Birdman Review: Dark Laughs in Theatre of Broken Dreams

February 22, 2015 9:00 am

The tale of a faded  star swimming desperately against the tide of age and anonymity is depicted to innovative effect in Iñárritu’s brilliantly bizarre  Birdman. Set backstage in a Broadway theatre that appears like a labyrinth of disorder,  we see Keaton’s Riggan Thompson troubled soul (and body) laid starkly bare in his struggle to become, in his own words, ” success”. Against a backdrop of dark comedy, episodes of startling surrealism and sharp and vital dialogue, this film offers a compelling insight into the fragility of the human condition.


Centring upon the days leading up to opening night,  there is no break from this particular house of chaos, as day turns seamlessly into night, rehearsal into performance: suitably reflecting the madness-inducing, claustrophobic set.  Like Riggan, we can’t escape the production, but nor do we particularly want to. The strength of this film lies in its unpredictability: each exchange, rehearsal or argument shows characters on the verge of losing control with a plot that threatens to go in any direction it sees fit. And that equates for compulsory viewing. Here lie characters visibly riddled with impulse and complex: the crumbled has-been tormented by an alter-ego of his blockbuster past; his isolated daughter  fresh out of rehab; the enigmatic, unpredictable actor only able to sexually function on stage and his disillusioned wife desperately telling herself she has made it.  As they collide, combust and crack in their brightly lit dressing rooms, layered in make-up  we are constantly reminded of the juxtaposition between the facade of glamour set against the very real struggles that show business provokes.

Throughout there are moments of brilliant comedy- particularly one fight scene between Riggan and Shiner (Ed Norton)- that serve to highlight the compelling absurdity of the human ego. Each startlingly desperate to achieve acclaim and authenticity their artistic pinnacle: a positive review in the New York Times. With a catchy, jazzy drum score regularly appearing to accompany this derangement,  the separation between reality and the fiction- the show- is intriguingly blurred.  Look closely enough, Iñárritu seems to be telling us, and the truth really is stranger than the fiction. A cautionary tale to actors everywhere.

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