There may be spoilers ahead…
The meaning of Birdman is open to interpretation, and that’s what I think is so great about it, but also what divides opinion about it. It doesn’t leave the viewer with any real answers. Things are not wrapped up in a neat little bow at the end. Is it a film about mental illness? Is it about a man who once played a superhero who then discovers he has actual superhero powers? Is it just about the self-obsession of those involved in the film and theatre world? Well, yes. It’s about all these things. And that’s the problem.
The first time I watched it I thought it was about a man having a mental breakdown, and I was confused by the ending (or, if you prefer, the multiple endings). On a second viewing I noticed details I hadn’t spotted the first time around and I saw the film in a more positive light. It seemed to be to be about a man who risks everything to take a great leap into the unknown (as Riggan, Michael Keaton’s ageing Hollywood actor, does both literally and metaphorically throughout the film) only to discover he can fly (again, in a literal and metaphorical sense). It’s about taking risks in life, staking everything, even if the odds are stacked against you, and coming out a success (if a little damaged). This interpretation made more sense for me. Suddenly the ending seemed like a metaphor for the entirety of the film that had preceded it. I could be wrong, but I’ll settle on that one for now.
The film has a lot of ambition – with great performances from Keaton and the rest of the cast, lots of memorable quotable dialogue, and a seamless flow (only 16 visible cuts) that pulls us into the film as if we’re watching the scenes unfold in real life. It’s a film that can be watched again and again, with the viewer noticing different things each time. In time I have no doubt it will be considered a classic.