Birdman, or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance, is an acclaimed American black comedy film winning the 2014 Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Cinematography. Despite its genre as a comedy, it arouses such turbulent emotions as pity and fear much like a tragedy. It’s not just a story about a washed-up superhero trying to regain his power. Rather, it’s a mirror of every one of us struggling to be relevant in our time, a projection of the universal fear that we don’t exist.
What did you want from this life? To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved on the earth.
Indeed, what more can we ask for? To live is to love and be loved, what else?
Riggan Thompason: “I’m trying to do something important---to finally do work that means something---unlike you and your cynical friends whose only ambition is to go viral.”
Sam: “Who the fuck are you? It’s not important! ---you are not doing this for the sake of art; you are doing it to feel relevant again.--- You hate bloggers. You mock Twitter. You don't even have a Facebook page. You're the one who doesn't exist.”
Yes, we are all terrified that we don’t matter. Going viral through Facebook or Twitter is an easy way to leave traces and gain popularity. But as Mike Shiner remarked, “Popularity is the slutty little cousin of prestige.” For those who cannot have access to prestige, they embrace popularity. The same way that a man becomes a critic when he cannot be an artist, an informer when he cannot be a soldier. All the strivings and efforts are to prove that we exist.
How did we end up here? This place is horrible. Smells like balls. We don’t belong in this shithole.
Stand up! You are much more than an actor---you tower over these other douchebags---you are a global force---you are larger than life---you pave the way for other clowns---you are original!
Note on the dressing room table: A thing is a thing, not what is said of that thing.
The damned voice, disguising itself as our alter-ego, always beckoning, luring, comforting, and even inspiring. Is it a devil or angel? The sweet voice that inflates the self, spawning a grandiose illusion of selfhood.
We drift; that’s what we are. The Broadway critic determines the success or failure of a play. Sometimes, what is said of that thing is what really matters, not the thing itself. It’s a world of labels. We can’t see the things unless we label them, following others’ opinions most of the time.
The Buddha’s Head
In Birdman’s dressing room lies the Buddha’s head as a decoration. The head sets the film in the aura of suffering and struggling, as the Buddha teaches only one thing, suffering and the liberation from suffering. Birdman’s suffering can be summarized by the famous lines of Macbeth:
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
The most pathetic scene in this film---A sonorous voice recites the famous lines, slow and somber, accompanied by the beating of the drum. Birdman slumbers into a colorfully lighted place, with the glimmering lights coexisting with the lines, “out, out, brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow.” Ah, this is what life really is! Shakespeare echoes what the Buddha has seen and understood, comparing life to dreams, illusion, bubbles and shadows.
We are poor players like Birdman, strutting and fretting our temporary hours upon the stage and then heard no more. Although our life is a tale full of sound and fury, still, it signifies something at the very moments when we strut and fret. In the Buddha’s eyes, all come to nothing. In the mortal’s eyes, now is the time to dream big. It’s better to try and fail a big dream than never to have a dream at all.