Birdman is an experience for the audience in the real and fake world

Oscar Buzz – Birdman

A review by Brenda Daniels

In line with Cinema Nouveau’s build-up to the Oscars on 22 February, A Feast of Tales is reviewing six Oscar-nominated films. So far we have featured The Imitation Game and Boyhood. In this post we review Birdman. (Some of the films release in South Africa only after the Oscars so coverage for those will be in retrospect.)

Birdman. Wow. What an experience this film is. The storyline centres around Riggan Thomson (a very aged Michael Keaton) and his staging of a Broadway play. In his younger years Riggan was famous for his role as film action hero Birdman.

In this theatre debut Riggan tries to gain credibility instead for his directing/acting part in a serious play. In doing so he struggles with his former self, with personal relationships, and with his search for significance.

But more than a simple plot Birdman is an experience for the audience. It is almost exclusively filmed inside the theatre building.

Apart from one scene in which Riggan is trapped outside the theatre wearing only his underwear. He is forced to walk through crowds of people and make his entry on cue from the front of the theatre. This, and other elements of the film, is symbolic, and highlights the film’s constant interaction between what is real and what is not.

As Riggan struggles with the voices inside his head and walks the corridors of the building from one crisis to the next, viewers are bombarded with the sound of discordant drums. As the film builds to a climax the drumming is interspersed with harmonious classical music as the character finally begins to resolve his inner conflicts.

The other characters serve to confront weaknesses in Riggan. These include his daughter Sam (Emma Stone) whose doodling on toilet paper raises the issue of humanity’s insignificance; the brilliant but unlikeable actor Mike (Edward Norton) who succeeds only in the world of make-believe; and Lesley (Naomi Watts) whose views of Broadway have not yet been tainted by cynicism.

Birdman is an intense, clever and intricately wrought story that sucks the viewer in. It forced me to concentrate in order to grasp its meaning. When I left the cinema complex I felt the tension dissipating as I stepped from the fake world of the theatre into the real world. Or was it the other way round?

Birdman is on screen at Cinema Nouveau in South Africa, it has been nominated for 9 Oscars. The Oscar Award Ceremony takes place on 22 February 2015.

birdman

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