THE BLOG
10/22/2014 09:42 am ET Updated Dec 22, 2014

Yes, Birdman Is 'All That' -- An Essay

Robin Marchant via Getty Images

With all the keystrokes being dedicated to the delectable Birdman, my fingers feel the need to dance on the keyboard and pay my almost delirious respects.

By now the "plot" of Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), presented by Fox Searchlight Pictures, is known to most readers, but I will do my duty and supply a brief synopsis.

An aging movie actor, Riggin (Michael Keaton, insecure with his legacy), attempts to make a splash on Broadway. Will he fail or succeed? That is it. A tale as old as the first-time man sat around the bonfire telling stories -- it is not the outcome of his efforts that are of import here -- but the way this film tells Riggin's story.

For the facts of art have never been presented better or more succinctly than in Stephen Sondheim's musical, Sunday in the Park With George. George, a struggling artist (is there any other kind?) is worried that his efforts are in vain, as his mistress and model Dot implores...

"Stop worrying if your vision is new. Let others make that decision -- they usually do."

But in art, as well as the life of any being that is human, reaching the point of Zen detachment is, well, really damn hard. And for many of us it can only be achieved after it sorting it all out -- a process that can take a lifetime of trial and error.

And that is the essential theme of Birdman. No character is allowed to pass through this film without taking an inventory of their "condition."

Our "hero" -- Riggin (literally and figuratively) -- is haunted by the voice of his iconic movie character, Batman, er, Birdman. He is often in the throes of human despair. Or he experiences what might be called the "magic realism" of levitating, flying and causing much mischief, as he frantically attempts to get his adaption of a Raymond Chandler story into previews on Broadway.

Like Job, he is plagued at every turn. With a cast of characters including a bitter, cynical post-rehab daughter (Emma Stone), a maniacal, but talented last minute cast member, Mike Shiner (Edward Norton Jr.) and Tabitha, a theatre critic (ahem) as played by Lindsey Duncan. Tabitha has nothing better to do than lay the whole demise of Western Civilization on Riggin's poor shoulders.

The flawless cast also includes the wacky lawyer, Zach Galifianakis as Jake and Amy Ryan as Riggin's sympathetic ex-wife, Sylvia. Andrea Riseborough is Laura (Riggin's current girlfriend) with Naomi Watts playing Lesley, Shiner's hapless girlfriend and castmate. Is also fun to see Nurse Jackie's Merrit Wever, assisting the desperate Birdman in the most soothing ways possible.

There might be a nod to the theatrical theory of the "Three Unities." This construction was derived by holding that a play should have one unified plot. All the action should occur within one day, achieving unity of time and be limited to a single locale (unity of place). The filmmakers, while not strictly adhering to all of this, seem to be taking a shot by creating the feel that the picture was done in one long take, causing the story to advance in a forward arc.

TV is the vehicle of much of today's creative story telling. By employing the pace and comic ribaldry of HBO's Veep, Birdman has reclaimed the cinema as a place where we can be stunned, moved and ultimately satisfied, as we laugh our collective tushies off.

Like a sleeping dream that we try to hold on to, Birdman ends, and we are forced to re-enter reality, but perhaps a slightly altered one. One that gives us a fresh new hope that we can reach for our dreams, no matter how ridiculous the process might seem.

Directed by the brilliant Alejandro González Iñárritu, this auteur signed on some top-shelf writers -- Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. and Armondo Bo. Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki creates the inside word of the theatre with new strokes that are now forever part of our consciousness.