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Seen in Solitude: Birdman

A Parallel Planets piece by Kannika Pena
For the past two years, I’ve gotten into the habit of going to the movies alone. There are movies I enjoy watching with friends and family, just so I can also watch their reactions while watching the film. And then there are movies that I just want to soak in and watch on my own. But the sad thing about it is after the fact, when I have so many things to say about the film and I have no one to talk to. I usually bug a friend about it over text and say many rambling things about it. Many of my friends are used to this and they usually humor my ramblings. I should say I have actually very few friends (and I’m not exaggerating).

Anyway, after belabouring that point, I should get to my real point, which is the fact that after watching Birdman on the big screen (I did see it beforehand on my computer, for fear we weren’t going to get it on cinemas here), I began to ask myself, what is this movie really about and why is it bothering me so much?  Surely, I’ve gotten over the fact that it’s entertaining as hell, that its illusion of a long take for two whole hours was an amazing feat of filmmaking, and that the acting was oh my God amazing.  But what is it really about?

Really, now.

One of my theories (which is probably not even highly original or smart anyway) is that the long take was not just some gimmick that Iñárritu was trying to pull off just because.  He was trying to get us inside the head of someone on the verge of a mental breakdown, someone who couldn’t shut the voices in his head, someone whose sense of self is all at once inflated and non-existent.  He’s trying to tell us that this is something that doesn’t just stop, this kind of anxiety that follows you around and tries to take over everything else.  That, to me, felt a little too close to home.  I, too, battle with this tiny stupid voice inside my head and sometimes they get so loud, I actually have to tell it to shut up.  It comes and goes, but when it comes, it makes its presence felt.  But I doubt I can make a movie about it that can be as entertaining as this film is.

But I still haven’t really answered what it is about.  Maybe the better thing to ask is, what is it for me?  In one of our basic film directing classes, our instructor said that when making a film, you must decide on its theme or what it’s really about.  A theme, he said, cannot be in the form of a question; instead, it must have some strong conviction about the subject you’re tackling.  (I’m actually looking at my old notes right now).  That really made an impression on me, and nowadays, when I watch a film that really hits me in the gut, I try to answer that.  But I don’t try to think of what the filmmaker wants the film to be about.  I try to think about what it means to me, because isn’t that why we seek stories in the first place?  To try to reconcile ourselves with our humanity?

And so, anyway, as I was walking and trying to get a jeepney back to my apartment from the mall, I tried to answer that question.  What is Riggan Thompson (Michael Keaton) struggling with?  Why is he the way he is?  What’s his journey about?  (And I’m not even going to attempt to answer what that smile on Sam Thompson’s (Emma Stone) face is about at the ending of the movie.)  I think the movie resonates with me because on some level, I have acted the way Riggan does, in pursuit of some unknown thing that I think will make me happy.  i have acted shitty towards the people who care about me, I have thought that every misfortune surrounding me is about me, I have thought that this one thing will be the answer to all of my prayers, like if this one thing works out, it’ll all be fine, and that I have felt like an impostor and that I will never really amount to anything more than a mediocre version of the person I envisioned myself to be.  I still feel that way. Often.  The thing is, why do we care about the things we care about?  How do we measure our self-worth?  And do our struggles even really matter in the large scheme of things?

The women around Riggan, especially his ex-wife Sylvia (Amy Ryan) and Sam, say some really eye-opening things to him that make me go, oh fuck, yeah, that’s true, and I don’t even have a good comeback to that.  Sylvia says at one point that Riggan mistakes admiration for love.  Which is probably why he’s obsessed with being relevant to an audience that admires him (probably) but doesn’t even truly love him (most likely), but he can’t even care less about the people around him, or even if he does, he cannot show it to them properly. And when Sam tells Riggan that what he’s doing is not important and that he doesn’t matter, it seems like she’s not saying anything to him that he has not thought of himself, but surely it’s always harder to hear it from someone else, because it then becomes validated.

I know that many people view it as a satire, and I suppose it is.  Especially with the climax of the film.  I still cannot form into a single sentence what i think this movie is about, though.  As it is, it is still percolating in my head.  I suppose at the end of the day, the end doesn’t really justify the means, yes?  Everything you do in life and how you do it regardless of your raison d’être (the “means”) is the end.  That was Riggan’s flaw.  He couldn’t grasp it - as I suppose many of us can’t.  We always look for the one big result, always thinking that it is what matters, but sometimes even when we get what we want, we realise, okay, so, that’s it?

In short, why are we so shitty to the people we care about, in pursuit of this elaborate, intangible thing, and why do we put this tremendous pressure on ourselves and on others, because of some lie that we’ve been told and we keep telling ourselves?

Birdman, or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance
Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu
Written by Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris Jr., & Armando Bo
Starring Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, Amy Ryan, & Zach Galifianakis

Seen in Solitude chronicles the author's year of going to the movies alone, ruminations on movies that bother, movies that compel one to ponder and ramble on, movies that help one reconcile or grapple with one's humanity. In short, movies that make one feel less alone.  Oh, the irony.


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