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Birdman is a very innovative movie. The cinematography alone is brilliant, capturing the spirit behind the scenes at a Broadway Theatre.

And the screenplay seems, in part, an interesting view of actorly (mis)conduct denier the rehearsals of a production.

But what are we supposed to make of the ending. To me there seem to be two interpretations: one optimistic; one somewhat depressing or, at least, downbeat.

The movie, without giving too much away plot wise, seems to want to leave the audience with an optimistic ending. But this ending involves us accepting a somewhat magical realist reading of what happens. If we don't buy the magical realism (or read it as the subjective psychological state of the lead character) then we have to accept a downbeat end.

Is that the right interpretation or does the movie deliberately leave us hanging? Which interpretation is intended? What really happened?

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    I wonder how a "correct" answer can be chosen for this question :) – Man Mar 9 '15 at 0:35
  • I did get some new ways of looking at this film from reading these. It's still annoying that the writers are happy with purposeful ambiguity. It's a technique copied from Hal Ashby's "Being There" but not as impactful. One could argue that Riggin dies many deaths in the movie. His own daughter clearly kills him in one pivotal scene of dialogue. Not literally, she just attacks him with words and kills his soul. In every one of those scenes where you see him rail against being killed by degrees, you see something happen. – user19847 Mar 22 '15 at 1:40

11 Answers 11

22

Andrew Martin gives 3 excellent interpretations of the ending in his response to a question about the telekinesis in the movie. His most satisfying explanation of the ending (both to him and to me) is this one:

In the last moment of the play he actually kills himself with the gun (instead of merely wounding himself). This makes sense, as everything after that is perfect - he gets a rave review for his performance, a standing ovation and a heart-warming moment with Sam. In other words, those are all hallucinations, including the end of the film - he's really dead (or at least on his deathbed).

I can't take credit for this answer, but I wanted people who find this question to see it.

14

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignornance) is an inherently metaphorical and rather surreal film.

Throughout the film, we see Riggan (Micheal Keaton) struggling with the voice of Birdman, the superhero he played in the 90's, in his head. Birdmans voice is a representation of Riggan's commercial self - the part of him that wants to quit the stage show, forget the desire for critical rather than financial success, and create more Birdman films.

Additonally, we see Riggan using various forms of telekinesis and even flight at various stages of the film - however, these are all revealed to be a delusion created by Riggan when he lets Birdman (or his desire for financial success) overcome his desire for critical success. An example of this is when he flies across New York, landing near his theatre and walking insie - only to be followed by an angry taxi driver demanding payment, indicating that Riggan didn't fly at all, and instead took a cab, forgetting to pay as he is wrapped up in his delusion.

Meaning, this is the film trying to demonstrate that there are two parts to Riggan - the side that thinks financial success is important, represented by Birdman, and the that believes in proving himself critically. Importantly, neither side of Riggan is "correct" or healthy - his own daughter (Emma Stone) comments on his self-obsession and his desire for acceptance at one point and links this with his seperation from his family. Both sides of Riggan simply feed into his desire for acceptance, one commercial and one critical, and as such are both just symptoms of his self obsession.

As such, the ending of the film has him stepping outside of his hospital room after achieving critical acclaim based on his performance, financial success based on good reviews, and the love and support of his family who were previously unavailable to him. The only person who sees him out of his window is his daughter, who first looks to the floor (expecting to see a body) and instead seeing nothing - she then looks up and smiles, presumably seeing him floating there. This is her expecting to see the worst of her father when she looks at him and instead seeing the best he has to offer now that his obsession with himself and how others perceive him has been calmed by the various successes granted to him by giving his all to his performance, quite literally bleeding for the stage.

Of course, this is just one analysis of a complex and very interpretive film.

But in no way would I expect Riggan to actually have superpowers - I strongly believe that his powers were metaphorical.

