Guest Review – Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Birdman Screenshot 1

I know what you’re going to say: “But Number 5! Aren’t you supposed to be the video games person? What are you doing reviewing a movie?” Well, my fellow and probably inexistent followers, as it turns out, every now and then a movie is so good I can’t miss the chance to talk about it.

I suppose this makes my opinion on Birdman pretty clear, doesn’t it?

Birdman came out in 2014 and was directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, who also co-wrote and co-produced it. It can more or less be described as a dark comedy, and stars Michael Keaton as the lead character, Riggan. This casting choice is actually quite relevant, as you will see in a minute.

The thing with Birdman is that it’s actually better watched without knowing too much about it. Now, I know exactly how annoying that kind of disclaimer sounds. So I will go into more detail in the next section, but be prepared for potential spoilers (although you can be reassured: the story itself doesn’t really have any major twists).

Birdman Screenshot 2

The major strength of the movie, and the one that is immediately noticeable, is the absolutely incredible cinematography. First spoiler: the entire movie is one single continuous scene without any cut. This is just as impressive as it sounds. A few parts in particular make extensive use of practical and special effects. Many shots contain mirrors or reflective surfaces. But the continuous take is always seamless.

The cinematography could have carried the movie by itself. But the fact is, every other aspect of Birdman is praiseworthy. To begin with, the movie tells a very personal and character-driven story. The protagonist, Riggan, is an aging actor who gained fame by playing the superhero known as Birdman in decade-old blockbusters. He now struggles to regain his relevance and respect in the acting industry. To do so, he puts all his efforts into what would be considered a more intellectual and artistic production: a Broadway play he himself writes, directs, and in which he stars. Now you understand the relevance of casting Michael Keaton, the 1989-1992 Batman, as the lead character. In fact, generally speaking, the casting and acting in Birdman is amazing. Not to mention, the script in general and dialogue in particular is simply brilliant.

Basically, every individual part of the movie is outstanding. At this point, one may wonder if Birdman falls into the trap of being “pretentious”, a concern that can arise with intellectual and artistic movies. But Birdman does not even have this problem: it doesn’t take itself too seriously, and most importantly, it is actually very funny.

Birdman Screenshot 3

As far as criticism goes… I cannot think of any.

I don’t say that lightly, and I cannot think of any other movie about which I have nothing negative to say. Still, I realize how bold of a claim this is. Would this mean that upon seeing Birdman, you would be guaranteed to place it among your favorite movies? Not necessarily. Let me explain.

Ultimately, Birdman can be seen not as a simple movie, but rather as an experiment. An experiment to push back the limits of cinema. Let’s compare it with another very good movie from 2014: Guardians of the Galaxy (an appropriate comparison considering the theme of Birdman). Both are unquestionably great movies, but for completely different reasons; simply because what they mean to accomplish is completely different to begin with. Guardians of the Galaxy is about depicting an adventure; depicting the journey of a group of characters. The movie’s goal is indeed to be fun, entertaining and exciting, but the point is that it accomplishes this goal by telling a story. In Guardians of the Galaxy, storytelling is the purpose, while film is simply the framework. Guardians of the Galaxy didn’t need to be a movie for the story to work, and indeed is actually a comic book adaptation. Meanwhile, Birdman is not simply a movie starring actors, it’s a movie about actors. It couldn’t have been anything else than a movie, since thematically and visually, Birdman is all about exploring and utilizing the strengths of the film medium. The story in Birdman is by no mean uninteresting (quite the contrary), but it isn’t the purpose of the movie. Birdman uses its story as a jumping-off point to share philosophical reflections on acting, entertainment, relevance, respect and self-respect, and many other themes.

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At this point, it almost seems absurd that movies like Guardians of the Galaxy and movies like Birdman can be linked simply by virtue of sharing the same medium. Both movies are great, yes, but their quality is irrelevant to the comparison: at the end of the day, they are completely different entities. Maybe the term “movie” should be obsolete and broken down in different categories. This is not a matter of genre either; but more a matter of intent. Storytelling as a purpose or as a framework.

– Number 5'

Four screenwriters candidly writing about film, television, novels, comic books, video games, and fanfiction.

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