Birdman - Perfect Mindplay of Metaphor

Delving into the ambiguities of Birdman and how characters can be constructed in a play setting, where the play does not end on stage, but in and through our lives.

3 min read

Birdman - Perfect Mindplay of Metaphor

The movie Birdman revolves around a washed-up superhero actor who tries to make his way into theatre and through his life, letting go of his delusions. Or not. The movie Birdman eloquently revolves around the protagonist, Riggan Thompson and also shows quite directly as to how his decisions and doings affect others.

The movie does so by having long, continuous takes, making it more relevant to real time and making the audience feel more in place by having handheld tracking shots, giving out an intense first person experience.

The story moves forward by changing the point of view from time to time. It does so by introducing a different character in the frame, and when the scene involving a conversation or conflict is complete, the camera then follows the newly introduced character in the frame, hence changing the point of view.

The movie tries to avoid cuts in general, which I personally think is to make the movie feel more equatable to a theatre play. Which is also symbolical to his life in a way as it draws a stark resemblance between his life, and the play. The movie does this by either using continuous shots, timelapses or seamless transitions such as…

There are other clues that lead us to the credibility of his life as a “Theatre Play” in itself. He makes an unexpected entry from the entrance of the theatre after being locked out, which can, besides being reckless, also signify that the play’s boundaries don't end on the stage, but in and through his life.  

We see a lot of shots surrounding mirrors, where we can only see Riggan’s reflection, followed by various motions involving circles and camera pans around the reflection, which could possibly mean that his life revolves around his reflection of himself, hence drawing a straight parallel to his urge to become relevant & validated again.

Throughout the film Riggan searches to find his relevance in life. He has been conditioned to associate his career with his relevance. Throughout the film we see him push away his relationship with his daughter, girlfriend and ex-wife to focus on the play.

Riggan is battling to be validated as his career is coming to an end, and also to leave behind his Birdman legacy. He tries to deny the existence of his counter part “Birdman”. But we see Birdman acting as a delusion of grandeur right opposite to Riggan’s self doubt, which invokes a balance between fantasy and reality.

On a subconscious level, both Birdman and Riggan want the same thing, to be present again. The movie briefly speaks about what Modern art has become, where we make anything of ourselves to fit into the backseat of the bandwagon of “Commercialism”.

The scene where Riggan Gets locked out and rushes through the crowd in his bare bottoms, is a metaphor to acting where one must give up all inhibitions to become part of what is known as “High Art”.

Mike is an interesting character who disparages the entire concept of modern art and how it is commercialised and all people care about is how a performance is “Labelled”, rather than how good it is. He believes that a play is “Found” in its true meaning when you let go of the need to “Please” an audience. He acts as a shadow to the protagonist by giving him a perspective.

He’s a method actor who says that he wants to have a real experience. In the process he tries to sexually assault Lesley. Drinks real alcohol on stage to have a “Real” experience. He also goes as far as asking Riggan to point a real gun at him. Throughout the movie, Mike believes to be real only when on stage. Which may serve as a metaphor to society.  

It’s only towards the end of the film, as Riggan actually tries to kill himself, that critics and the audience applause the act and regard his performance to be attributing to “Super-realism”, which is a twisted metaphor to what it takes to be “Relevant” and or “Validated”.

Only when he sees his mortality at the end of it, is he able to realise what is truly important. Not relevancy, not Hollywood, not Broadway, but his relationship with his daughter. In the last scene Sam walks in and sees that Riggan is gone, only to smile back at something out the window.

The movie is ambiguous at various points, citing the relevance of fantasy vs reality. Such as the starting scene where we see something fall from the sky. Or the scene where we see people dressed in superhero costumes and playfully battling each other.

There are Various Interpretations of the Ending:

-It could be a fragment of Riggan’s imagination where Sam sees him fly away with Birdman’s powers.

-It could also be possible that all this while, he’s had birdman’s powers.

Either way...

-My interpretation of it is, that finally, he has been able to set himself free of his past reflections and false expectations, and that he can finally be a free bird. Hence justifying the symbolism pertaining to the flock of birds.

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