After my total loss of faith in the Academy before during and after the 86th Academy Awards I decided to re-engage with the Oscars for this year’s 87th awards. While I didn’t manage to see all the nominated films and didn’t grace anyone with my terribly inaccurate predictions I was much happier this year to see some of the films I had genuinely loved (Boyhood and The Grand Budapest Hotel) being nominated and was excited for the ceremony. While obviously I didn’t agree with every decision announced on Oscar night it was refreshing and the awards seemed globally well-deserved. Unfortunately due to a blip in my timetable I hadn’t seen Birdman before the ceremony but was quickly determined to rectify that.
Birdman certainly doesn’t disappoint. It’s a two hour non-stop rollercoaster film. Thankfully the vogue of 3.5 hour long Oscar-nominated pictures seems to have died down. The visual onslaught of Birdman being any longer would totally ruin the film. As it is the cinematic choreography makes the ride all the more exciting, althought you can’t help but wonder why Iñárritu’s preferred central point for following a character is about a foot and a half below their head at all times. Birdman does occasionally feel like a day in the life of someone shockingly short who never looks up.
Thanks to this one-take effect the film has a frenetic, relentless pace that almost feels as if it’s all happening in real-time as it scans through the dark corridors of the theatre. It’s not just Michael Keaton playing a parody of himself. Every character in the film is either an actor or acting all the same. Particular credit needs to be given to the performances of Emma Stone and Edward Norton, both of whom light up the screen when they appear. The boundaries between life and performance have never been more blurred as Norton’s Mike Shiner talks about the importance of truth while manipulating his way into a love affair with lines straight out of some cheesy script. At times characters look coyly back into the camera as we follow them through the theatre, leading us through the hall of mirrors as if we’d stepped into Baz Lurman’s Moulin Rouge. Emma Stone’s ex-rehab daughter character serves as an emblem for a generation who learnt to have online personas before they even had their own personalities, perhaps a bigger con than any that the thespians are trying to pull.
Birdman brings no judgement on its characters, despite them all being broken and borderline insane. Yet Birdman is life put up to be judged by us. It’s like an expression of how these mildly self-obsessed actors would describe their lives if they had the chance, complete with every odd circumstance and exaggeration. The irony of their lives is so beautifully rendered by Iñárritu that in watching you almost feel like you could step back and watch your own life like this. See the beauty and irony in your lowest moments like the joyous fairy lights illuminating the depressed Riggan (Keaton) as he brown-bags some spirit and listens to a drunk recite Macbeth. Clearly this absurdity in life is not a new theme, Shakespeare’s words render it admirably, Raymond Carver’s words heard through the adaptation Riggan writes tell us of it, but Iñárritu brings it into our milieu and shows us a whole range of people just trying to make some sense out of it. It’s telling that the camera only stops at the point when Riggan ultimately sees through these illusions and glamours of the stage and screen in perhaps the only action that has no mise en scene, no pretence behind it. In the end Riggan puts an end to the endless series of images that follow on and on ad nauseam and we’re only left with his daughter’s reaction, one of comprehension and admiration that the curtain can one day fall.
- Entertainment: 4/5
- Artistic: 4/5
- Intellectual: 5/5