I am probably one of the very few people that had never seen Birdman. I knew of it, of course, because of it’s wild ride at the Oscars. I just assumed it was good and that I didn’t need to watch it (lazy movie enthusiast level 99 right here).
This week I decided to slay this huge beast that is my laziness and watched a few movies acclaimed by the critics. The fact that two out of the three were about performing as an artist is merely a weird coincidence.
But I am not here to review Birdman as I normally would with my weird sense of humor, in fact I would like to discuss the film’s finale.The last scene of the film creates some sort of confusion because it can be interpreted in many ways. I will give you my interpretation and what I feel makes the most sense.
If you haven’t seen the film yet, I want to warn you that there will be spoilers. If you are dying to read this article for some weird reason, I recommend grabbing an almond milk latte, open Netflix, sit-back and enjoy the film. Let’s start now, shall we?
Birdman starts with Riggan Thompson (Michael Keaton) meditating in his room, he’s floating off the floor and proclaims that his dressing-room smells like balls. One second into the film and we have learned two things: Riggan seems to have some sort of magical power and he’s probably an actor (the Actor’s Equity book in the top right corner is also a clue). He’s troubled in his meditation by a Skype call from his daughter, Sam (Emma Stone), who seems wildly enraged by the task of buying him flowers that smell nice.
Now that his peace has been shaken, he’s ready to head back to the rehearsal for the play he’s written, directing, and starring in. Riggan keeps a poster of his once immensely popular movie franchise, Birdman, where he portrayed a super-hero bird. The poster also speaks to him but we will get back to that later.
As mentionned earlier, Riggan has magical powers: he seems to be able to move things around with his mind and float wherever he wants. During the rehearsal, a terrible actor by the name of Ralph is feeding him nothing but poor choices for the play and our protagonist can take no more. As he leaves, a stage light falls directly on the head of his co-star, knocking him out. Riggan experiences no guilt whatsoever and bluntly tells Jake, the producer of the play (Zach Galifiakanis), that he made this happen. His long-time friend does not believe him but urges him that they need to find a new actor.
A Broadway miracle is about to happen as the shining bright star of New-York’s theatre scene, Mike Shiner (Edward Norton), is now free and ready to replace the goddawful Ralph, who is now at the hospital. This is the beginning of a chaotic few days that will lead to the opening night of the play. But before we get to this, let’s discuss a few points.
It’s obvious that Riggan is at a turning point in his career. He hasn’t worked on any relevant acting projects in a long time, he’s only remembered as Birdman, which was a blockbuster that he was not particularly proud of. He wants to work on something that matters – but for what reason? To feed his ego? To feel relevant? He constantly feels that he is not enough.
Through this play, he hopes to be brought back into the cinematic world and to be remembered. The legacy he leaves to the world is important to him but he feels he has failed. Even his daughter Sam looks at him with pitiful eyes.
To make matters worse, Riggan has hallucinations. He hears his Birdman poster talk to him and feed his ego with twisted advice. He wants to disassociate himself from his past but he can’t. Even when he tries to throw the poster out, he ends up keeping it. He’s still connected to his past and the glory that came with it. He can’t seem to move on.
What Mike brings to the cast is pure chaos, and this will trigger Riggan’s hallucinations more frequently. Mike’s popularity increases our protagonist’s doubts. His stress is overwhelming, he hears the voice of Birdman everywhere he goes now, not just in his dressing room next to the poster. As the audience becomes larger, due to the insanity happening on stage (Mike stopping the play to yell at Riggan or his attempt in having live-sex on stage to be ”truthful” because he got a boner), Riggan will lose his mind and spiral into depression. The cherry on the sundae is his daughter literally telling him he’s a failure and that what he’s trying to attain with this play (being relevant again) will not happen because he doesn’t matter.
This is the base of the film. Riggan’s fight to be relevant again. His fight against his own doubts too. Birdman becomes a symbol for all of his regrets. What if he hadn’t taken on that role, would he be a relevant actor otherwise?
This brings us to the final preview, where Riggan goes outside to smoke a cigarette after he sees his daughter, Sam, kiss Mike. It feels like a personal attack against him. While he smokes, his robe gets stuck to the door and he is left with no choice but to walk outside in Broadway in his loose, white underwear. Everyone is pointing at him, filming this embarrassing moment and yelling “Birdman!” They recognize him as the ridiculous bird super-hero and not as Riggan Thompson, the actor. It gets him to think even more.
That night, he will get drunk and tell off the most famous theatre critic in New-York. She promises to write the most destructive review of her life, to bring him down forever, but he doesn’t care. Riggan buys a pint of whiskey in a cheap little shop, drinks it all, and sleeps on the streets. When he wakes up, Birdman is behind him, telling him that all he needs is a comeback in the suit. He hallucinates explosions – he’s back as Birdman, for a second. He starts floating all the way atop a building and goes flying around New-York, escaping reality.
This exact moment explains to us that he doesn’t actually have powers. And why is that, you ask? When he flies back down in front of the theatre to go inside, a taxi man runs after him, yelling , “What are you doing? This guy didn’t pay me, man.”
Riggan was never flying. He was in a taxi, hallucinating out of his brain. His powers aren’t real, therefore the Birdman following him around and talking to him also isn’t real. It’s all been a lie.
And this brings us to the final moments of the film. The opening night of the show. Riggan switches the fake gun out for a real one. His lines in the show for this final scene of the play are the backbone of the whole film, they are Riggan’s biggest fears:
“I don’t exist. I’m not even here.”
He then shoots himself in the face, trying to take his own life. And the audience cheers. Standing ovation.
Riggan wakes up in the hospital. He failed, only managing to shoot his nose off. The critic he insulted the night before just wrote a great review for his play – he’s a star, he’s acclaimed, people are praying for his recovery all the over the States! He’s reborn.
But he recognizes that this is not what he wanted. When everyone has left the room, Riggan goes to the bathroom and takes the bandages off of his face. He’s hideous. As he goes out again to look at the view from his window, he sees a flock of crows. He opens the window and he jumps out.
When his daughter Sam comes back, we see her look down. There are sirens wailing and voices from down below. But she looks up and she smiles.
This is the finale. There are multiple conclusions that can be made and it all depends on what you chose to believe during the film. Is Sam happy because her father actually has magical powers and he flew out to reunite with the crows?
My conclusion is that Riggan never had powers but struggled with hallucinations. Birdman was very real in his mind, as it was the culmination of his failures. Sam, being his daughter and a struggling addict, probably also had to deal with her own struggles. She’s not stupid, she knew that her Dad tried to kill himself on stage that night and failed. When she looked down, she saw that he had successfully took his own life. She’s probably happy that he isn’t suffering anymore. But I also believe that “like Father, like Daughter”. If Riggan was a recovering alcoholic and had hallucinations, Sam probably struggles with them too.
When she smiles at the sky, I think it’s because she starts seeing Birdman too. And that, my friends, would be what I think of this film’s finale.