“This isn’t the Warner Brothers lot, Riggan. This is the city, and this is how we do things.” Mike Shiner to Riggan (Birdman) Thomson
Congratulations to the two winning screenplays this year. The original award goes to Birdman and the adoptation Award to The Imitation Game. The full screenplay for Birdman is available in PDF below. The Imitation Game is progably somewhere on the Internet to be downloaded.
I’ve decided to read Birdman and have gotten to twelve pages in it and to a fascinating event and turning point in the story that turns all into a new direction. The reader is standing outside the story and observing the hero character. A quirky person producing a play off-Broadway.
An angry actor in his later years who is into yoga and is putting on a play and spending the last part of his fading money on producing and starring in it. In the first seconds of the screenplay we see the hero levitating in the air. This confronts the reader with an initial sign that fantasy might be mixed with reality and that it might fall on the reader to “unpack” this mixture and provide some type of narrative to the story. Is this image of leviation a key to understanding fantasy and reality in this story?
The story studies the psychology of being an older male super-hero in the later years of a career. Most realize that heros can’t remain heros all their lives. (At least not in that same media where they “made” their carves out their original star status.) Heros move on and give way to new ones. If the old heros are musicians they go on tours. But what careers or retirements do true super-hero characters go to and where do they do this? Here, a super-hero has lived in Manhattan. Probably saved the city countless times during his old years when he was the famous character Birdman.
Yet, what happens if they are famous old comic book characters, once superheros to a whole generation? What happens to them? What of the ones who are now out of being a hero in Hollywood films? What of those few still trying to make a living in the business of acting. Here, we see our hero producing an off-Broadway play which he is also starring in. Interestingly, from a symbolic point of view, he has left the west coast of LA and moved to the eastern center of theater in New York City. Without saying it, the films says in subtext that this is a battle is some ways between the film symbols manufactured in Hollywood and the theater symbols manufactured on Broadway. A contest within the subtext between Hollywood and Broadway.
In the screenplay, we are faced to answer this question in the first seconds of the screenplay when the hero is seen levitating in the air. A man is levitating. Are we to believe this image or question it? This dicotomy is immediately established between reality and fantasy. The true, outward events of the story, many would say the hero wants to establish a successful play. Yet the odds and consequences against him seem much greater than just this. While he wants to do this, the hero needs to (inner, unconsciously) become a true hero again in his old age.
Is this a sign that we are to doubt out eyes at times in the story? A clue to us that fantasy will be presented in the story. If so, it might be upon us, the reader and ultimately the viewer, to approach the story from one perspective, one narrative position and voice.
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Around page twelve of the script an interesting revelation comes to the reader through showing the reader that the actor we are watching was once a super-hero. Not just any super-hero but the super-hero of our generation. Or perhaps even a few generations.
At around page twelve, the reader suddenly realizes that what he or she thought was just a crazy actor’s own story is actually our story also since we realize that the actor in the first ten pages of the screenplay was an old super-hero of yesterday in America. Not just for fathers. But also for grandfathers. And perhaps for all of us who have lost our old heros in life. A time when a hero was a real hero. When John Ford directed films. Now, though, an aging hero is forced into semi-retirment from films during his golden years. He is producing his first off-bradway play. The acting job in the theater is below his dignity in many repects. He is a franchise film character. Representing an entire line of comics and serial tv and books and toys.
The reader is now invested in the story. From young to old. For hasn’t everyone had heroes and heroines in their past? And don’t they wonder what has become of them? Has their hero let them down? Disappeared? Gone into another business? The hero’s story is in effect is their story also. And therefore, the reader or viewer now sees the story in a new way. The hero has not said anything. Only the context of his life has been revealed.
And we realize that he was the hero for many of us at one time in our lives.
The old hero has disappeared for a number of years.
Does his audience welcome him or her back?
There has to be a Birdwoman followup.
2015 Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay