In Theaters: Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

by cameronbarrettstewart


Have you ever watched a movie that made you question why you were watching it in the first place?

Yes, I have.

Most of the time it’s because a movie is so bad you regret even starting it, right?

Yup, except Birdman.

What do you mean?

Birdman is an achievement. A movie that I am sure people will be watching and analyzing for years to come. After I watched it, my immediate feeling was that it was a 10/10, but I let myself think on it and not come to a decision too quickly. But first impressions are often correct, and this was an example of that.

On IMDB, I have only rated 6 movies as 10/10. This isn’t because I’m a harsh critic, its just that my rating system is different than most. Any movie that I give a 9/10 would be a movie that I label as near perfect, since nothing can be perfect. For me, 10/10 is my most personal rating, it means that the movie was not only near perfect, but was also a movie that changed my perspective on movies and life. I know it sounds pretentious, but its how I do it. And I think the fact that I have so far only given that rating to 6 movies, shows I don’t take it lightly. If it was an option I would rate my 10/10 movies as 11/10 and bring all the other ratings up, but its not.

Now, back to Birdman. I don’t want to say too much about the movie, because I want you all to watch it as fresh as possible. So I will be vague sometimes, but for the greater good.

Like I said, Birdman was not the first time I have watched a movie and questioned why I was watching it in the first place, but it is the first time that that feeling was associated with such a good movie. Often, people use the phrase “meta” very liberally. Using it where the phrase “self-aware” or “breaking the fourth wall” would probably be suited better. Birdman breaks the fourth wall and is very self-aware, but overall it is very meta. Not in the sense that the movie is about the making of itself, but in the sense that its messages are all commentary on film making, acting, and our experience as an audience.

In this sense, it made me question why I was watching it. Birdman made me question a lot of things. Why does a group of people congregate in a dark room to watch moving pictures on a screen that depict fiction? Why do people dream of being on that screen? And why is this one of the biggest businesses in the world? And the best part about Birdman is it is not so conceited to think it has the answers to these questions, it merely provides a better point of view for them.

Two more notes before I conclude:

  1. This movie is one of the greatest portrayals of the realities of theatre (and stage acting) I have ever seen. It rivals only one other movie, one that I also rated 10/10, Synecdoche, New York.
  1. When you watch Birdman I highly recommend that you keep in mind the subtitle of the film. Its full title is Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). That subtitle, The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance, is one of the most important elements of the film. The use of that subtitle also goes along with the relationship between Theatre and Film explored in the film. Most of the time, especially with blockbusters, the title of a film will be like a very short description of the film itself, just another piece of advertising (for example Back to the Future). While, with a lot of stage plays the title is used as an extension of the message of the play itself (such as The Crucible). So one could see the title of the film, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), as the two versions of the title, one reflects the film’s commentary on mainstream films; the other reflects the film’s commentary on theatre.

Just to add a bit of traditional critiquing….

The acting in the film was all on point. Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, and Emma Stone all give performances that are “Oscar Worthy” (to use the parlance of our times). Particularly Edward Norton’s depiction of a “serious” method actor is just sublime.

The film is 95% shot to appear as if it is one shot, and sometimes this leads to transitional shots that might not have appeared if the film was traditionally edited. However I feel like these didn’t detract from the film, and if anything it mimicked the short transitions that sometimes happen in stage plays while the next scene is being set.

I really want people to see Birdman, so that I will have more people to talk to about it. So I recommend if you go and see it you bring as many people as possible, so that you can get as many people’s points of view on it. This is a movie that beautifully allows itself to be interpreted in numerous ways, without being so ambiguous that discussion seems fruitless.

Cameron’s Rating of Birdman: 10/10

Repeat viewing quality: 5/5

Movie recommendations from this review:

Synecdoche, New York