THE BLOG
10/29/2014 03:50 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Birdman or (the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

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Somewhere in Alejandro's Inarritu's Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) lurks a decent short story. Maybe not a great short story like the Raymond Carver story, "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love," which in Birdman is the subject of an stage adaptation by Riggan Thomas (Michael Keaton)--a Hollywood actor who has made his reputation as a superhero. Birdman is a play within a movie and at the end, the lead actually shoots himself. The movie's bevy of theater row critics eventually tout the self-mutilation as a form of super realism and it goes hand in hand with the film's surrealist birdman doppelgänger. Added to this are the self-consciously post-modernist elements infusing the director's whole concept. Michael Keaton was naturally famous for Batman and within its own closed universe the movie continually continually usurps art for reality. Mike Shriner (Ed Norton), a famous stage actor is the loose screw in this regard. Remember the Actor's Studio, method acting and creating the role. Shriner attempts to fire up a scene in the stage motel, by actually having sex with Lesley (Naomi Watts), his real life wife, on stage. He gets an erection in front of the audience though he's incapable of having one at home. "I pretend just about everywhere else, but I don't pretend out there," he says about the theatre. Birdman is an unruly mess. Riggan says about the work which he hopes will legitimize him, "this play is like a deformed version of myself that keeps kicking me in the balls with a small hammer." The same might be said for the plight of the viewer watching the movie. Embellishing Carver's original creations with the backstory of the actors who play them only serves to upstage once powerful narratives and emotions. The fatuousness of artistic ambition infuses the movie. But it was not a major theme in Carver's work. Inarritu has inadvertently stumbled onto Chekhov territory, but the irony and simplicity of The Seagull, which introduces a similar cast of dreamers and bombasts, is a hard act to follow.

{This was originally posted to The Screaming Pope, Francis Levy's blog of rants and reactions to contemporary politics, art and culture}