Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Birdman is my favorite film of the year so far. Right out of the gate, it is 100% manic energy. The gunfire bursts of drumming mixed with the half-cocked sneers at Hollywood, Broadway, and the whole enterprise of entertainment hooked me immediately. Sure, the masterful use of “seamless” editing is showy, but it’s the kind of showy that a great stage show wants and deserves.

Of course, the pace can’t always sustain. To wit: the first scene where Amy Ryan’s character showed up was when the tone started shifting a bit more serious, and I found myself disengaging a bit. Emma Stone’s eyes sure are preternaturally ginormous…

Not that a daydreaming, meandering mind isn’t welcome in the film, which is almost certainly meant to emerge from the inner thoughts of Michael Keaton’s washed-up movie star, Riggan Thompson. I guess it would be gauche to call Mexican-born director Alejando González Iñárritu’s approach magical realism? In any case, the script — by Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris and Armando Bo — is some kind of unique blend of realism and surrealism. It shouldn’t work, but it works like gangbusters.

I went to a screening sponsored by the Editor’s Guild, so I had the good fortune of hearing top gun Stephen Mirrione and longtime colleague Douglas Crise talk about the process of making the film. (Mirrione took the lead during pre-production and at the end phase of post, and supervised throughout. Crise, it seems, did the bulk of the cutting.)

Mirrione asked Alejando to shoot the rehearsals (which were done with Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki and the cast mostly in the same locations). This allowed the editors to make comments like “that line is redundant” or “I would probably go to a closeup of Ed Norton here”. So the reason the pace is so rapid, even though the takes are long, is that the “editing” was front loaded, as much as possible, before shooting. The sound team was also allowed to rehearse microphone placement, allowing for clean sound in many locations where booms were impractical.

Crise and Mirrione were cagey about where the cuts were hidden, but they praised Lubezki’s smooth camerawork (much of which was hand-held and digitally stabilized) and the actors’ ability to sustain long takes. They were also cagey about the meaning of that final shot, turning the question back on the audience. “How did you interpret it?”

I’ll tell you what I think. SPOILERS AHEAD! I think Riggan flew before (in his reverie) and the look on his daughter’s face says clearly that he is flying again. Whether, in fact, the more literal parts of the film ever existed or are just glimpses of a man dying of jellyfish stings or a bullet to the brain… well, that’s up to your own personal sense of optimism.

It’s a movie that asks to be watched closely, but can be enjoyed on the most surface levels. I knew from the moment Birdman ended that I couldn’t wait to watch it again.

Gone Girl

Likewise, when the lights came up on Gone Girl, I knew I would have to watch it again, but perhaps for different reasons.

I have a profound ambivalence about this film. On the one hand, it had all kinds of elements I enjoy: a murder mystery, a crime procedural, Hitchcockian suspense. On the other hand, the much-discussed-then-dismissed misogyny. Should we dismiss it so readily?

It’s clear that director David Fincher, working from the script by Gillian Flynn (adapted from her own hit novel) has a certain satire in mind. The opening scenes, filled with unrealistic badinage and bad Rosamund Pike ADR, made me wonder if the master had lost the deft touch last seen in Social Network. Luckily, Gone Girl quickly moves from cut-rate Sorkin to top-rate Law & Order, tracking the mystery of Amy Dunne’s (Pike’s) disappearance and the media storm that descends on her husband Nick (Ben Affleck). It is after THE BIG REVEAL which can be seen coming from miles away, that the film truly got its hooks in me. Most other films would end after their carefully-constructed twist, but Gone Girl has the courage to keep going to deeper, messier, darker places: especially into Amy’s psyche.

And yeah, SPOILERS… Thanks to the screenplay’s structure, our sympathies have always been with Nick. Or have they been? It seems many viewers (#notallwomen) enjoy Amy’s story as an empowerment / revenge fantasy. She’s so over-the-top as a rape-accusing, icy blonde castratrix that maybe she’s better labelled as a satire on everything men fear about women. I do know one thing. By the end of the film, I didn’t buy that Nick would stay with her. Not even if she is carrying his test tube baby. Get the hell out of there, Nick! (Apparently the ending makes more sense in the book.)

Speaking of bookends… The film is bookended by Nick’s voiceover. He wonders what is going on in Amy’s pretty little head. Is the whole movie, like Birdman, all in Nick’s mind? Is this his own fear of what would happen if he were to cheat on her? Or is it the other way around? Is the whole saga a daydream out of the head of Amazing Amy? I’m glad I’m not a gender studies major tasked with dissecting this film!

As a married man, I didn’t find it a “portrait of a marriage” — as some have tried to categorize it. I haven’t gone on national TV to make disingenuous speeches, nor has my wife murdered her way back into my arms.

As a thriller, the opening and the ending were a bit of a dud. But the middle, that damn gooey, gorey main mass of the film — that is something gripping. Not since I last saw the Hitchcock-directed Shadow of a Doubt have I simultaneously cheered for a criminal to be caught and to get away.

Just like any good mystery salted with clues and red herrings, there is more discover by looking deeper. And so I will just have to watch it again.

In the meantime, eager to hear thoughts from readers below. How much do you think these movies exist in the minds of the characters?