by Bob Schwartz
There are too many movies, good bad and ugly, so it is hard to keep up. Even with the good ones. So just yesterday I finally got to see last year’s Academy Award winner Birdman.
It is all it is supposed to be. It is what you ask for from popular art, that it be entertaining and that it be…art. It is as satisfying and memorable as a great novel. And just about as indescribable.
When it was released, and later when it was praised, there were attempts to describe the plot and, for PR purposes, the unusual production technique (it was filmed in a series of very long takes, tracking shots that lasted many minutes, so that if anything went wrong in a take—a missed line of dialogue—the entire scene had to be reshot, start to finish). Also discussed was the parallel between the story (an actor who walks away from a billion dollar comic book film franchise) and the film’s lead actor Michael Keaton (who walked away from the billion dollar Batman franchise). This point turns out to be less than inconsequential.
What is consequential is how Birdman manages to treat big topics like “life” and “art” in so fascinating a way. There is a Broadway play within the film, a drama adapted from Raymond Carver’s unusual, influential and iconic book of stories, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. But actually, it is the film that is sort of a Carver adaptation, fooling around with form to try saying something significant in a way that can be heard through the clutter of our expectations.
Birdman is the unexpected. The full title of the move hints at this: Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). Without giving much away, assuming you have seen or will see it, the movie asks you to root for a happy ending. Except you can’t see, exactly, how there could possibly be a happy ending that is true to the rest of the movie. Yet there is an unexpected ending that is entirely true to the movie, and to life and art.
I could put a quote from Ray Carver’s writing here. God knows there are hundreds of them that would be appropriate and make for good reading. It would be kind of meta, since the play-within-the-movie obviously includes some. But it would also be kind of cheesy and clichéd, and I can hear the voice of Carver laughing or at least chiding me. So just see the movie, if you haven’t. And definitely read Carver if you haven’t.
And remember that a man really can fly.