The Broadway play that ex-Birdman Riggan Thomson is about to stage ends with the protagonist, played by Thomson, shooting himself in the head with a gun. And at the end of the actual premiere Riggan choses to use a real gun instead of a fake one and actually shoots himself in the head for real. Now it is still a bit debatable if he actually survived that act or not (as evident from those related questions), but the fact that he did shoot himself in reality and that he did this deliberately seems largely undenyable.

But why did he do that at all? What were his motivations for shooting himself and was this a rather short-term decision or did he plan this all along? Could he just not stand all the pressure that the play and its circumstances imposed on him anymore or was this just the ultimate commitment to his act? Or was it a total short-circuit reaction? Or did he just feel satisfied that he achieved what he wanted to achieve and the play was an ultimate farewell anyway?

The maybe/maybe-not real epilogue to me actually provided a nice satire on the whole authenticity-fuss (Boyhood anyone? ;-)) when it showed the universal praise he got from the critics for nearly killing himself on stage (even if that might not have been intended as a satire at all). So maybe he actually wanted nothing more than to provide an authentic act and saw this as his last chance to do so? But this isn't entirely clear and he seemed to a large degree unmoved by all this.

(Now of course the usual disclaimer that this whole question might have been intentionally left open, but even then I'm sure someone might find a satisfying theory, reasonably and objectively backed by the movie or other sources.)


2 Answers 2


It was my impression, while watching the film, that there was a series of events that led to the protagonist using a real gun.

  1. He disliked Mike (played by Edward Norton), and saw Mike flirting with his daughter

  2. He had a momentary lapse in his dressing room with his ex-wife, and was disappointed when she didn't return his affections

  3. The critic that he met in the bar promised him that she would ruin his play by writing a horribly negative review

I think it was a combination of these three events which led Riggan to decide that his only way out was to blow his brains out onstage. Not only would he gain recognition for "sacrificing himself for his art" (my quotes, this wasn't discussed in the film), but he would also spare himself from the hurt feelings that would have been the result of the three events listed above.


Riggan is clearly suffering from some form of mental degradation from the outset of the film...

... his madness is manifested by the disembodied voice of "Birdman", talking to him, and indeed the film opens with a sequence of him 'levitating' whilst being ridiculed by this ethereal presence.

The film is a self reflexive Ouroboros, and whilst not strictly speaking a 'Puzzle Film' in the Warren Buckland definition, it does solicit 'clues' and overt references to not only its own narrative, but to a meta-textual commentary about the way we treat films as an audience, and consume them as products.

The film explores the paradoxical nature of star worship; that we, as spectators, reduce our interpretations and expectations of stars into narrow categories (and bemoan their lack of innovation/unoriginality), and yet lambast them with criticism for attempting to move into new, more fertile territory. Birdman is situated at the intersection of just such a contradiction, with Riggan Thomson the personification of the creative plight of many 'typecast' actors; Michael Keaton, least of all.

His final 'realization' of what he must do (meaning his attempted suicide) comes to him after he has hit 'rock bottom', spending a night sleeping on the streets of NY. This is his enlightenment, and the next day Birdman appears to him as an almost celestial vision, entreating him to surrender to the fact he will always be 'Birdman', and nothing more.

In a simultaneous embrace and denial of this fact, Riggan accepts that what people expect of him is "Explosions and violence", but he also rejects the notion that he will only ever be known as 'Birdman'. His decision to commit suicide on stage is the solution to this paradox... he is giving the people what they want, in the form of 'violence'; yet he is also redefining his legacy, not as 'Birdman' but as the actor who has committed suicide on the opening night of his first play.

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