By Jayasankar Thayyil (India)
“The unexpected virtue of ignorance” Being ignorant is good sometimes. Being ignorant prevents you from getting swayed away from the generalization that society made to uphold people. Being ignorant is a liberating force. Being ignorant helps you to explore the unexpected which is sometimes beyond the thinking realms of common man. Riggan Thompson got the advantage of being ignorant in Birdman. He was just doing the Broadway play in order to get respected and validated. He was ignorant of the intricacies involved in being a theatre actor. He just wanted to make a name of himself. He just wanted the society to respect him. He just wanted his family to love him. He badly wanted to shed away the washed up Hollywood superhero tag he was carrying.
On the other hand, Tabitha Dickson believed in order to be a Broadway actor everyone has to undergo a long process of commitment and hard work. Only deserving individuals should be given an opportunity to perform in Broadway and Hollywood actors are ignorant of the sanctity of Broadway. Broadway is very sacred for her. She clearly distinguishes between a Hollywood celebrity and actor. She mocks Hollywood. She hates to accept the fact that a Hollywood star can come and perform in Broadway. She says Hollywood commercial pot boilers are for entitled, selfish, spoiled children. And the Hollywood actors are blissfully untrained, unversed and unprepared even to attempt real theatre art. But when Riggan performs, she is startled. She is surprised when Riggan gives a new definition to theatre. “Super realism” she calls, when Riggan spurts out blood and his life in the name of art. She realizes that there is a virtue in being ignorant, as it can unlock new boundaries and perspectives. Being ignorant is good.
Riggan is undergoing crisis at a personal level also. His recovering drug addict daughter gives him a taste of reality, when she says he is doing this Broadway production only to feel relevant again, which he knew subconsciously but was too ignorant to accept. His relationship with his girlfriend gets sour when he chides away from the fact that she is pregnant. He is also trying to rebuild his relationship with his wife, who divorced him because he slept with another woman. He has a trouble finding the right actor and when he finds one, he is wary that he is getting more fame than him. “Why do I always have to beg people to love me?” he says in the play. The film too follows Riggan in his journey to get loved and respected. He wants to be a loving father to his daughter, a caring husband to his wife and also wants to reinstate his position as a successful actor. Birdman is about the intricacies he endures in order to achieve his aspirations.
Have you ever listened to the constant voices in our head? A voice which demotivate, derails, questions and hampers our decisions at every moment. A voice of ours which is obscure to many. A voice of an alter-ego which radiates pessimism at every juncture. A voice which can’t be silenced, only possible alternative to cease it is to subjugate to its wishes. It may resurface again with a question hovering over our subjugation. It is a conundrum, questioning our motives, decisions and wishes, and keeps on recurring in our lives. Riggan’s alter ego version dons a birdman suit and constantly haunts and tells him to shed his pretentious self and again motivates him to wear the superhero suit which he left in the pursuit of being a real actor. He says people love blood and action, not this talky depressing philosophical bullshit which theatre propagates. This constant voice of birdman inside Riggan’s head puts him in a dilemma. He turns restless and violent whenever these voices appear, because it makes him aware of the opportunities he missed. And that’s makes him much more determined to continue with his play, as it is his last chance to feel “relevant” in the industry. Birdman, offers an escapist route to tackle this dictating force. Iñárritu makes Riggan die, as he was futile in his attempts to silence this voice. Riggan was ultimately swallowed by his own “self”.
But what really happens to Riggan Thompson in the end? According to me, Riggan Thompson dies onstage after he shoots himself. That’s why there is a break in continuous sequence, as it symbolizes the end of reality. The hospital scene is something which he imagines in his flight around the New York City. Hospital scene sums up all he wanted from his life. He rekindles his relationship with daughter and wife, was able to win praises for his show from Tabitha and fans, was successful in shedding his superhero tag, and was also able to silence his alter-ego. He achieved whatever he aspired, so he decided to fly away with the birds as “Birdman”.