live to please.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved on the earth.
No wonder Riggan feels like he doesn’t exist!
I’m nothing. I’m not even here.
He’s being caught between an audience that asks for Birdman 4 and the critics who deny him to live his dream. He’s a prisoner of two kind of people who make him and want two different things.
Riggan is a romantic. That’s why he’s able to transcend himself and be a great actor. He’s an ego maniac for sure, but he cares for what he does. He cares about the meaning. He will be able to kill himself without disappearing. He’s done it! Riggan’s performance is to reconcile both worlds. He proved it was possible. Now is time for him to leave, with class. Riggan didn’t hit the ground, he went up to the sky. He leaves a smile on Sam’s face.
Can artists come back from Hollywood? Can artists escape from Broadway? Is it possible to produce outstanding art that is also popular?
This publication reflects the views only of the author.