Birdman flies due to expert camerawork, deep characters

By Noah Sunshine II Contributing Writer

This year, there is a trend of comfort in the theatres. Sequels, Disney hits, biopics, and war movies sit vigil on the top box office slots, offering familiar stories, characters, and feelings to their viewers. Only one movie this season made me uncomfortable, and I liked it.

“Birdman” stars Michael Keaton in his first major leading role in well over a decade, but instead of his larger than life Caped Crusader persona, we meet an unstable ex-Hollywood star vying to stay relevant. Early mention of the film before release was concerned with his portrayal of another superhero after a career defining stint in the 80-90s as Tim Burton’s “Batman,” but soon it became clear that the 2014 film was not an explosions-andmayhem superhero blockbuster. Instead, we have a thoughtful and thought-provoking glimpse at the cognition of an unstable actor desperately seeking validation through a stage show that he wrote, directed, and stars in.

At no point, however, is anything smooth. The opening shot focuses on a nearly-naked Riggan Thomas (Keaton) floating in mid-air in deep meditation, promptly interrupted by his daughter calling on Skype. No dramatic music or fanfare follow, only a painfully accurate exchange between a depressed father and his rebellious daughter. These two, and every other character, are tragic in their own way — be it because of drugs, infidelity, poverty, or impotence — but never do you feel depressed as you’re dragged from scene to scene at an alarming pace.

Sometimes, I felt just plain embarrassed. As I watched, I suffered over every character’s mistake and cringed at every scripted misspeaking, pleading for the character’s dignity as the train-wreck piled higher and higher. This is what got me invested; the grounded absurdity of everyday situations handled completely wrong but with the best of intentions garnered so much sympathy that, at some points, I felt a little panicked myself.

That kind of visceral reaction was augmented tenfold by dizzyingly good camera work; longshots followed characters through entire buildings, but often stretched across days, stitched together in continuous takes. The kind of trickery afoot forces the viewer to make their own decisions about the film — is there something supernatural going on, or are we seeing inside the head of someone that doesn’t see the world like we do? Regardless, the camerawork felt so natural and fluid that I had a hard time believing I wasn’t in the halls of the Broadway theatre with them.

“Birdman” is worth seeing because it is an extraordinarily unique viewing experience. It will make audience members feel ways that films likely have not made them feel before. Emma Stone, Zach Galafianakis, and Edward Norton round out a cast of heart-wrenchingly real characters that will make you ache and fidget just like a real dysfunctional family.

Anyone a little bored with the fourth installment of “Madagascar” currently in theaters should consider giving this a try and embrace a new experience.

Senior Noah Sunshine is a contributing writer. His email is nsunshin@fandm.edu.

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