At this year’s annual Academy Awards, Alejandro González Iñárritu’s “Birdman” surprised audiences by winning almost every award it was nominated for, including Best Picture. Various members of the Northerner’s editorial staff set out to view the film with some mixed reactions.
“Birdman” stars Michael Keaton as Riggan Thomson, a washed up Hollywood actor attempting to put together a Broadway play. Riggan’s production is frequently disrupted by relational problems with his co-actors and daughter along with his own mental instability. He is followed throughout the film by the “Birdman”, a comic book character Riggan played twenty years before the time of the film, and exists mainly in Riggan’s head. The film received fantastic reviews from most sources, but it took some time to comprehend why.
Pros: Possibly the most unique part of “Birdman” is the cinematography. The entire movie was filmed to look like one, long continuous shot, which is an aspect not seen in many other films. It added a certain tension to the characters’ interactions that may not have been evident otherwise. Being that the movie was about a play, the continuous camera work made it feel like watching a live play, rather than a film on a screen.
During times of heightened emotion, the camera would zoom in extremely close to a character as they spoke, making it feel like that character was directly addressing the audience. For example, during a scene where Riggan’s daughter, Sam (Emma Stone), is yelling at her father, you only see her face. Although she directly insults Riggan, his face is out of view for the entire monologue, shielding his reaction to Sam’s harsh words. This made Sam’s words feel extremely affective, as though she were directly addressing the audience.
Accompanying these scenes was a very minimalistic score. For the most part, there were only short snippets of ominous drums during moments of high intensity. The beat of the drums was incorporated precisely with what was going on in the film, and at times it felt like the characters in the film could hear them too. Conversely, when Riggan was in his own dream-like reality, an exaggerated string score would play, making his imaginings seem all the more ridiculous. “Birdman”’s score felt less like background music and more like a narrator, and was helpful in discerning Riggan’s reality from his fantasy.
Cons: Although Riggan was a unique character, he was so aloof that it was difficult to make any sort of connection with him. General movie goers prefer to watch people they can identify with in some way, but Riggan’s self-absorption made the film hard to watch. In fact, he was so self-absorbed that the secondary characters were just completely forgotten about halfway through the film. Although they began to develop, their storylines just dropped off abruptly. Whether this is done intentionally as an indication of Riggan’s selfishness or not, it left us with a feeling of wanting to know more. We became invested in those characters, and to have them overlooked was disappointing.
With such a messy storyline, the movie was at times hard to follow and felt a bit chaotic. The majority of the editorial staff agreed that although “Birdman” was creative, it did not deserve the Best Picture award. Some of the other films that were nominated, such as “Boyhood” and “Selma” felt much more accessible to the general public. The average movie-goer may have a hard time sitting through “Birdman”, but those who enjoy innovative filming techniques may find it a good watch.
“Birdman” is currently available on DVD or can still be seen at select theaters.