8

Riggan dies twice in the movie. The first time is when he shoots himself in the head onstage. He really dies, as is evidenced by the jump cuts and scenes from his life, ending with jellyfish on the beach from his last suicide attempt. He goes to a purgatory of sorts where all of his wishes are fulfilled - His ex-wife loves him, his daughter acts like a small child again, Jake is ecstatic, the play is successful, people are holding vigils for him, the NYT critic wrote a ridiculously glowing review, his nose is magically healed, yet rival Mike Shiner and Laura (who Riggan doesn't seem to care about at all) aren't present. His one other wish is to be done with Birdman yet retain the fame and money the movies gave him.

But this happy ending has cracks:

However, he's become Birdman in several ways: his bandages are like the mask, and even when he takes them off his bruising and new nose resemble birdman. His voice when he awakes sounds like Birdman. But he hasn't merged with his alter ego, as is revealed when he goes into the bathroom and sees Birdman on the toilet. Seeing Birdman reveals that Riggan's ego is still around and he isn't truly free yet. Riggan figures out that the only way to be truly free is to not care about fame (be it as an artist or a movie star) or the self. Birdman says "goodbye, fuck you" as he (the ego) realizes his grasp on Riggan is over. This is when Riggan steps out on the ledge and finally lets go. Note this "suicide" is done in private, without any witnesses. In this way Riggan liberates himself from his ego and is finally able to ascend to his afterlife, which is what his daughter sees. He's ascending, but this time it isn't a flight of ego and delusion. This is the second death, but it's actually his release from the purgatory of seeing his ego completely sated.

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    +1 On a page with many good answers to a difficult question, this answer is the most thorough IMHO. – Shiz Z. Mar 3 '15 at 1:07
7

Here's what screenwriters of the movie says about the ending.

Dinelaris said "a few different approaches" were considered, including finishes that felt satirical or dramatic, before the writers settled on what made the final script.

"We're not going to sit around and explain the ending. I guess my thing is, if you can silence the voice of mediocrity, then what is possible? [That] is good enough for me," Dinelaris said. "But we thought if we answered that question at the end, it would seem very, very small. Is he famous because he shot himself? That's small. Is he still miserable? That's small. Everything seemed small."

Ultimately the writers decided to go with an ending that felt in keeping with the film's central questions and lined up with the elements of magical realism established by director Alejandro González Iñárritu.

"It goes back to Alejandro because he starts the movie on ... this character Riggan Thomson floating in his underwear three feet above the ground. That's inexplicable. At that moment, it's inexplicable. The last moment is inexplicable. They have to be, because in a way that's Alejandro just trying to express that sense of confusion about what he is in his own life," Dinelaris said.

And if you need more proof that there's no single answer about what it means, look no further than Giacobone. "I'm still trying to figure it out," he said.

EDIT: After reading the last paragraph for couple more times, especially this line,

They have to be, because in a way that's Alejandro just trying to express that sense of confusion about what he is in his own life.

I can come up with an explanation regarding the ending of the movie. There were 3 times we were shown Riggan flying (or at least in the air.).

Beginning: He was not famous, family is not functional, daughter is in rehabilitation, one of the main character is being played by a mediocre actor in his play.

Intermediate: After having a rough and intense conversation with a critic, he fires himself up that he can regain his fame by making his play successful, on the other hand, his alter ego forces him to make a sequel of Birman movies, at this point, you can see a woman looking from a window while he was levitating and says,

WOMAN: Hey! Is this for real, or are you shooting a film?

But soon after when he reached theater, we figured out that none of this is real, it's all in his head, he's only imagining.

Ending: He's famous once again, he'll be doing this play in other countries as well, his family and fans cares for him, everything is in harmony. He is happy.

By combining the screenwriter's line and the intermediate flying scene, I can say that his daughter surprised, being happy and watching his father flying in the end is Riggan's state of mind. It did not happen for real just like the woman was looking at him in the intermediate scene while he was flying, it's his sense of confusion about what he is in his own life.

