Is Alejandro González Iñárritu‘s "Birdman: or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)" a satire of superhero movies as some have suggested? After all it does have a meta element to it: former "Batman" Michael Keaton stars as a washed-up actor known for playing the superhero Birdman, now trying to mount a Broadway production as a form of comeback (but also to try and reclaim his integrity).
But that’s all surface, admittedly clever texture (much like the celebrity skewering), but in a story that’s really about identity, our enduring legacy, the inner monologue, the self-doubt battle that rages between our fragile ids and egos, and much more (read our review from Venice). In many ways "Birdman" is also about the struggle for self-worth in creative endeavors that often need a lot of hubris to pull off. Fighting the monster within that whispers in our ear and says you’re a fraud (narcissists or aggressively well-adjusted people may therefore find it vacant).
So "Birdman" uses the bifurcated superhero trope of secret identity and super-self as a construct to explore all these rich ideas about solipsism. There’s a lot of playful digs at celebrity, stardom, the idea of popularity, personal integrity, and yes, the culture of superhero-dom that is dominating our narrative and threatens to do so for the next several years.
So how does Innaritu actually feel about superhero movies? Would he perhaps take one on in the future? Fat chance. In an interview with Deadline last night, the filmmaker railed against the genre, essentially calling it soulless and sounding not too different from Mike Shiner—Ed Norton’s purist character, who also tears into the super hero movies and soulless paycheck gigs.
“I sometimes enjoy them because they are basic and simple and go well with popcorn,” Inarritu explained. “The problem is that sometimes they purport to be profound, based on some Greek mythological kind of thing. And they are honestly very right wing. I always see them as killing people because they do not believe in what you believe, or they are not being who you want them to be. I hate that, and don’t respond to those characters.”
“They have been poison, this cultural genocide,” he added. “Because the audience is so overexposed to plot and explosions and shit that doesn’t mean nothing about the experience of being human.” Perhaps this is when someone pulls out the argument that movies can just be escapism and don’t have to be insightful or profound? Personally, I’ll side with the latter, but superhero movies, when they’re above average, can also have something to say. Inarritu, at the very least, does have a point that’s hard to ignore. But perhaps superhero fans, of which there are many, disagree. Thoughts?
Meanwhile, "Birdman" opens in limited release tomorrow, so in the homestretch lots of little items are being released. In addition to new photos, you can watch a new featurette, a DP30 interview, and a 30-minute chat on Charlie Rose with Inarritu, Keaton, and Norton. "Birdman" opens tomorrow October 17 in NY/LA and beings nationwide expansion next Friday. Watch below.