SPOILERS! Good Reader, if you haven’t seen the movie Birdman, you might want to pass this week’s entry. We’ll be checking out the script for Birdman, which you can find here. My over/under on Oscar wins for this movie is 5 including Best Picture, Director, Actor and Original Script, so yeah, I dug it. Inarritu and his three co-writers brought the poetry and a not-so simple elegance. If only it could be bottled, that knack for laying down something so thematically complex on the page in a manner that appears fluid and simple. Maybe looking at the script will furnish clues. Here’s how it opens on the page…
POINT OF ENTRY
We hear a clock ticking.
INT. RIGGAN’S DRESSING ROOM – THEATER – DAY
Close on the brilliant colors of a middle eastern rug, the
center of what seems to be a makeshift “meditation” space.
We slowly tilt up to discover the back of Riggan Thomson (55).
He is in the proper ‘Lotus’ position, dressed only in tight
white briefs and he appears to be meditating deeply. And if all
this seems a little odd, it becomes all the more so when you
notice that he is levitating almost two feet above the floor.
His breath is calm and measured… in and out… in and out.
How did we end up here?
This place is a fucking dump.
We begin to slowly move toward Riggan’s back while his measure
breathing continues. We see a clock on the wall, ticking.
Smells like balls.
Page 1= valuable real estate. Set up the world, the tone, the key characters, the conflict. Inarritu already did most of that here, in half a page. Keaton’s floating is an amazing point of entry. Hey Peditto, didn’t you tell us WE HEAR and TILT UP are unnecessary and/or unprofessional. Yep, sure did. Winning a shitload of Oscars tends to put things in perspective on the format rules, huh? This opening is at the top of the trailer:
This is one of the best POV movies you’ll ever see. The remarkable effect of FLOATING physically from scene to scene in Riggan’s mind. When we break away from him to other character it’s seamless, with the camera appearance of a single unbroken take for the full movie. Research the movie and you’ll find this was done consciously by Inarritu, you’ll even find out how he actually pulled it off. But it’s here on the page too, look how he just flows from scene to scene….
Jake charges out of the room. The camera follows him into…
INT. HALLWAY – THEATER – CONTINUOUS
…the hallway and as Jake makes a left turn, Annie enters from
Annie, turn the work lights on and get me a
fresh copy of the script. We’re gonna have
a “put in” tonight.
You’ll find out…
Jake disappears down the hall and we follow Annie through the
theater and onto…
INT. STAGE – THEATER – EVENING
…the stage, where she turns some of the stage work lights on.
We pan along the stage until we find Riggan, wearing the same
clothes as before, scanning the empty auditorium.
The movie for all the excursion into the fantastical is grounded as a backstage look at a Raymond Carver Broadway production. The script is full of mini-monologues and every major character has their moment. So hard to pull off but if you look at what Inarritu does with his relentless, furious pacing, as an audience we need some breaks from the pacing, and a monologue like this just crushes it with character complexity. Every subplot character feeds into Riggan’s story but man, these are living, breathing, 3D people, heroic, petty, functional and non-functional in turns.
Listen to me. I’m trying to do something
This is not important.
It’s important to me! Alright? Maybe not to
you, or your cynical playmates whose sole
ambition is to end up going viral and who,
by the way, will only be remembered as the
generation that finally stopped talking to
one another. But to me… To me… This is–
God. This is my career, this is my chance
to do some work that actually means
Means something to who? You had a career
before the third comic book movie, before
people began to forget who was inside the
bird costume. You’re doing a play based on
a book that was written 60 years ago, for
a thousand rich, old white people whose
only real concern is gonna be where they
go to have their cake and coffee when it’s
over. Nobody gives a shit but you. And
let’s face it, Dad, it’s not for the sake
of art. It’s because you just want to feel
relevant again. Well, there’s a whole
world out there where people fight to be
relevant every day. And you act like it
doesn’t even exist! Things are happening
in a place that you willfully ignore, a
place that has already forgotten you. I
mean who are you? You hate bloggers. You
make fun of twitter. You don’t even have a
Facebook page. You’re the one who doesn’t
exist. You’re doing this because you’re
scared to death, like the rest of us, that
you don’t matter. And you know what?
You’re right. You don’t. It’s not important.
You’re not important. Get used to it.
The script is 112 pages but only 55 “scenes” because of the fluidity of moving from location to location. It’s not before page 72 that Inarritu spells out that the “super powers” we’ve been seeing coming from Riggan are, in fact, a figment of his pickled ex-Hollywood Hero’s mind.
What part of that don’t you get? You’re
We are not dead. We’re–
Stop saying ‘we’! There is no ‘we’. I am
not you. I’m Riggan fucking Thomson.
No. You’re Birdman. Because without me, all
that’s left is “you”. A sad, selfish, mediocre actor, grasping–
Riggan points his finger and sends the poster flying, spearing
it on a coat rack, piercing Birdman right through the heart.
Finally, silence. Until…
What the hell did you do that for? I liked
A confused Riggan looks over to the wall, where the lamp on the
floor is creating a shadow of his figure. Only in the shadow, it
appears as if Riggan is wearing the Birdman costume. Stunned,
Riggan slowly lifts one arm and in the shadow we see a wing.
It’s always ‘we’ brother.
The television turns on by itself, playing an episode of the
original Birdman cartoon. Riggan points his fingers at the tv
and sends it hurling at the shadow. Then he proceeds to
destroy everything in his room with his telekinetic powers.
We slowly pan to see that, behind Riggan, Jake stands on the
other side of the half-opened door. We push in on Jake,
watching in shock. The camera turns and becomes Jake’s POV…
INT. HALLWAY – THEATER – CONTINUOUS
…and now, from his view, we see Riggan yelling at the shadow.
Fuck you! Fuck you!
He picks up a chair and throws it down. He then picks up the
newspaper from the floor and tossing it around. And now we
understand that he is not using telepathy. He has been using
only his hands. Completely mad. As Riggan turns to pick up
something else, he spots Jake on the other side of the door. He
immediately calms himself and walks over.
I was actually kinda surprised to see it spelled out that clearly. In the era of Marvel Mythology and 5-year advanced production schedules for the Superhero movies, the notion of one of these actors losing his mind and actually thinking he had these powers is great cultural commentary. The simplicity of it, too…you think…sure, why didn’t I think of that?! I could go on for another ten pages, but let’s wrap this with the ending:
Such a great last scene. You establish that it was all in his head….everything…and then you destroy that conception with the possibility of the miraculous. Damn you, Inarritu! This one will be around long after we’re all gone.
NT. ROOM – HOSPITAL – CONTINUOUS
…the room. He looks around, but Sam is gone. He ambles over
to the window, his ass hanging out of the back of his
hospital robe. He opens the window and feels the sun and the
breeze on his swollen face. We just hear the sounds of the
people standing down in the parking lot. Media trucks. Fans.
We stay with Riggan, who seems to be thinking about
something. He sees a flock of birds dancing in the sky. Then
he grabs the side of the window with one hand and begins to
step up onto the sill.
The camera pans away from him to a table that has some photos
propped on it: One of he and Sam when she was a child. One
with Sylvia and Sam. A copy of Carver’s “What we talk About
When We Talk About Love” laying on the surface.
The camera continues to pan until it comes to the door. Sam
enters with a small vase. She looks around…
She goes to the bathroom and peers in… nothing.
She spots the opened window and registers the sounds from
outside. Tentatively she walks toward the window. She gets
there, summons her courage and looks down. Nothing. Slowly,
confused, she tilts her head up and looks up into the sky. A
smile, filled with pride, begin to wash over her face.