3

I think he did go down but not through the window but by the stairs ( Like the last scene where he was shown to have jumped from the roof but in actual he took a taxi to the theater) and was addressing the press ( which was thrown out by the police in earlier scene) . So while his daughter looked down thinking that his father had jumped (Presuming the worst) but instead she found him very happy down stairs, she was surprised happily .

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    Well, she looked happy looking up not "downstairs"... Plus there were sounds of shouting people and the police... – Abdalrahman Shatou Jul 27 at 20:15
2

Riggin dies at the beginning of the movie. The events of the movie occurred in in an instant as Riggin laid dying on the beach from his suicide attempt, which ultimately was successful. That is why we see the jellyfish at the beginning and the end of movie. The whole movie occurred on the beach. This is why he flew at the end (to heaven we can assume). Why his daughter smiled. That is the way he wanted to remember her. Riggin was hallucinating one last chance at doing things right, being a legitimate husband, father and actor, and not a sell-out.

1

In my opinion he jumped and died. Ok, the first scene where he flies and ends up in front of the theater he is saying something to the affect of "up here where we belong, above them all." Then it cuts forward to the intermission, his ex wife learns that he attempted suicide once. What he is actually telling her that he is really going to go through with it this time. He fails again, though, and survives. His daughter comes in and immediately tweets a picture of him in the bandages, telling him he "looks hideous," but informing him that he is a hit on social media. Once he is alone, he removes the mask, as opposed to putting it on; think about that. He removes the mask, and ironically his swelling and wounds have produced a result that is very similar to the birdman mask (I believe this is deliberate.) This symbolizes the reality that he can never be free from the shadow of this role, no matter what he does. Then he sees a flock of birds, and realizes that he has only one choice left. He jumps, but instead of a cheesy montage of him soaring over times square we get a shot of his daughter accepting and celebrating his "liberation" (suicide), which is every bit as ridiculous. I believe if there were one more scene in this movie it would be a time lapse of his funeral, the way the first flight scene climaxed with a time lapse of the premiere.

1

To understand the ending it’s important to understand the key themes of the movie.

Ego – Birdman represents Riggan’s ego. You can read about this from the Director on your own. In one scene Riggan starts to compare Birdman to Icarus who died of hubris.

Nature of art / literary critique – the French philosopher Roland Barthes is mentioned during the press interview. This is no accident. I am no expert on him but basically he wrote about the limitations of language in critiquing literature and the limitations of labels. Riggan also talks about this when he gets in the critic’s face at the bar. Also, the note on the dressing room mirror says “A thing is a thing, not what is said about that thin.” In short, words are limiting in describing a piece of art. So whatever we say about the final scene is not the final scene, which just is what it is.

Desire for love - the words shown during the opening credits from Carver are key. What did he want in life? “To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved on the earth.”

These themes were cited by the writers of the film.

The last scene is not intended to be taken literally. Read the Barthes work.

No one can say whether he died or not, when he died etc. Not even the writers know. What we say about it doesn’t change the movie which just is what it is. And it doesn’t matter whether he died or when he died if he did.

The last scene is intended to communicate the key themes. Remember the opening poem? At the end of life, we desire to be beloved.

Ask yourself, what would it look like if Riggan were beloved? There might be people lighting candles in the street praying for him, the top NY critic would praise him, his daughter would be close to him and proud of him while watching him “take flight”. This scene shows the fulfillment of his ultimate goal in life. To be beloved.

Riggan’s ego is also satisfied at the end. Birdman is symbolically “flushed” down the toilet and Riggan essentially becomes Birdman. He has a bird nose, he can fly, and he’s loved by everyone. It shows us that the only thing that can really satisfy the ego is love.

The fact that it’s not clear what happened at the end is perfect. Art defies the words we try to use to describe it. That’s a key theme in the movie and the final scene makes this point profoundly.

