What really happened at the end of Birdman?

AP Film Review Birdman

If you have seen the Oscar winning film, Birdman, and don’t read any further if you haven’t, you know why I am asking this question. Director Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu opens his film with his (anti) hero, Michael Keaton’s Riggan Thomson, levitating in his crummy room. We know that people can’t levitate…or can they? That first scene sets the film’s fundamental question: what is more important, reality or fantasy?

So, did the Birdman fly or not?

Inarritu uses the literary genre of magical realism. Literary critic Matthew Strecher defines magical realism as “what happens when a highly detailed, realistic setting is invaded by something too strange to believe.” Magical realism is often associated with Latin American literature, particularly the authors Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Isabel Allende. These ‘too strange to believe’ occurrences happen throughout Birdman, and it is attributed to Riggan’s character being stuck inside and tormented by his old Superhero character, the Birdman. The cinematic technique reveals the answer to the question of whether Birdman flies or not at the end. The film appears to be a single shot…until Act 2 of the play within the movie, ‘What We Talk About When We Talk About Love’ a Raymond Carver short story. The single shot approach to shooting the film ends when Riggan’s character shoots himself on stage. He does this to prove the critics, his daughter, and ‘Birdman’ wrong. Everything after that is shot differently, and is his fantasy of a happy ending: he only shot his nose off, the critic wrote a big headline rave review, his daughter thinks he is the best, he has thousands of Twitter followers, he can fly. In the end he is still the Birdman, and even his daughter believes he can fly.

Inarritu pours all of his issues about art and commercialism, success and failure, fantasy and reality into this film. The boundary between fantasy and reality is deliberately blurred throughout the film, but especially the ending. My theory is that his conclusion to the film is that the inner world  is more important that the outer world. Does anyone have superpowers? No, but in Inarritu’s take on life, it is more important to believe in the  life of the superpower inside. What do you think?



4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Judy Graboyes
    Feb 23, 2015 @ 16:55:10

    Maybe people so have super powers.



  2. Judy Graboyes
    Feb 23, 2015 @ 16:57:06

    Typo correction: maybe people DO have super powers.



  3. Melinda Basker
    Feb 24, 2015 @ 18:19:42

    Phern, I like your interpretation.



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