Ep. 35: Birdman


This episode contains explicit language.

Following Birdman’s Best Picture win at the Oscars last year, director Alejandro G. Inarritu seems poised once again to be the front-runner this year with his new film The Revenant.  Nate and Ryan have often debated the merits of Inarritu, and his 2005 movie Babel remains one of their most hotly contested arguments.  Their divide continued on the release of Birdman, and with Inarritu still drawing praise and criticism from all corners, it was time to at least open the discussion on this polarizing director.

Let us know your thoughts on Alejandro G. Inarritu.  Is he a genius?  A fraud (ahem, Scott Tobias)?  Visionary?  Annoying?  What do you think of Birdman?  Will The Revenant take home another Oscar for Inarritu?

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  1. (disclaimer: Sorry this is so long and that the grammar is terrible. Think of it as more of a stream of consciousness that any kind of structured letter)

    Hey guys! (and hey again Nate!) Loved the podcast, I actually just finally found your show and I’m looking forward to going back and catching up on some episodes!

    I loved the Birdman conversation you had and I wanted to jump in and type out some ideas I had while they are still fresh (fresh from the podcast, I actually haven’t seen Birdman since the theater so forgive me if i make any factual mistakes on the movie).

    I’ll admit outright that I was a fan of the movie so it was nice to get out of my comfort zone a bit and hear some objection criticism of the film. I’m also judging this movie completely individually and am not tying it back or relating it to any other of Iñárritu’s films. (and I’m sure I’m gonna ramble) Ok… I think I’ve made enough excuses, here we go.

    So ultimately I feel like the general theme of the film was an individual’s search for some kind of artistic/cultural relevance, and as someone who is living in New York and trying to make a career of music I completely related to that. I know Nate mentioned it a bit on the podcast, but I really feel like “artistic desperation” was the central driver to the film. I also felt the movie didn’t really glamorize that desperation, and that the characters honestly had a lot of moments where they looked like kinda bad people. I thought that it pretty openly showed how an artist (or anyone just trying to create something) uses their ego as a serious defense mechanism ESPECIALLY in the face of rejection or failure. The “jokes” that you guys mentioned and the odd number of ball references that you noted, while they may got a chuckle from a few people, I felt they actually served more to illustrate how immature and desperate these people are. There is definitely an element of childishness when an adult is practically begging you to like something they’ve made; that desperate desire for validation and acceptance. The way the characters complained and whined felt to me like an honest way a lot of artistic people feel (I guess I’ll stop trying to lump all artists together, I’ll just say that’s how I feel at times). You feel like you have made something amazing, you put everything you have into it, and if people just kind of look at it and shrug it’s basically like all of society has given you the cold shoulder.
    Also, just calling yourself and “artist” kind of makes you an asshole right off the bat.

    Speaking of feeling like you’ve made something great… All the supernatural elements of Riggan floating or moving things with his mind always happen when he’s alone. To me it was that feeling of “Goddamit, I know I have this incredible potential no one sees. There’s something inside of me ready to explode. Maybe people look at me and don’t see it, but I KNOW it’s in there”. He struggling to reconcile what he knows he can do, with what actually is accomplished in his life. Also with the voice-over sections “How did we end up in this shit?”; the guy pretty clearly hates himself or at least the failure he feels he’s become. He’s trying to push through it the only way he knows how which happens to be with a lot of kicking, screaming and complaining. But that voice is driving him and pushing him, it’s like a perverted sort of self confidence. I think that any kind of artistic pursuit can beat you up so much emotionally that you do develop odd ways of coping with the rollercoaster ride of reactions.

    Also you have Riggan, Mike, and Lesley: someone who had success and lost it, someone who’s riding high at their peak, and someone who has been struggling their whole career and finally got a little notoriety late in the game. Riggan is desperately trying to scramble back and gain some kind of artistic acceptance, Lesley is clinging on to it for dear life worried it may never come again, and Mike is in the middle of his success but is so blinded in the moment that he comes across as an arrogant asshole (and who’s to say he won’t be behaving exactly as Riggan a few years down the line if his star starts to fade.) They’re all in different phases of a creative career, and all seem to have tunnel vision on their own situations and are treating every minute as if it’s life or death, which it can definitely feel like. They’re equating being culturally accepted and artistically appreciated with the whole point of existing. If they are failures now then nothing matters. Ironically when you have success, as Mike does, it becomes so intoxicating that you may not appreciate it until it’s gone.