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    Can you cite some of the sources you're referring to, and possibly provide any relevant quotes from the writers to back this up? – MattD Mar 3 '15 at 4:29
  • Sure. The sources are the movie. Watch it closely. For the writer quotes. Go to Youtube and search for Birdman interviews. They mention this in every interview I've seen – Someguy Mar 4 '15 at 6:01
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    There is absolutely no need to be rude. You're saying the writers of the film cited the points you're providing in your answer. This pretty much requires you to either provide proof of your claim, or their validity is completely suspect. I was not commenting to be mean, I was commenting as a regular contributor to this site who would like to see proper citation of claims made, for myself, for others, and to assess credibility. Not to mention this is standard policy here. – MattD Mar 4 '15 at 6:07
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    @Someguy we appreciate your answer but its good to provide source for the claims because "every interview" is not a good way to say anything, better to integrate link for atleast one interview which is agree with you. – Ankit Sharma Mar 4 '15 at 6:17
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    Please edit your post to include the relevant links appended to the text as hyperlinks. – MattD Mar 4 '15 at 12:36
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I don't think Riggan died at all. The ending seems to represent him finally letting go of his ego by leaving Birdman on the toilet. He "stepped out on a ledge" & soared leaving behind the burdens of trying to stay relevant in the brutal showbiz industry. Without the ego, he now has his family back & his daughter smiles knowing that he has finally chosen her instead of being lost below, once again, in the grimey-ness of theater in NYC.

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The ending, is a short encapsulation of the entire film... He's laying in misery with his face covered... Much like his life while playing birdman. He takes the bandages off(like he did the birdman costume) and looks at himself in the mirror and sees the bruises and abuse he's taken. The birdman character is there on the toilet... Haunting him. He tells the character "fuck you" in an angry dismissive tone and walks to the window. There he sees the vision of something that calls to him(Broadway) he steps outside and jumps off the ledge... Risking everything like he did for his play... But he doesn't hit the ground and die... He soars. And his daughter who witnessed it all happen is left in wondrous delight at what her fathers achieved.

0

I think possibly he died after jumping out of the window but as the writers stated in the Huffington Post Q and A quoted above, the ending was written in a way to not detract from the central questions of the film. Whether he really died or if it was a symbolic delusion in his head doesn't really matter.

The central theme I noticed continually throughout the film was the inability of the actor to separate the stage version of himself from his real-life self. It's brought up by Edward Norton's character during the truth or dare game when he says he can get it up on-stage but not off-stage. Then again by the continuous takes from the stage to the back-stage with no breaks in dialogue. He struggles for fame and notoriety and can't escape his acting self hence the constant interaction and struggle with his Birdman alter-ego. His real self is a terrible husband and not-so-great father, yet he sees himself as superhuman on-stage and it spills over to the off-stage when he floats things around the room, brought back to reality by his director. His real-life self worth and acceptance is only fed by the success of his career. He wants to be good in real-life and break free of Birdman, but he needs to be Birdman to feel good in real-life. When he is rejected by his daughter by her saying he isn't relevant, and then rejected by the critic, he pushes himself all the way to his Birdman character giving them "blood and action" on stage by shooting himself. The result is universal acclaim by the press and the critics and ultimately his daughter.

The ending I believe is symbolic of the acceptance of both parts of himself by his daughter, who could very well symbolize anyone close to him. She looks down and sees the reality of who he is, a corpse splattered on the pavement. She then looks up and sees his Birdman character, a superhuman being adored by everyone.

The symbiotic relationship between a public version of yourself and the real version of yourself is a constant theme among most celebrities, with Michael Jackson being one of the most high-profile examples I can think of. He was a tortured and delusional person in real-life, but the world on the whole loved him and his art. The film Birdman seems to deal with the inner-working of the psychology of that toxic relationship of becoming a fictional version of who you are to gain real-life acceptance of who you are.

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