Birdman was at New York Comic Con to give a sneak peek of the film—which comes out on October 17th. And if you haven’t been convinced that you need to see this film… you really do need to. Especially if you’re enjoying the current deluge of superhero films.
Slight spoilers below for the first ten minutes of the film.
The audience was shown the first ten minutes of footage, in which Michael Keaton portrays Riggan, an actor who is putting on a piece of theatre adapted from a Raymond Carver work. He seems to have certain uncanny powers—being able to move objects without touching them, levitating and such… or can he? He is in contact with an inner voice, which seems to be Birdman, the superhero alter ego that Riggan played many years back. The saturation of superheroes in current media is clearly central to the narrative: Riggan cannot get the actors he wants for his show because they’re all in superhero films, and things that Riggan says in interviews are misinterpreted to mean that he’s going back to make another Birdman movie.
The film almost seems to be done in one shot—it’s artistically gorgeous, and yet incredibly hard to describe. Michael Keaton and Edward Norton were on hand for the panel, and it was clear that their difficulty in talking about the film had little to do with not wanting to spoil the plot; it is simply very difficult to put into words. This has very much to do with writer/director Alejandro González Iñárritu—both actors claim Iñárritu was more at the center of the film than they were, despite how similar the narrative seems to aspects of Keaton’s career. Norton referenced a psychological theory that you are every person in your dreams—in this film, everyone is Iñárritu.
Speaking of his character’s alter ego, Birdman, Keaton said, “He often speaks the truth, I think. […] It’s not maybe not a truth that you want to hear.” The idea that the former superhero incarnation of Keaton’s character has this ability to see to the heart of things is part of the film’s focus on ego—how it can hinder and also bolster you. The story is meant to be a journey of enlightenment to a certain extent. As Keaton says, “[Riggan] has to go that crazy to get that sane.” He felt that he took the journey with Riggan in filming.
The film has the same cinematographer as Gravity (Emmanuel Lubezki), and the same technical brilliance on display. Norton was quick to say that he believes what was done in Birdman is a sort of continuation of the incredible work done in Gravity. The shoot seems to have been grueling: Norton jokingly compared it to Dancing With the Stars. Iñárritu expected the scenes to be word perfect, and those continuous shots demanded more arduous takes. Also, Keaton and Norton teased that they spend quite a bit of time in their underwear.
Despite his abrupt tenure as the Hulk, Norton still had kind things to say about the superhero genre, being a fan of comics himself. He would go back to play another if he enjoyed the project, feeling that the genre is basically today’s mythology canon. Keaton talked about how he ended up taking the part of Batman, and how he gave a set of opinions about the character of Bruce Wayne to Tim Burton, never expecting that the sort of movie he envisioned could get made. Burton wasn’t sure either, but insisted that they make a go of it.
Birdman definitely seems like it’s going to be a real experience, with ruminations running from genre in the current zeitgeist to the journeys we must all take in an effort to find meaning. Not something to miss.