“Birdman”: The Arthouse Sham to End All Shams (Spoilers…kinda)

As I’ve shared with some close people of mine, “Birdman: or, The Unexpected Virute Of Ignorance” is less a movie and more of a blunt, entrapping object…it’s the artistic equivalent of a hammer wrapped in fly trap. You can try to analyze it, criticize it, handle it, but all you’ll end being is stuck. “Birdman” is grating and obvious, with many superfluous elements executed in ways that would make even the most pretentious film school student snarl, “Who the fuck do you think you are?!”…and yet in it’s center is a brutal truth that needs to be acknowledged in the open, lest we get entrapped in the next cultural con marketed as something “Fulfilling”, “Enlightening” or even “Cutting Edge” (like “Birdman”). People describe the movie as being a send-up of blockbuster movies, celebrity and the current media. That’s missing the point…it’s those things and then some, with it’s smugness turned up to 15. Oh, sure, it has it’s digs at Marvel’s “The Avengers”, and anyone can recognize that the movie is a riff on Michael Keaton being “Batman”, along with his post-“Batman” career…but it’s also a take down of many other shams of modern life, if not every sham that humans have lived with for, to paraphrase Emma Stone’s character’s line on human existence and rehab, “One hundred and fifty thousand years”.

It’s a shallow work of art, nothing but an exercise in cinematic technique that drags and irritates from the get go, no matter how one shares its misgivings about blockbusters or whatever…but it’s shallowness is weaponized, cutting down theater, acting, literature (and adaptations thereof), superhero movies, heroic myth, celebrity, Web 2.0 (whatever the fuck that is), the notion of family (though it ends on a more positive note on that), acting technique, artistic criticism, and finally the very notion of Art. The Guardian describes the movie as nothing more than a flight of fancy. I agree in parts, but what’s missing from that assessment is that the movie uses its own paper-thin depth and emphasis on technique to swallow, chew up, and spit out every subject it touches. That doesn’t make “Birdman” good, but it does make it a movie with guts, a movie with wafer-thin foundations that decides to take down almost everything around it. “Fine, maybe I am a rambling movie with caricatures and artistic flourishes that wear out their welcome, but FUCK YOU, artistic criticism, FUCK YOU, superhero movies, FUCK YOU, celebrity.” etc.

It’s like if Descartes, after having someone point out that their skepticism about reality can also disarm their ability to argue anything, had beat the offending debater to death, then lit their audience on fire. It would’ve been one thing if the movie did all this and then was ignored/forgotten, like many a failed movie…except “Birdman” has been getting Critical Acclaim Up The Ass, proving the movie’s more subtle point about how people, no matter how “cultured” or otherwise, are attracted to the same shallow shit, just in different packages tailored to their “tastes”. “Birdman” is pretty much the endgame of postmodernism that a lot of people (“The Cabin In The Woods” and “The End of Evangelion”, respectively) aim for but have not successfully reached: an offensive, shallow work that tears down and also drowns just about every sacred (and unsacred) cow it touches, a work where even the very act of acknowledging it traps and renders a person’s argument moot, because obviously they must disapprove of “Birdman” because of their failings as a person (and not because “Birdman” is a pretentious piece of shit). I’ve seen critic Bob Chipman get accused of disliking “Birdman” due to it mocking Superheroes, along with other critics like Devin Farci (though he probably gets less pushback on his site Bad Ass Digest). Hell, look for some responses to that Guardian review I described earlier (if you dare), I’m sure there’s at least ONE asshole right now comparing that reviewer to Lindsay Duncan’s critic character, who compares Michael Keaton’s character’s work to the “low art” of cartoons and pornography…and who is then revealed to have attended the movie’s central play despite claiming that they won’t do so out of spite.

“Birdman” doesn’t conquer things by being “better” than its subjects or by examining them in a deep, resonating way (there are movies that actually do that, like the Antonio Campos-directed “Simon Killer”…except few people have actually watched that), it conquers things by swallowing them and entraping them in it’s pastiche of bullshit, climaxing with a bloody serenade and a lot of crude behavior. No art form, artistic idea, group or person is sacred to this movie, and even Michael Keaton’s protagonist is nothing but a paper doll caricature with a few flourishes and scars, tossed like a wrecking ball by his Id and the world around him. Here is a movie that is annoying as fuck with it’s faux-theatric/cinematic displays, cynical dialogue and its, “Look, Ma, No Edits!*” style that every modern-day film student has been trying to emulate since Alfonso Cauron’s “Children of Men” adaptation (Look, Ma, Same Cinematographer! …No, seriously, look it up) , but it’s such a giant, caustic movie, entrapping almost everything it touches and reducing it to the same bullshit level it itself functions on.

If “Birdman” isn’t deep, then (say the moviemakers), neither is anything else. All it’s missing is a shallow yet baiting jab at Video Games. If it had that, it would be the ultimate, all-inclusive Fuck You to Art, to Modern Life. It’s the arthouse answer to the long running Troma Entertainment tradition of offending everyone and anything. “Birdman” isn’t a movie for “Cinephiles” or “movie buffs” like it’s advertised, it’s a movie for assholes who need a pick-me-up to make themselves feel Above It All. A pick-me up disguised as a cyanide pill. It’s a movie for the kind of person who kinda sorta grasps the fatalistic pessimism of early Jean Baudrillard, but inverts it in such a way that they can use said pessimism to come out above “the sheep”…come to think of it, that’s exactly what “The Matrix” did to Baudrillard, only through the Kung-Fu Bullet-Time White Boy himself, Neo, creating a power fantasy embraced by self-professed Nerds/Cyberpunks everywhere. Huh.

Actually, you know what? “Power fantasy” is what I’ve been trying to describe this movie as the whole time. This is an art-house power fantasy, only one that seems more “grounded” because it’s so self-deprecating, like if Conan O’ Brien made a small joke about himself while weightlifting and looking like a brick shit house. It’s insincere, empty-headed and waist-deep, but the movie declares, “Fuck You, Because I’m Smarter Than You, And Everything You Say or Do Will Be Used Against You.”

* We all know that’s bullshit. It’s executed well, I have to admit.


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