Saturday, August 15, 2015

Birdman or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance (analysis)

**** SPOILERS ****
Here is my take on “The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance”. It is explained and owned by Dickinson (the theatre reviewer character). It’s the title of her review that was so feared by Riggan before she ever wrote it. And it explains Riggan’s dichotomy.

Dickinson defines Riggan as a personification of Hollywood:

….I hate you. And everyone you represent. Entitled. Spoiled. Selfish. Children. Blissfully untrained, unversed and unprepared to even attempt real art. Handing each other awards for cartoons and pornography. Measuring your worth in weekends. Well, this is the theater, and you don’t get to come in here and pretend you can write, direct and act in your own propaganda piece without going through me first.
She’s telling him he is ignorant and she’s thinking he doesn’t even know it (he’s an untrained child). Ignorance becomes a “virtue of ignorance”, but it’s only virtuous when she sees he is actually honest in his performance and direction of the play.

Honesty is a virtue in acting. I think it is the thing that most divides Hollywood/film from theatre. The simplest thing can be honesty. It is possible to transcend both film and theatre as some great actors do. You might not expect that of an untrained, Hollywood comic book character player with no theatre background.

Riggin’s ‘virtue of ignorance’ is his ‘innocence’ (as a beginner on the stage), an unexpected innocence. I would add that the dichotomy between film and theatre is another strong recurring theme and mirrors Riggin’s own inner conflict of Divided Self and Disunity.

As Mike also eludes to it:

Do you have any idea who walked these boards before you? Geraldine Page, Marlon Brando, Helen Hayes, Jason Robards… And now you. Riggan Thomson.
And again later:

….Your stage? This stage belonged to a lot of great actor’s, pal. But you are not one of them.
Perhaps it is the explicit reflection of the implicit film/theatre disunity subtext that we also see personified in Riggan’s conversations with the Hollywood Birdman. If Riggin were to embrace and understand Dickinson’s meanings, he might come to terms with, and conquer his internal disunity. Perhaps her review was a letter to him.

As an aside, the film/theatre theme is carried out in the execution of the film itself. We watch Birdman, a movie shot in the style of theatre, where actors play out scenes in one uncut take as they would on the stage. This is the greatest advantage of the fluid Steadicam, no-cut, no-coverage, continuous take style. I think it should be the norm and not the exception when actors are involved.

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