'Birdman' Director Inarritu Listens to His Cruel Inner Voice

By Ordona, Michael | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), October 31, 2014 | Go to article overview

'Birdman' Director Inarritu Listens to His Cruel Inner Voice


Ordona, Michael, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


"I have an inner voice or ego, whatever we want to call it, who's a tyrant, a dictator, who's never happy with what I do," says director Alejandro G. Inarritu. "Especially in my creative process, which is very tortuous, it's always full of doubts, it's never satisfied.

"I thought that would be a good thing to put in a film because all of us, not just artists, but every human being, has an inner voice that talks to us and can be very cruel."

In the director and co-writer's audaciously executed, mindbending dark comedy, "Birdman (or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)," that cruel inner voice springs from its subject's greatest success. Stop me if you've heard this one, but Michael Keaton plays an actor who reached the apex of fame playing a caped-and-cowled superhero decades ago. Mr. Keaton's Riggan Thomson is now at a career nadir, attempting to rise with a Broadway vanity project. (Mr. Keaton has said, apart from the obvious parallels, he relates to Riggan less than to any other role in his career.)

"It's part of the mental reality of the film," Mr. Inarritu says by phone from New York, "that it's a film about a play of a film guy that's doing a play that becomes a film - it's full of mirrors and his dressing room is full of mirrors - it's full of contradictions and mirrors in the mirrors."

Complicating Riggan's attempt at ascension are a vicious critic (Lindsay Duncan), a loose-cannon actor (Edward Norton), a daughter fresh out of rehab (Emma Stone), and his own tenuous grip on reality. As he attempts to drag the show he has adapted, directed, produced and stars in onto the boards, the specter of Birdman keeps pushing Riggan's ego in his way.

By the way, Bat-fans: Mr. Keaton's Birdman voice is a lot more like Christian Bale's Batman voice than Mr. Keaton's Batman voice. Holy sandpaper, Batman!

Anyway, a Buddhist might say Riggan longs to transcend, but earthly attachments weigh him down.

"Ego always works in the past or the future; it never allows us to be present in our life," Mr. Inarritu says. "Riggan Thomson is always worried with what happened before, how great it was, or 'How great I will be after this.' But it's never really about the present life, which is all we have. I think many people suffer from that."

Mr. Inarritu compares the character to Don Quixote.

"The ambitions that Riggan has are so absolutely out of his possibilities, it's crazy what he's doing. It's absurd, the distortion of the perception he has of himself and the world. It's like a personal madness that, for me at least, is heartbreaking and lovable but at the same time can be very tragic."

The film's central cinematic conceit of a single, unbroken take is plenty to digest, but "Birdman" still manages a little mustard on the side: a few shots at the press, a few actor digs and in- jokes - biting, but with fondness. …

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