Grant Mitchell

Michael Keaton delivers what may be the performance of a lifetime in the 2014 acclaimed Alejandro Iñárritu film, “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance).” The film is a pairing of an artistically gifted director in Iñárritu and an A-list cast of actors in what is an excellent character study of fame as well as the struggle we all face in separating ourselves from our pasts. 

The film is a treasure trove of memorable moments and conversations. 

The most striking and memorable of these moments always comes when Riggan is dealing with the delusions of his former superhero character, Birdman, who follows him around and embodies his ego and past Hollywood self. 

Riggan deals with his decaying mental state all the while he tries to put on a Broadway play, regain the respect of critics, his daughter, himself and re-light his fading star.

The results of having an imaginary former character he played follow Riggan around has just about the affects you would assume. At first, Riggan denies the voice of his former self and ego, but slowly and surely the embodiment and vocal nature of the character becomes more and more tangible until Riggan literally sees a physical embodiment of Birdman. 

Thankfully however, the film does not delve into a clichéd portrayal of a famous person breaking down very publicly. Instead, “Birdman” utilizes its deep cast and excellent story to execute a nuanced and bittersweet tale of lost reputation and limelight and the means a person will go to in order to reclaim personal and public respect. 

While Michael Keaton has never had any public or private meltdowns or blowups like his character in the film, Keaton does have more than a few similarities with his character. 

Similarities that include the fact that Riggan and Keaton both played superhero characters with cult followings in the 1990’s and became household names off of their respective roles. Also unfortunately, both character and actor are also the same in terms of their fading from successful films and relegation to critic’s list of actors who only do blockbusters. 

While Michael Keaton loathes the comparisons of similarities between both himself and his character, some of the parallels certainly feel almost biographical. 

All of this lends to what I think is a more authentic and believable performance from Michael Keaton as a washed-up actor looking to regain his luster and appease the persnickety peanut gallery of critics in the media and his own inner circle. 

With all of the moving parts and flowing storytelling of Iñárritu, “Birdman” manages to keep a breakneck pace without ever leaving the audience disengaged or lost. 

In addition to the creative and technical prowess of both director and actors, “Birdman” also has the luxury of holding within its enthralling story a very pertinent message for all of us. 

A message that tells us people will always want to count us out and keep us down, but we will always find a way to weather the storm and reassert to ourselves and the world that we are more than our past. That we are more than the highs we have enjoyed and the doldrums in which we have suffered and squandered time, talent and relationships with loved ones and ourselves. 

While Riggan may feel for most of the film that all of his earnest actions and motivations are for not and are futile, he proves in the end to himself and to us that it is never too late in life to regain one’s footing.

Grant Mitchell is a junior majoring in public relations. He can be reached at gmitch16@vols.utk.edu.

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