With respect to Socrates, my unexamined life is not worth living. The front room is the face we show everyone but we hide our true self in the back room.
If you love the theater you will love Birdman. This film follows the movie stars, the strivers, the Broadway successes, the camera operators, key grips, the critics, the agents and the audiences through a narrative of mid-life crises and choices often taking us down into the underbelly of a theater as if perched on someone’s shoulder.
I’m gonna smack the play A Delicate Balance around some more. In a coincidental stroke, one of the actresses, Lindsay Duncan, who brought much-needed life to the stiff play appears in Birdman as a theater critic as feared as Addison DeWitt, delivering a scathing response to Michael Keaton’s character’s heartfelt plea for mercy, icily leveling the building full of Hollywood actors and actresses who storm Broadway’s domain disregarding the painstaking craft of theatrical acting, getting special treatment and an audience that could care less with the play and more with celebrity.
Then there is Edward Norton and Naomi Watts. Emma Stone continues to surprise and delight in her youth and will no doubt bring some added oomph to Broadway’s Cabaret with Alan Cumming in January (insert ironic remark here), but I was particularly struck by Norton and Watts. Norton plays the consummate stage actor, the my first love will always be the stage actor who truly means it, the comfortable worn shoe like actor Dallas Roberts who I have had the pleasure of seeing onstage in three plays including one with Norton; Burn This. Norton’s character is a raging asshole any other place but the stage because that is where he eats, that is where he lives. He is the perfect choice for this role playing lovable loathsome. And Watts. As it was Heavenly Creatures for Kate Winslet and Flirting for Thandie Newton, it will always be Mulholland Drive for Naomi Watts. The film that made you stare into the screen and say, who the hell is this girl? Watts’ character is the striver, you can see it in her eyes the actress who has paid her dues and is finally getting her chance to be on Broadway. She’s the hard worker, the grateful artist; you can see it in her diligent actions. She’s the genuine well-balanced character that has the unfortunate circumstance of being Norton’s character’s girlfriend, you can see it in her tag you’re it playfulness. Norton and Watts play routine dysfunctional but in sync when it counts so well, really holding together when Keaton’s character rapidly unravels.
Finally, there’s the matter of the gun. Chekhov’s gun. The weapon appears on stage in both A Delicate Balance and Birdman. But only one goes off. It should matter. When a threat is introduced it needs to be dealt with otherwise what is the point? Everything on stage should be used; after all, a choice was made to include something over another. A film has a lot more liberty to set up the usefulness of a gun, with foreshadowing and context and Birdman is true to its word.
See Birdman and reclaim your delight in acting with depth without it becoming so heavy it suffocates rather seeing its intensity matched by its levity, leaving you fluttering as if on bird wings.