    I know you guys mentioned how they kind of shit all over twitter and social media, but I think it goes way deeper than that. It all comes down to generation after generation of people just wanting to be accepted and validated. Riggan equates success and relevance with a good review in the New York Times, then the critic at the bar scolds him and his generation for being shallow and immature. She says that he doesn’t take any risks, not like back in her day when theater was “real” theater. The same way the critic talks down to Riggan is EXACTLY the same way he talks down to his daughter about how HER generation is self obsessed and how they are all consumed with social media. This theme of thinking your generation has it all figured out has been occurring since the beginning of humanity. At the end of the movie his daughter is trying to show him how many hits his video has on youtube and she’s trying to tell them how big of a deal that is; to her that’s relevance. This search that we all have for acceptance has gone on and will go on forever, but the world evolves and the metrics for success are always changing.

    I don’t have any solid theories as to when things switch over to full blown delusion. I do believe that him apparently actually shooting himself on stage is just a metaphor to what he really felt he was doing. Maybe it was a way of letting go and accepting life for what it is? I’m not really sure. I do believe there is a level of calm that he reaches in the hospital when he feels he really put it all on the line and the people loved it. He finally felt accepted and validated. You may be right that Iñárritu has a chip on his shoulder and was trying to tell off the critics and that the words and sentiments were all him just funneled through these characters, but I felt that the feelings and emotional reactions in the film were so broad and universal to the way artistic people react in general that it almost didn’t matter. Maybe the falling comet or shooting star was a metaphor for our temporary existence? Riggen doesn’t care if he burns out as long as he burns brightly? The secondary title could be a play on the phrase “Ignorance is bliss”. Maybe when you find something, some kind of force inside of you that you need to display and showcase to the world, it can be painful when it’s not understood or accepted the way you think it should. When you feel like you have to put it all on the line to create something (and you feel you have no choice in this) the process can be torture.

    whew! ok. Hopes that’s not overload. I swear I know I’m not some crazy, desperate, attention seeking artist (but I think part of me is).

    I’d love to hear what you guys think about all that nonsense I typed! I’m sure there will be some other “profound” point I forgot that I’ll be kicking myself over later.

    Also, speaking of Charlie Kaufman and award season… have you seen Anomalisa? I really enjoyed it! I thought it had some similar feelings to Eternal Sunshine; just the ideas about the exhilaration of meeting someone new and how the excitement tends to change and fade over time. Anyways, I recommend checking it out.

    Nate, hope all is well! Ryan, nice to meet you!

    (I noticed there’s a section for “website”. It was not my initial intent to self promote, but I can’t help myself.)

    Talk to you soon!

    • It was nice to hear your “objective criticism” not “objection critisicm”. (I’m sure you figured out what I meant)

    • Robert thank you so much for taking the time to write all of these thoughts out and thanks for listening! Also, how the hell are you!? It’s been forever.

      For not having seen Birdman since the theater your recall is very impressive. You used the word “childish” to describe that artistic desperation. I think that’s an apt way of putting it. That “perverted self confidence” is what I most saw in myself while watching Birdman the first time. Not necessarily a pretty picture, but one you realize is necessary for performance.

      You make a really good point about the social media themes in the film. I think you’re right and we probably missed the point. It wasn’t so much that social media is self obsession and that equals bad. Self obsession is nothing new and social media is simply the latest vessel by which this generation measures relevance. Once again, the movie is cranky about social media because that’s Riggan’s generational perspective! Emma Stone is trying to tell him, this is worth something. Perfect recent example is how often I hear Bernie Sanders is more relevant than any other candidate because of his “social media popularity.”

      What media platform down the road will the snapchat generation view as pathetic?

      I also enjoyed reading your breakdown of the three actors being in different spots of their careers. It’s interesting to consider Edward Norton’s character a couple years down the road. Will he still be so cocky and seemingly self-assured when the positive reviews inevitably start to wane? That’s when I think an “artist” actually finds out what they’re made of.

      I want to see Anomalisa so bad! Hard to catch a lot of the lesser known “award” movies out here in the ‘burbs- as I’m sure you remember.

      PS: Enemies is a great track 🙂 I sense a little Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross influence? Maybe a hint of Joy Electric in the vocals (although not sure if you ever listened to them much).

  2. Hey thanks! Yes, Trent and Atticus are definite inspirations for me. You nailed it. Not as familiar with Joy Electric, but I’ll check them out.

    (Your Punch Drunk Love podcast made me pretty much go straight home and re-watch that movie even though I got home around 2am. Love it.)

    Looking forward to more episodes!

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