I recently saw Birdman or (the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). It’s about a washed up blockbuster actor, Riggan Thompson, who developed his celebrity by playing the franchise superhero “Birdman” decades previous. He attempts to reclaim artistic relevance by adapting an old novel into a Broadway play, which he calls “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”. Throughout the movie, other characters reflect back his fear of being irrelevant through their own stories of insecurity, including Sam, his daughter and personal assistant, and arguably a young woman who’s been emotionally neglected by her self-obsessed father.
A recovering pot smoker fresh out of rehab, Sam says the most poignant thing in the film (after Thompson catches her smoking a joint in the theater’s basement lounge). When he implores her not to ruin his one chance to do something that really matters, she replies:
“That means something to who? You had a career, dad, before the third comic book movie, before people started to forget who was inside that bird costume. You are 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 going to be where they have their cake and coffee when it’s over. Nobody gives a s*** but you! And let’s face it, dad, you are not doing this for the sake of art. You are doing this because you want to feel relevant again. Well guess what? There is an entire world out there where people fight to be relevant every single day, and you act like it doesn’t exist. This is happening in a place that you ignore, a place that, by the way, has already forgotten about you. I mean, who the f*** are you?”
Here’s the clip.
In another scene, Thompson bumps into New York’s infamous, martini-drinking theater critic, a woman who wields the power to make or break any Broadway playwright. He initially attempts to woo her with a martini, but unimpressed, she informs him of her plans to destroy his play because she doesn’t like his “kind” occupying space that could otherwise be used for real theater. He responds by saying all she does is slap labels on things, calling critics lazy asses who do nothing but write up something on a little piece of paper after an actor has put his entire being into something. He hurls his glass at the bar wall for affect, then yanks her notebook from her clutches and tears the top page into bits. He throwes the pieces into the air. She calmly walks away. He drinks her martini.
In both of these scenes, I felt like Sam and the critic were speaking to me directly. I wondered what that critic would have said to me….maybe she would have just patted me on the head and said “That’s a good little expressive woman.” Maybe Sam would have rolled her eyes.
That’s why it’s a powerful film to me. It taps into a great fear: to be irrelevant, to be criticized and reduced to ridiculousness or worse – nothing. We fear never producing anything that will be remembered. Whether offspring, book, movie, or painting, we want to matter through what we create. We want our spirit to materialize into something that makes us feel we are somehow important to life’s progression.
I watched a video clip of teens born in the late 90’s watching music videos from the same era. They were so fascinated by the blatancy of the sexual ‘innuendos’ and tacky special affects. Things like videos are so powerful in their moment of glory, and then they just fade away into the archives of past time, like old books relegated to some ancient study that’s been forgotten. You pluck one from the shelf, watch a poof of dust float into the sunny air, and think that someone, at some point in time, slaved over this thing. They devoted their entire mind to this book – months, years, maybe even an entire lifetime. And after all, what came of it? Now it’s just a collection of yellowing pages.
Art is beautiful in the act itself, and in the time that it affects those around us. For a moment in time, we affect others. That moment never lasts. Paintings collect dust in second-hand stores. Books get stripped and shredded. Buildings get torn down.
Fortunately, we have love.
Here is a song/movie clip that I became obsessed with over last 24 hours. I will listen to it over and over until I don’t want to anymore, and then I will move onto the next thing that moves my melodramatic soul.