The Double Edged Sword of Relevance: Iñárritu’s “Birdman”


“Inarritu’s production was a satire of a satire on art that was able to make fun of people who decide what is art and what is not whilst simultaneously presenting itself as a hollywood drama under the guise of an art house movie.”

As a theatre geek, I was more enthralled with Alejandro Inarritu’s masterpiece Birdman than, say, The Boyfriend sitting next to me trying to cop a feel during the last 25 minutes (I mean, who hasn’t in a dark theatre watching a seemingly dreary hollywood drama) wondering idly if the movie was almost over.

Inaritu’s Birdman tells the story of a washed-up actor (played with distinction by Michael Keaton) struggling to stay relevant amidst the “cultural genocide” of the Marvel juggernauts and social media titans. A cultural icon of the 80’s recognized only too well during the most inconvenient of moments, Birdman/Riggan Thomson puts his heart and soul into a production he wrote, directed, and starred in (a production which is unfortunately and obviously a thinly veiled parallel of his own life) hoping to create art from the fragments of his past life as a mass-produced, all-american-family-approved consumerist good.

However, his highly developed schizophrenia (also apparently residual telekinesis from playing Birdman) and, thus, unreliability as a narrator makes the audience wonder whether or not he even cares about making art and therefore forces the audience to question; can art be real and important? Or is it just a construct that the posh and pretentious uppercrust of society can use to look down upon us unwashed plebeians below, scoffing at our uncouth and uncultured puny little brains?

I had mixed feelings about Keaton’s character; clearly he cared about his craft but his desire to be remembered and stay relevant in a society that turned him into a cult icon and had all but forgotten him overshadowed any possibility for him to truly be considered an “artist”. But then what does it mean to be an artist? The beatniks and hipsters of our generation will scoff at those trying to make a living from our art as they struggle to pay their monthly rent with the pennies earned mopping floors at the downtown Winners while they recite anti-capitalist slam poetry at Kafein. So who is the real artist and who is the hack? According to Inarritu, it doesn’t even matter. All that matters is that you put everything you have into your craft and do the absolute best that you can (oh no, this review just got suspiciously self-reflective).

Inarritu’s production was a satire of a satire on art that was able to make fun of people who decide what is art and what is not whilst simultaneously presenting itself as a hollywood drama under the guise of an art house movie. It made fun of everyone and everything, from Justin Bieber to the entire Marvel universe (taking a few jabs in particular at Tony Stark/Ironman/Robert Downey Jr. though there was a memorable moment when someone mentioned Jeremy Renner and no one knew who he was).

Ultimately, this was a movie about not being forgotten, culminating in a painful minute-long segment of Keaton unabashedly walking around Times Square in nought but his tighty-whities whilst passersby flock about in droves filming and documenting every horrible moment. It may have been possible to be forgotten 20 years ago, but the advent of social media and accessibility to WIFI and 3G everywhere has allowed every instance of our lives to be perpetually available on the internet.

During a shouting match with his daughter, played by a barely recognizable Emma Stone (though that may have been the fish-eye lens used to film the whole movie to great effect), she forces him to confront the reality that he doesn’t matter anymore and the only way to resurface is to throw in the towel and join the rest of the unwashed masses on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. This theme was exacerbated by the simple locale; set in a time-locked theatre, it was impossible to tell what year the movie was set in, at least until someone mentioned Twitter or pulled out an iPhone.

The film also touched upon the continuing debate of stage versus screen; which one is true art? It is true that film allows for more room to manoeuvre (multiple takes, fed lines) while stage is immediate (if you mess up, everyone will know). And although film demands an incredible ability to pretend, particularly on the actor’s part when, for example, acting in front of a green screen, there is a sense of heightened reality when acting on stage; it is truly in the moment and can feel real in the way that no on screen filmed production can.

With unflinching, unwavering shots that could last up to five minutes, the cast and crew of Birdman managed to recreate the heightened reality of a staged production with the edgy yet graceful feel of an indie movie. Accompanied by erratic and electric jazz drum beats, juxtaposed with Strauss-esque orchestral breaks during moments of recollection of past triumph, Inarritu’s Birdman is sure to be a contender in the Gladiator arena of the 80-something annual Academy Awards.


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