Shakespeare said, “All the world’s a stage, and (we are) merely players.” BIRDMAN takes this quote literally. MICHAEL KEATON’s character has lost himself in the imaginary world he’s performed in for decades. Reality melds with fantasy, until he (and we) don’t know what’s real anymore.
BIRDMAN is a surreal trip. Experiencing this strange tale is more like dreaming than watching a movie. Keaton battles his sanity while he prepares a play that could turn his career around. I’m talking about his character there, not the real deal. He juggles his directing and starring duties (in a RAYMOND CARVER stage-play) with his real life relationships. I’ll get into clearly marked spoilers later on.
EMMA STONE plays Keaton’s daughter – a woman trying to kick her addictions to the curb while she helps her father prepare for Opening Night as his assistant. Stone earned a nomination for her acting here. It will be interesting to watch this movie again. By the end, it seems like there might be more going on here under the surface. Stone weighs heavily on the finale AND thus our interpretation. Was this movie really about her?
ED NORTON plays Keaton’s co-star in the stage production. His Award nominated role largely pokes a finger at Hollywood and behind-the-scenes politics. He also laughs at himself, and the rumours of his method acting and demanding real life personality. Satire is most clear when Norton is on the screen. He makes a worthy adversary for Keaton. At one point, Norton says he’s only “real” when he’s on stage. Does this comment on how Keaton experiences the world? Does this moment help decipher the ambiguous ending?
BIRDMAN gets a lot of attention for its gimmicks. First, there is the obvious stunt casting of Keaton and his relation to BATMAN. His character here is known for BIRDMAN. Make sense? What may seem like a distraction actually further informs our experience here.
The second gimmick is the seemingly uninterrupted camera work. The whole film feels like one extended steadicam shot following Keaton around. It’s nothing new, as we saw in SILENT HOUSE (starring Elizabeth Olsen & also a remake of the Spanish film). Maybe Inarritu watched the original Spanish version? Like the American HOUSE, the editing cheats in BIRDMAN are well hidden except for a few notable standouts.
There isn’t much of a PLOT to follow in this ACADEMY AWARD winning Best Picture. The enjoyment from the writing comes from character and relationships. We get drenched in style so you will never be bored watching BIRDMAN. But you probably WILL wonder what the heck just happened by the end.
Which leads us to SPOILER territory… What does that ambiguous and hallicunatory ending actually mean? Well, the good news… it’s up to you. Everyone gets their own personal movie here. I love it when a film does this. It encourages discussion, but also sparks our own creativity. My theory or interpretation isn’t set in stone. I still have a few directions the ending goes. But like INCEPTION you have to pick one theory over the other. I’d be very curious to know what YOU think. Drop me a line in the COMMENTS section below.
Now onto my nerdy little dissection on the finale. What does that strange and curious ending mean?
First, some context… There are a few obvious moments when the camera doesn’t follow Keaton. This moment must have happened earlier, before the events of the movie, or they take place in some sort of dream-world OR are part of a long line of hallucinations. I’m talking about the flaming meteor crashing into the ocean. And the washed up jellyfish on the beach. When / How did this happen? And why?
Next… A madman (or one of the few truly wise people in the world) screams at the world as Keaton passes by. He yells, “All sound and fury signifying nothing.” It’s a famous quote that I can’t quite place the speaker. He was wise. Probably had a long white beard. 😉 For me, this signifies man’s mortality and senselessness of life. This quote also ties in nicely with BIRDMAN’s sub-title THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE. For me this refers to the ignorance of your own mortality.
Ignorance is bliss… Knowledge is blisters…The sort of knowledge that might drive a stage actor (fighting type-casting as a superhero) crazy. IF indeed this IS what happened (?)
BLAM… That was a real gun. Not a prop. And here begins the deconstruction of the finale… For me, Keaton did NOT shoot himself in the nose. He shot himself in the head. At the end, he doesn’t have a new nose via plastic surgery. He doesn’t talk with his daughter. In my interpretation, Keaton is in a coma, dying from the gunshot wound to the head. Stone pulls the plug (or approves of it) and Keaton dies. His soul is free… as a bird. We experience Stone’s point-of-view (another fractured psyche, it’s hereditary) as she watches her father’s soul soar away. That scene was either Keaton hearing her words in his coma, or it was entirely in Stone’s mind / hallucinatory world (like several moments in Keaton’s world we saw earlier – like the cab drive / flight).
Option 2: To rationalize superpowers (is that an oxymoron?)… The meteor crashed into ocean. It’s infused with strange properties. Like magic strange. Sealife gets infected / powered up. Now earlier, Keaton said he had a dream where he was stung by jellyfish. Was that real? Was he stung by super jellyfish. Did he turn into a superhero with telekenetic abilities and flight thanks to their shocking stings? Either interpretation is just as weird, I suppose. For me, I like the idea of the ending & his powers being a metaphor for madness.
A surreal trip. Dream-like. With strong performances. But style takes over. The illusion of the movie being one extended camera shot helps this film feel fresh. There is a lot to enjoy from the aesthetics alone. I appreciate that there’s an ambiguous ending begging for post-film discussion. While I enjoyed the film and believe it’s Top 10 caliber, I don’t feel like it warrants the Best Picture OSCAR.
All the world‘s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages.
What do you think?
How did you interpret this movie and its final scene? Does the Shakespeare quote help?
Was Keaton deserving of an Oscar? Was the movie?
Did you think Stone & Norton delivered some of the top performances of the year? Or were they just guilty by association?
I’d like to see Stone explore more dramatic options in the future. What about you?
I can’t wait to see if Keaton does BEETLEJUICE 2. Or is this another example of the type-casting that BIRDMAN explores?