The Flight of Magic Realism

I recently got the opportunity to watch the acclaimed movie ‘Birdman’, which clinched the Best Picture Academy Award at the 87th Academy Awards, besides Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Cinematography from a total of nine nominations. Before reading any further (I have tried not to include a lot of the plotline, as potential spoilers, for those who may be wanting to watch it), I would like to say that the movie is an experiment in cinematography and theme, and each of you reading this article should try to watch it.

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Riggan Thomson with his friend Jake, in the movie

The film is primarily a satirical black comedy-drama film directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu. The story follows Riggan Thomson, a has-been Hollywood actor, who is well-known for playing the superhero “Birdman”, as he struggles to mount a Broadway adaptation of a short story by Raymond Carver called “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love“.

The two elements in the movie that I personally liked the most are the screenplay and the theme. The entire movie is shot in a single shot except for a brief cut after the climactic theater scene! Also, the transitions are not the jaded zooming into characters or backgrounds and zooming back out but smooth, innovative ones such as the use of corridors backstage in the Broadway setting, at times along with the musicians actually playing (the drums, in case of the film) the soundtrack being put into the scene-setting!

The theme is brilliant. It is a subtle coming-together-of  magic realism and psychological black-comedy. The protagonist apparently has superpowers, which in one place in the film seems to be just the mental construct of the protagonist, and has to tackle with elements such as an inner-voice (of the Birdman persona) that drives him and his ego at times. One never completely understands the blurred line between reality and fantasy.

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There are some very powerful moments in the film, including the one pictured above, where Emma Stone, as the protagonist’s daughter tells him how he is no longer relevant and how his nonchalance towards nuances of contemporary society (such as social networking) is very much reciprocated in the society’s nonchalance to his existence. The speech is powerful and poignant, something which is taken to a different level with a marked silence and a softer expression by Stone just after hitting her father with this barrage of words.

The most defining moment, according to me, is the ending of the film. One never truly understands if the protagonist dies on stage and hallucinates in his dying moments, or whether he lives but commits suicide thereafter along with his daughter hallucinating about her father’s ‘flight’ (probably as the Birdman), or whether the protagonist actually has superpowers and the director is questioning the skeptical mindset of the audience and the perception of reality that is defined by many in terms of tagging the protagonist as a nut case, who imagines himself as someone with the powers of levitation and telekinesis.

All in all, a great movie and one which deserves all the recognition it has got.

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