Ostensibly this blog is for Shakespeare and Shakespeare-related subjects. Birdman is not directly relating to Shakespeare, but hopefully you’ll see the connection by the end.
I initially was interested in watching Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) because I read a review on another Shakespearean review website, which claimed that if you were interested in Shakespeare you should see it. I am interested in Shakespeare, so I went to a Redbox and rented it.
Okay, it’s got some great actors. Check. You might want to watch it for that reason. I wasn’t myself overly impressed with Keaton, but with Emma Stone, Ed Norton Jr, and Naomi Watts also contributing, that’s a pretty impressive list. Zach Galifianakis also does a good job in a fairly small part.
But my problem with it is the movie doesn’t have an ending. So I was thinking, “Why does this movie not have an ending,” and my mind when to, “Well, what is it trying to say?” And then I realized, basically nothing.
The point of the movie is that it’s hard for artists to make big money. The only big money comes from making easily-digestible eye candy that doesn’t require an intellectual investment from the audience (in this story, the writer/director specifically takes a shot at the current trend in superhero movies). Boo hoo. It’s so hard to make movies that matter! I want to make art! Right, because to make movies you take money from studios that are businesses. Because they are businesses, they are trying to make money. If you want to make a art that matters, raise the funds on GoFundMe. Otherwise, what are you crying about? Some great films have been shot with iPhones, so again, stop the whining.
The film is really symptomatic of the whole problem; it mocks superhero movies and Keaton’s character Riggins complains he wants to do something that matters, but then [spoiler alert] he only shoots off his nose rather than actually kill himself. Why? Because the writer/director doesn’t have the balls to kill off the character and make the movie sad. Why? Because it would be sad if someone killed themselves because the only choice they have is to continue acting in theatre or go make tons of movie doing a superhero movie sequel.
Anyway, see the film; there are some good moments, and again, the acting is good. But when you’re puzzled by the end, don’t worry about it, because it’s hard to end a movie that never really had anything to say.
What does this have to do with Shakespeare? Well, first off, Birdman quotes Macbeth’s “tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” speech. But more than that, Shakespeare is the answer to Alejandro González Iñárritu’s problem: Shakespeare was able to create intellectually-stimulating, yet entertaining, art that has held interest for over 400 years. How? Got me; but I know he didn’t do it by whining about it, and he had the balls to give his plays endings. Love’s Labour’s Lost is rarely staged nowadays, but audiences can’t handle the (non)ending (or directors and actors don’t know how to stage it). It’s a joke now, but obviously Shakespeare wasn’t afraid to kill off his characters; every major character by the end of Hamlet dies.
If you want to say something, say it. And if the studios won’t let you do it, don’t work with the studios. But an entertaining, commercially-viable, meaningful production can be done; Shakespeare is proof. But maybe, as an artist, to pull it off you have to be a Shakespeare.