birdman [or, creativity and the unexpected virtue of madness].

After excitedly sharing a trailer the moment it was released, I just now got around to seeing Birdman. Along with so many worthwhile things, it was sucked into the strange black hole which half of last year became. After finally getting to the theater Birdman was everything I’d hoped it would be and more.


Unique, strange, intelligent, heartbreaking, and hilarious. The film deserves all the acclaim being showered on it. The performances are raw, tender, honest, and risky, each actor brilliantly playing humor with a core of rage, terror, and desperation. The camera work, with so many incredibly long shots (the film is simulated to appear as a single shot), is often breathtaking. With a few exceptions where the music was used as part of a character’s delusions, the entire score is composed entirely of drums. Just drums! And still dynamic and appropriate.

My complaint a few years ago when The King’s Speech won Best Picture wasn’t that it was a bad film, but that the degree of difficulty was somewhere in the realm of 3 of 10. It was basically just a big budget BBC movie. Great for what it was, with excellent performances and solid direction, but most certainly not the very best film made in the western world for an entire year. With Birdman, the degree of difficulty is somewhere in the 9 of 10 range. So many moving parts, so much that needed to be executed just right or the whole film would fall apart, and they nail it. Nothing was easy, and they got everything right.


Birdman is a story about creativity, celebrity, brokenness, isolation, estrangement, hope, and the struggle against our own futility and mortality. As much as any film I’ve seen it is able to hold on to the truth of apparently disparate ideas and people at once, and to do so with grace and humor. No character gets a free pass from their own complicity, and yet no character is demonized. Even the film’s primary villainous asshole is a full human character capable of tenderness and goodness, along with his narcissism and selfishness.

The film also looks at the degree of insanity required for and caused by a life of creativity, especially creativity that is continually put on display in front of others. So much of creation is screaming into the void of our own irrelevance. Hell, so much of life is. Yet, the act of creation requires one to dare to have the hope that we can actually make something relevant, or to at least pretend to hope for a moment. For people who create for a living, I would imagine there is an insanity both required and begotten from the risk of constantly letting others see the hope that we are making something worthwhile. The rejection of that offering will feel like it takes everything from us. So many of my favorite artists put those tender parts of their internal world on display, which takes a courage I can only marvel at.


The film reminded me of the Kerouac quote:

The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.

Again, the film held both sides of the argument well, showing both the necessity and tragedy of that hunger. The history of artistic endeavor is one riddled with madness. Suicide and addiction, insomnia and depression, rage, infidelity, betrayal and brokenness. So much of that madness is tragic, and hopefully more artists can find communities, relationships and self-awareness that temper the more harmful and abusive parts of that craziness. However, Birdman reminds me that there is a certain portion of that madness that we simply must give in to if we are going to make anything good or significant.