Thursday, April 16, 2015

Birdman, or (Who Was REALLY Mike Shiner?)

Spoiler Level: High. Definitely see the film first. And since I'm probably the last person in the world to see it, you probably already have.

Hi! My name is Fer, and I used to write a blog called Fer's Forum. I enjoyed it and it was fun until it wasn't, at which point I took a break and never came back.

Part of the reason is that I generally feel that there's many people already saying what I'm thinking, so why bother saying it myself? There's a nice, easy simplicity about being able to just post "THIS." and move on to the next thing.

But every now and then I can't find anyone who has already perfectly summed up my feelings, so I feel the need to dust off the ol' blog and shoot my proverbial mouth off once more. This is one of those times.

So I just finished watching the Oscar-winning film Birdman or (The Unexpected Value of Ignorance). I enjoyed it for its unique directorial approach, its parallels to Michael Keaton's history with Batman and his character Riggan Thomson's history with Birdman (and by extension Riggan's parallels with the play he's trying to put on), and its excursions into Riggan's questionable sanity.

Like many people I was left with many questions after the film ended, and since I watched it by myself I didn't have anyone to discuss it with. So I turned to the internet and found many, many well thought out perspectives that, even if they didn't give me answers, at least addressed my questions.

Except this one:

Where the heck does Edward Norton's character Mike Shiner go for the last part of the film?!?

Mike Shiner is a major character throughout the film. From his beginning he challenges Riggan, first by questioning Riggan's writing skills, and then by forcing him to push his acting skills, breaking character during a preview, upstaging him, belittling him in the press, and eventually by getting physically and/or romantically involved with Riggan's daughter.

And then... nothing. He's just gone. He's so gone that in the final performance we see of the play, the character Shiner was playing has been recast with another actor, with absolutely no attention being given to the change at all.

Here's my perspective on why:

Mike Shiner may also have been a product of Riggan's imagination.

Riggan is torn between prestige and popularity. Birdman reflects the popularity side, the mainstream success that failed to bring him happiness. Shiner reflects the prestige side he craves. Shiner has the acting chops where Riggan's are questioned, Shiner gets the good press while Riggan gets the bad, and most tellingly-- Shiner wins the love of Riggan's daughter Sam while Riggan can't seem to make any kind of connection with her. In every respect, Shiner outshines Riggan.

The last scene we see of Mike Shiner is when Riggan sees Shiner kissing his daughter. Once that happens, Shiner's work is done-- he's now achieved everything that Riggan wants. He has Sam's love, while the closest connection Riggan has to her is following her footsteps into substance abuse. Riggan then goes to the opposite extreme and dives into the fantasy world of Birdman, causing explosions with the snap of his fingers and flying to wherever he wants to be. Realism has left the building, and taken Shiner with it.

This is why Shiner wasn't in the play for the last scene. If you look at the film with the perspective that Shiner was a real person, then the practical answer is he must have quit or been fired after Riggan caught him with Sam (although considering how much it was emphasized how important he was to the play's success that seems unlikely). But if Shiner was part of Riggan's delusion, then he was never really there. Perhaps Ralph was never injured by a falling light at all, and that was part of Riggan's delusion as well. (Or perhaps Ralph was injured and the other new actor was Riggan's understudy. It would help if I could have been able to tell who was actually playing that character in that scene.)

Shiner is always pushing him for more realism. Birdman pushes him for more spectacle. In the end, Riggan delivers a performance with both-- the realism of using a real gun instead of a prop, and the spectacle of shooting himself onstage in front of the audience.

And in the end, both Shiner and Birdman are left behind. As Riggan recovers Birdman quietly gives his final "f*** you,  goodbye" from the corner of Riggan's vision. But Riggan's new nose and the marks over his eyes now resemble Birdman's mask, but being his actual face they do it in a realistic way. Both Shiner and Birdman have been melded into Riggan. He now has the popularity and the prestige, and the love of his daughter. Rather than pulling him from opposite sides, they're now in balance.

At least that's what I've come up with. I would love to hear other opinions and perspectives.

And that's it for 2015. See you next year!