WARNING HEAVY SPOILERS AHEAD!
Time for another analysis! I want to remind you that I do these analysis to let people see movies differently. It doesn’t mean that I cracked the whole movie, it’s just an theory to see a movie from another perspective and make it work. Like Nolan once said when he was asked if a film needs to be understood, referring to 2001 A Space Odyssey he answered;
“I don’t think it does. And I think that 2001 is one of those rare instances where it’s a purely cinematic narrative and it really tells you that it doesn’t need to be understood — it needs to be felt.”
The Icarus Myth
“Riggan: I’m nothing. I’m not even here.”
So what did I think about the ending? Is he dead or alive? Did he killed himself?
I will bring out the infamous Icarus Myth (the one who flew to close to the sun and burned his wings). I remembered what Stanley Kubrick said during his acceptance speech of the D.W. Griffith Award. Kubrick said;
“I’ve compared Griffith’s career to the Icarus myth, but at the same time I’ve never been certain whether the moral of the Icarus story should only be, as is generally accepted, “Don’t try to fly too high,” or whether it might also be thought of as, “Forget the wax and feathers and do a better job on the wings.”
Riggan actually tried to compare Birdman to Icarus during the interview with the reporters, but couldn’t finish his sentence. What if Riggan experienced ‘The Icarus Myth’ and this whole journey of him finding his way back was to make better wings to fly high and out of earth.
Iñarritu even compared Birdman to Icarus during a Q&A;
“Now most of the superhero movies pretend to be very profound about some Greek mythology. And at the end, there’s nothing wrong to just be a kick-ass, nine guys in suits just kicking ass and action. It was funny that he was trying to make this Icarus thing as in this film….But you can interpret [Birdman] as Icarus. The ego wants to make us fly and that’s when it turns really dangerous.”
I know it sounds a little far fetched, but let me explain…
Yes, I think he killed himself, but not in the theater. I think Riggan Thomson was dead all along. My suspicions started when later in the movie he tells his wife how he tried to kill himself after she found out he was cheating on her (possibly Laura). According to his wife he throws a knife at her and that it was the reason they broke up. When that happened it, I think it hit Riggan on the down low. His failing acting career, drinking and family problems drove Riggan to madness.
Later in the movie he tells his wife that he went on to the beach in Malibu that day and went into the water to drown himself. He says that when the water came up to his chest he felt something burning in his back and later at his chest and legs. Now if the water was full of jellyfish and they were stinging his whole body, do you really think he could have survived such an attack without going to the hospital? Or could he just shot himself in the beachhouse? I think Riggan died in the Malibu beach house. Look at the screenshots down below. You can see how Riggan is remembering things after he “shoots” himself.
It also would explain the big fireball in the sky. The quick cuts at the end, there are shots where the camera closes into one big lightbulb, that I think could be representing the sun in the Icarus Myth, where he burns his wings. Because the next shot we see the falling fireball. This is the point where Riggan realizes he was not ready yet to go, he needs to make things right with his family. He couldn’t fly high enough, so he had to make new and better wings (making things right with his family and friends) so that he can eventually fly away like Birdman/Icarus.
Let’s take a good look at those cuts at the end;
He cheats on his wife with Laura in a Motel (see the sign at the window).
Commits suicide, or gets stung multiple times and dies in Malibu beach house. Floating into bright light in window.
Closing in on the final light (or sun).
But, burns his wings and falls.
Comes back at his place of death for a mission. To make things right.
NOTE: I don’t dare to say it has anything to do with the three Birdman movies and that this final attempt symbolizes Birdman 4 all along.
The Ego, Sam and Mike & The Ending
All the characters felt like a memory of Riggan’s mind. This film shows how we the audience are made to believe that Riggan is experiencing our reality from a delusional perspective. However I feel what we may have been watching was his life after death. Only with one purpose, to defeat his ego.
Let’s take Sam & Mike (brilliantly played by Emma Stone & Edward Norton) for example. Riggan disapproves almost everything with her and Mike. Sam and Mike are actually the voice of clarity for Riggan.
So let’s take for instance the scenes with Sam and Mike, who are trying to tell him every time he’s on the wrong path, that he is reaching for the wrong things, but the only voice he listens to is Birdman, his ego. It’s the thing that he shares with Icarus, Iñarritu said it himself, trying to fly high until it eventually becomes dangerous, because of his ego.
Perhaps the most pure delivery of this message was when Sam shows him a physical model of how insignificant human life is to the universe using a roll of toilet paper with marks on it, but he is unmoved by her demonstration of human insight. She shares the same thing Riggan has, pain and loss. Only it’s up to Riggan to understand that, so that he is able to make peace with her. Sam is the one who changes Riggan, that’s why that final moment between them is so special.
So the final scene is just the moment of him understanding that and eventually in his final moments of death; Riggan made peace with his wife, friends, his daughter and then he finally says goodbye to himself (Birdman/ego) and flies.
The whole movie was Riggan floating lost in his delusional world. That’s why I think the director Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu desperately wanted this movie to look like it was one continuous shot. We are seeing it through Riggan’s eyes. That’s the magic of this movie. We as viewers are put to a challenge to notice if we see the ego and the truth of everything. The same message he tries to pull through with the critic.
What do you guys think? Feel free to comment down below and remember it doesn’t mean that I cracked the whole movie, it’s just a theory to see a movie from another perspective. We will never know what the exact meaning of it all is and they will never reveal it.
Read my ‘Birdman’ review here
PS. Thanks to Cuchilatru for helping and sharing thoughts!