Birdman or the unexpected virtue of ignorance Alejandro Inarritu (USA 2014)

Birdman or the unexpected virtue of ignorance Alejandro Inarritu (USA 2014)

Birdman or the unexpected virtue of ignorance Alejandro Inarritu (USA 2014) Michael Keaton

Viewed Tyneside
Cinema 20 Jan 15; ticket: £8.50

Showboat camera…

Inarritu’s film peddles a film version of magical
realism, a dishonest melange of images where
real and imaginary are seamlessly mixed to manifest the idea of a sort of
omnipotency through will. Inarritu’s
elision of the real and imagined/hallucinated accords with the dominant theme
of contemporary Hollywood scripts: the individuation of life and the abandonment
of the social. Hollywood’s scripts
comprise multiple variants of the individualised: ‘story’ ‘dream’ or ‘overcoming’. The Birdman scenario mines this worked out
vein of vainglory. And the protagonist Riggan is an assimilation of these
‘dream’ vanities; an all too contemporary character, playing out all too contemporary conceits.

From his literary originated material Inarritu has
contrived a confused story line. An
SFX superstar wants to do his Hamlet thing by producing an on Broadway, ‘art’
play based on a Robert Carver short story: ‘What we talk about when we talk
about love. ‘ Of course this being 2014
not 1981 when the story was written, the point of the film story is melodrama
and action. Inarritu replaces the passive ending written by Carver with the
film convention of guns and screeching dialogue/ monologue (since no one
listens to anyone all dialogue is in effect monologue). The story is confused because its subject focus
is never clear. Love, schizophrenia, (split personality) and personal ambition
all get mashed up to meet the needs of the camera as it doggedly pursues its
quarry. Personal relations are mixed in with magico realism – telekinesis
and levitation (the movie’s first image), to produce the workflow of a seemingly
seamless camera which follows through the action of the whole movie (more
thoughts on this later).

For most of the film schizo Riggan (with his
hallucinations visions or whatever) is compartmentalised into particular places
in the shot flow where he occupies his own private space. His schizo mental states are not represented
in his relations to other aspects of the script – relations to his play as a
project, his family etc. This compartmentalisation
which asks the audience to put into the brackets the nature of his images of
paranormal power, is breeched by the scripting of final sequences which depict Roggan’s real or
imagined ability to fly. In the last
sequence Riggan’s daughter looking for
her father out of the top floor hospital
window appears to either affirm the actuality of his being able to fly or colludes in Riggan’s
schizo fabrication. Either way the film
at this point becomes a fantasy, a
product suitable for the delusions of an infantilised society.

Birdman’s confusion of subject matter is compounded
by its jack-ass cod philosophy.
Sententious meaningless truisms in the form of words (as beloved by Terrence
Malick) run like a swollen sewer through
the script. Epitomised by the film’s
alternative title and the clapped out questions in the beginning: did you get
what you wanted from this life? And Riggen’s
opening soliloquy asking: “How did we get here …? We don’t belong in this
shithole…”. Roughtrade wiseacring a la
Taxi Driver. But all these faux maxims in
terms of the Birdman scenario, don’t
mean anything, they lack grounding in
the script or scenario. Like an aerosol
cream layer of a cake, injected into the script they comprise only hot air.

The film is actually held together, both content and
form, by the way the camera structures the reality experience for the
viewer. The camera work comprises the
illusion of capturing and composing the images as one seamless shot. The camera in general follows the action of
Riggan or picks up tangential engagements on the side before returning to flow and
picking up the protagonist again. It is
a dogged camera never shaken off. In
fact it is like a dog, with a dogs eye of view of what is happening. Inarritu is never able to establish an ‘eye’
or define any perspective in relation to what we are seeing. In fact we cannot see because the
camera blocks our vision.

This camera is not a privileged spectator. Inarritu’s camera as an information carrier is
like internet billboards or social media picking up multitudinous strands of
comment and image but failing to put together anything that coheres or
converges on a theme. This is a self
satisfied camera. A camera that regards
itself as the star of the movie. The
camera is a showboater happy to jump up from behind itself and project itself
into the limelight. The camera in itself
replicates social media in as much as platforms such as Facebook and Twitter
are in themselves the stars of their own shows.
In themselves they are the
signification of their usage. The
medium is the message. The subject
matter of Birdman, like that social media is mostly insignificant seldom going
beyond indulgence of melodrama and ranting dialogues. The real message of Birdman is the perfection
of a certain type of technical achievement and the omnipresence of recording. The camera is the star.

The key to Birdman’s success is that the film replicates
something of the matrix of life in the era of social media (twitter starts to
play an increasingly significant role in the script). Like social media, the technology is the star
that feeds back to the viewer a world where: there is no centre no point of
view, images and text seamlessly stream in from multiple inputs, data overload feeds constant acceleration of
media and information in a confusion of voices and digital media feeds and accelerated
emotionally driven feedback drives cycles of re-action. This is a dog world, a world of reaction.

My own response to Birdman is that it is a film that
does not allow the viewer to see. Like social media its object is to wrap up the
viewer in a delusional world that has a delirious quality of being real, but
simply allows the user the more space to immerse themselves in its shadows.

Adrin Neatrour

Author: Adrin Neatrour

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