Birdman toys with cognitive twists: Keaton’s character haunted by his past in comedy, drama

Danny Fookson, columnist

I left Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) feeling like I had just witnessed my first poetry slam. An eccentric drum beat gave rhythm to the film as Michael Keaton, Ed Norton, Emma Stone, Zach Galifianakis and Naomi Watts delivered poetic monologues, accenting the artistry of this ahead-of-its-time film. This movie may seem off putting so far, but the underlying message can resonate with all of us.

The movie centers around Riggan Thomson (played by Michael Keaton), a washed-out actor once famous for his role as the iconic action hero, Birdman. In an attempt to revitalize his career, Thomson decides to write, direct and act in a book adaptation set for Broadway. Unfortunately, Thomson’s dreams are undermined as the entire production, and his own life, crumbles beneath his feet.

The first scene begins with a shot of Thomson in his theater dressing room, floating cross-legged. We hear the dominating voice of Birdman taunting Thomson’s place in entertainment. This surreal feeling is present throughout the entire film. As opposed to multiple camera shots that cut in between characters and scenes, the entire film flows together as if the entire story takes place in real time. This innovative camera work, making the film seem as if it runs in one shot, is thanks to Director Alejandro González Iñárritu and Emmanuel Lubezki, Director of Photography.

These strange but interesting parts of the film left me wondering, to say the least. I expected to see a plot-heavy movie that was driven by great acting. Although the plot is powerful and the acting is fantastic, Birdman is an experimental masterpiece that shatters the pattern of typical Hollywood dramas. We get a nonlinear story that intertwines the realities of Thomson’s life with his psychotic visions through Birdman.

There’s a point in the film, though, when Thomson is brought back to reality by his rebellious, fed-up daughter Sam (played by Emma Stone). As Thomson begins to fail under pressure, he reaches out to his daughter, who is also his assistant, to work harder to make his production a success.

Sam lashes out, saying, “Let’s face it, dad. You are not doing this for the sake of art. You are doing this because you want to feel relevant again…. You’re doing this because you’re scared to death, like the rest of us, that you don’t matter. And you know what? You’re right. You don’t.”

This moment of truth captures the essence of the entire film. All that Thomson really wants is to feel relevant. In fact, all of the characters in the movie are fighting to feel the same way. Connecting to that is not hard. Virtually, all of us want to be relevant in a society that is changing more rapidly than it ever has. None of us want to be forgotten, and like Thomson, many of us do everything in our power to be remembered.

The tone of this film is not for anyone seeking a cheap thrill. Although there are explosions and violence, it is intentionally ironic; it shows that it is not the direction this movie is taking. The dialogue among this great group of actors is organic and raw. The filmography is unlike any other film I have ever seen.

Birdman    is being played in very few local theaters, with limited showings. This movie may not have been intended for the teenage demographic and, in fact, may not have been intended to be a blockbuster hit in the first place. However, it’s a movie we can connect to in one way or another, and to those of you who are ambitious to see a work that is unlike any other, I urge you to see Birdman.