Books and Cinema

What I Talk About When I Talk About Birdman

What about Birdman? It was a carnival of utter madness (wild storytelling where things fly, things move on their own and you see day dreams happening), raw emotions (because good actors, good words and eyes) and a surreal flow (connected reality where the unexpected happens). We live around the protagonist, experience his inner voice, we feel his pain and seek his flight. A cinema on the life of a struggling artist need not make sense of regular reality. It doesn’t matter how we got here, for each day now seems irrelevant. It doesn’t matter where we go from here, for the grand future matters. And, of course, there is today.

You make things happen.

Do you or do you not? There is no harm in believing that ‘convenient coincidences’ take place because you want them to take place. Can you make things move? Without touching them? Does it matter as long as you move them? Can you make them disappear? Without touching them? Does it matter as long as they disappear? Do you want to fly or catch a cab? It doesn’t matter, does it? The point is – you reached. You arrived. With the right spirit, with the right desire, with things falling into place.

When you’re locked out, you were not expecting it. You need to be in, but you are out, against some solid doors that won’t open. The other ways which lead inside involve a complete change in script, but the conclusion remains the same. Would you do it, since plan A failed? Would you opt for a plan B, with the same results? Path is tough, but the result is the same. What matters?

When you control a story, when you are the storyteller – you control the specifics (or remove them altogether), you decide where the music comes in, you decide who plays drums where to add to the audacity of the choices being taken, you decide who steps into the room and when. We are the audience, we haven’t been where you have been. Tell us your version, we will bloody believe it. Go, fly.

Finding our ground?

Throughout an undesirable phase, the protagonist was haunted by an angry past self, the personified voice in his head. We all have an inner self that believes in us more than we do, yet scoffs and cribs and yells and stamps around in anger. The inner self might not always be wise, might even represent our basest selves. It actually depends on what has been making us unhappy, what have we been hiding away, feeding our ‘other wolf‘.

Actors are known to have an external center of loci, and some do struggle with identity crisis on playing hugely popular characters on screen. Social validation becomes essential, something to survive on, a drug we cling on to, the espresso. We revel in the past glory, but hasn’t the world moved on already? The crowds are way braver than they used to be, perhaps. There is a little sense of exclusivity anymore, things are public, they are online, they are mad and they hardly take time to (say what) ‘go viral’.

Shifting perceptions in the public glare takes time, takes effort and you might still be judged in the process. Show Business, baby. But achieving an approval is a true victory, and our protagonist flies high on sensing true victory after long. He ceases to be seen an someone who is still attempting to stay in the limelight with improper antics. He starts to be seen as someone who has successfully made a transition, and as someone who has carved himself a new niche in the new world.

“Do not go gentle into that good night.”

Thus wrote Dylan Thomas. Ego need not always be tossed around, it is quite essential when your identity and self respect needs to be asserted. When we are on this journey again, there are times when we need to dig our heels in and rage, rage against the dying of the light. Our protagonist struggles with self, for the self esteem is low, he is being ridiculed. He feels threatened by an aggressive young actor, who doesn’t make it easier, who revels in his new found stardom, in plushy newspaper reviews. They fight, they clash, they make each other uncomfortable on stage. But who is really struggling? Our protagonist is. We are.

We have a problem with the famous new actor. We are trying to find a new niche. We have a ex-wife on whom we cheated, yet whom we loved. We have a daughter back from drug rehab yet smokes pot on the sly. We do not want a kid again because we won’t know where the money would come from. We have everything (repeat, everything) riding on this particular play. Who is angry? We are. Who is raging? We are. Who needs to fly? We do. Who used to fly? We did. Who is craving to take to the skies again? We are. Will we? We get to choose.

Birdman flies in the end, for he arrives. He smiles and he takes off.

And we waddle back towards the exit doors wondering when our turn might come. Or has it, already?

Break a leg.

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