It’s all about acting, here and elsewhere, in many ways, full to the brim, devil-may-care, and please-help-I-am-going-down. Riggan Thomson hears a voice, and sometimes that voice has a body, and it’s that of his biggest role, an action superhero called Birdman, and his voice sounds just like that of Christian Bale in the Batman movies. You know why that is, don’t you?
Riggan’s nerves are frayed because he is going to star in his own stage adaptation of Raymond Carver’s short story What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. He’s right to be nervous because other people have done very good things with Carver’s writing. You know about that, too, don’t you?
Acting is about agony as well as ecstasy, with considerably more of the former. Riggan’s nightmare becomes worse when he has to hire Mike Shiner, famous and difficult, but he can act, and he will sell tickets. Shiner, who can only perform on stage, is Lesley’s boyfriend, and Lesley is also in the play, and when Lesley is kissed by Laura, we remember how Lesley once kissed someone else, also called Laura.
For everyone involved, theatre is a nightmare, addictive but entertaining, like an infinite jest, but look how it can also accommodate all kinds of people. Riggan has a daughter, Sam, just out of rehab, who takes care of his flowers and his make-up stuff and of the lonely concession stand. The rest of the time, she is up on the roof, thinking about thinking about jumping, and thinking about falling for a prick like Mike Shiner. Sometimes she prefers kissing, sometimes jumping seems like the better idea.
There is also a megalomaniacal side to Riggan. He can move objects and people by sheer willpower, and he thinks he can make Tabitha write a favourable review. Since Tabitha gives him a look that reminds him of Lindsay Duncan, he is powerless. That look would make the Hulk shrink. Sometimes, theatre is about shouting and crying and deception and utter despair, sometimes it is about love and snogging, and about sharing a vagina.
There are cameos that refer to other things: Spiderman, Ironman, Superman. Chekhov’s gun. Scorsese’s feverish ambition. Macbeth‘s darkness. It will all make sense, in the end. So when you put yourself in Sam’s place in the last scene, who do you see hovering outside the window – Riggan Thomson or Birdman?