Birdman: An Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance

It’s Riggan Thomson’s (Michael Keaton) last act so to speak. “This former cinema superhero is mounting an ambitious Broadway production that he hopes will breathe new life into his stagnant career that he deems, now, as having been meaningless. He wants something real, to be known for more than the superhero Birdman. It’s risky, but he hopes that his creative gamble will prove that he’s a real artist and not just a washed-up movie star.” And, to Riggan, real artists ask themselves questions about the the meaning of love and life.

He decides to adapt for the stage and then direct and star on Broadway in a version of the Raymond Carver story “Beginners” that appears in Carver’s story collection called What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.  Opening night approaches and all kinds of mishaps occur threatening to thwart the success of Riggan’s play—and most importantly, his last ditch effort for a meaningful existence. A cast mate is injured, forcing Riggan to hire method-actor Edward Norton, whose do whatever moves you in the moment acting approach undermines Riggan’s script and his artistry. Every momentary impulse is fair game, for Norton. In the play’s final scene, Riggan finds Norton in bed with Naomi Watts (Riggan’s love interest). In what was supposed to be a serious moment in which Riggan gives a passionate speech about never having been loved, Norton rises out of bed with a real hard-on. The audience breaks out in laughter ruining the gravity of the moment and Riggan’s chance to show himself as a true artist.

Birdman’s director Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu has explored the value of a meaningful life in another one of his award-winning films Biutiful. The story’s main character Uxbal (Javier Bardem) is a man living in this world, but because of a terminal illness that gives him only one month to live, he is able to see his death, which guides his every move. Like Biutiful, Birdman is about a journey of crisis and transformation in which aging actor Riggan questions the true worth of his life, while battling colleagues, family and friends who threaten his vision. But, mostly, he is battling his own powerful inner demons.

Riggan’s despair over the meaninglessness of the choices he has made in life that include superficial acting roles, serial infidelity and neglect of his daughter cause an existential crisis that is what Kierkegaard calls a despair of consciousness; a spiritual sickness unto death in which the human being turns against oneself as meaning-maker and knows he has done so. This awareness is more than Riggan can bear. His psyche is crashing, and he’s on the brink of suicide.

To bolster a failing self-esteem and ego, his psyche erects the birdman, an alter ego that, like Faust’s Mephistopheles, beckons Riggan to sell out on a meaningful life and come back to the past where he was loved and admired by the masses. A mass mentality rather than true artistry is what’s real in life says the birdman;  “This is really you.” The birdman, Riggan’s counter culture daughter (Emma Stone) who believes nothing is special or real and Norton who reveals he is only real when acting are all parts of Riggan’s warring psyche. 

And, if these fragmented parts of Riggan’s psyche are not enough to convey his suffering, Innaritu sets the film to composer Ernest Chausson’s gorgeous orchestral piece titled Poem of Love and the Sea (based on Pablo Neruda’s Love poems) that, if we let ourselves be open to it, tears at our heart strings.

Riggan is a tortured man who wants to know that his life was more than a life contrived of an identity enslaved to middle class values and norms. Birdman’s theme reminds me of Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Kundera argues that human beings can only choose one path in living; a life of lightness in which one pursues the values of the herd or one of weight in which one pursues meaning and something greater than oneself. The choice of one pursuit over another precludes an examination between the two, to Kundera.

Innaritu’s Birdman seems to give us this chance. Through Riggan Thomson’s struggles, we are invited to reflect upon the value of a meaningful life, a life of true artistry in which we are fashioning a depth of meaning from the things that happen to us that humanize and make life worth living but that also comes with the hefty price of suffering.

We are also invited to reflect upon the bliss of ignorance, of not acknowledging that there is anything greater to pursue in life than what is right before us—because perhaps there really isn’t. The torture of the pursuit of meaning doesn’t make life more meaningful, just different. Whatever the choice, it is our life and we have to live it. I won’t disclose what Riggan Thomson finally chooses in the end, just in case you haven’t seen the movie yet.

As you have already surmised, I loved this movie. And, like Riggan, I’m giving meaning to a film that some may say is a meaningless activity. But, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ll let you decide for yourself.

I hope you enjoyed today’s post. If so, please let me know by selecting the Like Icon that follows. You can also Twitter or Google +1 it to friends. Warm regards, Deborah.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

3 Responses to “Birdman: An Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance”

  1. “Riggan is a tortured man who wants to know that his life was more than a life contrived of an identity enslaved to middle class values and norms.”

    Cervantes mentions an eccentric gentleman from an unnamed village in La Mancha. The man has neglected his estate, squandered his fortune, and driven himself mad by reading too many books about chivalry. Now gaunt at fifty, the gentleman decides to become a knight-errant and set off on a great adventure in pursuit of eternal glory.

    Édouard Manet once visited Renoir & Monet to view their impressionistic works. He liked Renoir’s work; he said of Monet, “I don’t know how he’ll make anything of it?”

    Of Course, Cervantes is playing with us: I don’t know if anything will come of Don Quixote’s journeys, probably not–but don’t judge him, not like you would others!

    Like Quioxte, Riggan seems doomed: but, I won’t judge him, not the same way I would judge a person who chased the sane world.

  2. This article has made me to reflect more about my life and treat people with dignity

    • avatar Dr. Deborah Khoshaba says:

      Thank you so much Sebastian for reading my articles. I’m so glad you find them helpful. See you here again. Warm regards, Deborah.


Leave a Reply

Meet Dr. Deborah Khoshaba

She Has A Gift For You.

Psychology in Everyday Life on Facebook

Getting to Oz: The personal journey to your true self

So You Want To Date A Narcissist?

Sacrifices You Must Make, To Do So!

What behaviors are taking you hostage?

Make a choice to live freely, fully and creatively.

Love is Being Present

How To Get More Love Into Your Life

Our Sponsors and Support Mental Health Sites


All content provided on this blog is for informational purposes only. This blog is not meant to professionally treat people psychologically. The owner of this blog makes no representations as to the accuracy or completeness of any information on this site or found by following any link on this site. The owner will not be liable for any errors or omissions in this information nor for the availability of this information. The owner will not be liable for any losses, injuries, or damages from the display or use of this information. These terms and conditions of use are subject to change at anytime and without notice.

PIEL is PayPal Verified

Official PayPal Seal