Warning: Spoilers alert.
Birdman is a story about Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton), a washed-up actor who is hoping to revitalize his career through a Broadway play that he wrote and is acting and directing in. At the same time, he is fighting an inner demon who tells him he’s not good enough and not talented enough to pull this off, and that he should do a sequel to the hit ‘superhero movie’ he starred in decades ago so that he can gain all his status and celebrity back, since that’s really all he wants. He doesn’t really care about the art.
But does he?
Throughout the movie, Thomson struggles to reconcile his desire to make something real with his deeply ingrained wish to become accepted within the industry once again. This inner tension is causing him to slowly lose his mind. Things get worse when Thomson hires an actor (Edward Norton) with a very unorthodox working system.
The movie is beautifully filmed. The continuous shots help speed up the pace and tighten up the plot, making every scene, every dialogue, feel essential and gripping.
As Thomson’s mind slowly cracks, we are forced as an audience to choose between believing–and even sponsoring–his descent into insanity, or recognizing it for what is truly is: an advanced form of schizophrenia. We are almost tempted to view it as a means of genius, especially after he nails his Broadway performance.
But even though the ending seems romantic–his daughter looks up at his superhero dad as he flies with the birds–when we realize that the laws of physics cannot be broken and that Thomson did, indeed, jump to his death…well, then…his daughter smiling up at him seems more like what he hoped to see than what actually happened.