We came later to Birdman. Actually about a month ago I heard Marc Glassman’s review and he seemed not too hot on it. So I was in no hurry to see it.
But last night I admit I was impressed. And what I thought was that this was as fine, thoughtful and pertinent as any book or play I’ve seen. Maybe that was the point. Except for Glassman and the general burble that accompanies Oscar nominations, I have not read the reviews. Except of course, daughter Ariel’s who said it was almost perfect.
For me, at the centre of the film is Emma Stone’s portrayal of Sam. She represents the present, and the future. Played so believably, she is the unflinchingly spoiled self obsessed scion of today’s society, so technologically focused that every bit of life is filtered through Twitter, Facebook: that external exposed lens of social media. From the tattoos, dress and game playing of Truth or Dare, she is the indulged unblinking offspring of a burgeoning world we have had to accept :as the generation who has lost a sense of the private, and having opted for almost always being on stage by putting one’s weak activities nonstop on the world platform of Facebook and such.( for example, today, I baked a pie; try this product; OMG I saw a frog; Jane, wanna to lunch…)
Half way towards SAM is the portrayal of Edward Norton, Michael Shiner, egotistical,also self obsessed but in a different way. If Emma represents part of a broader spectrum that includes all the media perception on the street,Michael is only drawn into his own narrow self, only able to get it up when he is on stage, arrogant, brilliant, blatant in his aggressive behaviour. He is a study in himself, just at the cusp of the media circus before it exploded into this world. He is the quintessential stereotype of the brooding actor so into himself that his world revolves solely upon himself, damaged because he cannot allow any light to shine in from the outside world that Emma hugely seeks and embraces .
Birdman himself is of course is a relic. Although having found fame through movies ironically-like Keaton himself in Batman and Robin-and having won the admiration of audiences for spectacular effects , explosions, etc, but not really acting, he longs as the Naomi Watts figure, Leslie , does for the purity of drama, of love,of the importance of the play, the theatre wherein connections and truths are revealed and important interchange is communicated: the original promise of Broadway . Continually we see the little slogan at the edge of Birdman’s mirror regarding love as opposed to the mere appearance of love. That theme of more than just labels and opinions is reinforced as Birdman lambasts the theatre reviewer he hopes will laud his play, for he covets her approval, believing it honesty. And yet, is the theatre not at least one time removed as the lines spoken are not real, but symbolic truths composed and created and rewritten to suggest real sentences spoken by real,people not actors, on a stage.
There are stories within stories, some touching. We are drawn in by Birdman to believe as to why he even began his career : because of Raymond Carver’s remark- though curiously penned on a cocktail napkin. His tale of childhood beating is a ploy, a ruse to engage Michael, to remind of the power of the thespian, though openly admitted to substantiate the power of acting.
Sam likes games, Truth and Dare, although not surprisingly preferring the lure of drugs. Yet in her talk with Michael where he probes her relationship with Birdman, her responses are weak: he didn’t spend much time with me, he wasn’t around…to which Michael queries, is that it? Her reasons are lame ,without much depth, almost without feeling as she coldly without malice and wide eyed sets them out. As always, it’s all about ME, my feelings, me as the centre. In a side discussion, Birdman as father has set aside the house to protect Sam’s precarious future.
For me, this is the Willy Logan play of the 21 St century, the alienation of each figure, unable to connect with peers or family, lies and games. Where for Loman, it was his career of selling, of showing, of travelling, here it is the fixation of media, the inability to perform on or off stage, knowing the boundaries that define public and private and bridging worlds.
And when she lays her head on his chest in the hospital, we intuit they do possess an authentic if only momentary connection of love. For this reason, her response at the end when he does truly fly is important in sustaining our belief in the possibility of Birdman rising above the mire of the world .
That relationships are possible, that theatre can endure, that words still have meaning, that what matters exists can be kept personal and private between two souls who are able to emote.