Why Mr. Robot Is My Current Favorite TV Show: Delusion, Detachment, & Destiny (Analysis/Interpretation)

Introduction

Like many fellow college undergrads off to college, the amount of television I watch these days pales in comparison to from a few years ago. My busy schedule and internet access keep me more than sufficiently occupied with my time. Television is all about Netflix and streaming services now, anyway. There’s few shows on network television today I would name as personal favorites of mine. However, just last year I came across USA original Mr. Robot while staying at home over summer vacation. I’d only heard great things about it and the premise definitely piqued my interest. Never did I expect I would officially fall in love with the show by the end of the premiere episode of the second season, the first episode I watched.

Granted, it’s pretty unconventional to start a series after a full season had passed. How would I avoid spoilers and be able to comprehend what was going on? Luckily, the show seemed to follow a different path than it had for season 1. I quickly became familiar with the characters and their roles with respect to the storyline. As I continued to be enthralled, I started to notice prevalent themes and motifs creator Sam Esmail wanted to get across. The following essay won’t delve into major plotpoints or spoilers, but will rather discuss the themes present in Mr. Robot. After this, I’ll offer my personal thoughts in terms of objectivity/subjectivity with hopes of getting across with Mr. Robot is the best show on television right now. Without further ado, let’s get into it.

The Story

Elliot Alderson is our protagonist, a late 20s cyber security expert stricken with anxiety, depression, and apparent delusions. He finds himself incredibly dissatisfied with his current life, one that takes a turn when he is approached by Cyber-Anarchist group FSOCIETY, who recruit him into participating in cyberterrorism using his exceptional skill-set.  His new mentor is the mysterious Mr. Robot, leader of FSOCIETY who might have closer ties with Elliot than he would have imagined. Also involved in FSOCIETY is Elliot’s sister Darlene, a tough, hipster-ish young woman whose role in FSOCIETY and Elliot’s life gradually becomes more significant over time. The bulk of the series revolves around Elliot’s increasing involvement in cyber-activity as he attempts to maintain his fragile grip on sanity.

Analysis/Interpretation

Delusion/Control

Without spoiling anything, Elliot Alderson is a very unreliable narrator, a fact he himself acknowledges. His narration is often confused and reluctant. He address the audience as his best source of clarity, we are his truest friends. Even then, we don’t know if we can reciprocate this trust he places in us. Why does he speak out to people he can’t even see or be sure that exist in the first place? Elliot’s perception is a very deluded one.

To him, characters are completely different from who he thought they were initially. Their relationships subsequently change completely, and quite frankly, he doesn’t know how to deal with it. Elliot’s delusions are those he conjures subconsciously as a means of portraying his ideal existence. The relationships he thinks he has with people are ideal in a perfect world. But they’re false. How often do we see ourselves in other people’s eyes and imagine good things? In Elliot’s case, this isn’t done because he’s some kind of narcissist. He does so because he’s lost and lonely. Characters will disappear and reappear depending on Elliot’s current mindset. For lack of a better term, Elliot never fully possesses control.

What happens when our control over our own thoughts/actions becomes muddled? This is Elliot’s main predicament throughout the entire show. His control over the environment is essentially nonexistent: his delusions deny him access to the control box of his brain. What he sees and what he believes are under the control of his many neuroses. Elliot is his own primary antagonists of the series. Sure, there are other nefarious people impeding his and FSOCIETY’S progress. What Sam Esmail wants you to believe, however, is that we are truly our own worst enemies.

Detachment

Have you ever been surrounded by friends and family and still felt alone? For Elliot Alderson, this is a constant feeling. He has his sister, his best friend Angela, his fellow FSOCIETY hackers, his co-workers. So why does he feel so detached from all of them? It’s important to look into Elliot’s upbringing to understand this.

Growing up, life was tough for Elliot. We learn early in the series that Elliot’s father Edward contracts Leukemia and dies when Elliot and Darlene are still pre-pubescent. Their mother is cold, unloving, and detached from her two children herself. Even when he was alive, there was clear tension revealed between Edward and Mrs. Alderson as revealed in flashbacks. In my view, Elliot has inherited most of his negative personality traits from his mother (both in nature and in nurture). We even notice that Elliot looks a lot more like his mother than his father. Though Mrs. Alderson is portrayed as constantly cold, we realize Elliot is trying to break this curse. He reaches out to people, sometimes out of desperation. He talks to us as the audience through narration in hopes of reestablishing his grip with reality. However, from what we’ve seen so far, reality manages to remain just out of reach. At times, he’s back on Earth (as displayed in a notable scene involving an infamous psychiatric drug I won’t reveal). Other time, he’s so far gone he doesn’t even recognize his closest friends.

Mr. Robot is a technologically heavy show. It’s become a sort of cult show for hacker culture around the United States. Comparisons between FSOCIETY and Anonymous are made frequently. The hacking portrayed in the show has been described as revolutionary for its real world accuracy and attention to detail, and is one of my favorite aspects of the show as well. What is Sam Esmail saying about the abundance of technology, though? Elliot is frequently on his laptop, whether at work or elsewhere. It’s how he relates to people a lot of times, by looking people up and hacking them. At one point, he even hacks his own therapists, eventually using the information he finds to help her out. Are we as attached to our technology as Elliot is?

Personally, I think the argument is a tired one. “Millenials are hooked on their phones 24/7, blah blah blah”. Obviously as a millennial myself, I’ve heard this one a lot. That’s why I don’t think Sam Esmail is necessarily making the same argument. The show Black Mirror is an excellent anthology series warning us about the increased presence of technology and how it may be harmful in the long run. To me, I believe Esmail is making the same argument. It’s easy to get sucked into the ever so advancing technology and become attached. It’s easy to use it as a crutch. A big part of the show is identity (which I’ll get to soon). Perhaps what Esmail is saying is that we cannot let our technology become a part of technology, whether it be our love or our supposed large usage. There is a large sense of maturity and nuance in this argument. Esmail isn’t treating you like dumb millennials. He may or may not love technology, but doesn’t think it should define us. We are not machines. At risk of treading into an analysis of the Terminator franchise, I’ll conclude this section here.

Identity/Destiny

What’s the point of even being here if we’re so deluded and detached from everything around us? How can we establish an identity if all we know is technology? Who really is Elliot Alderson?

My interpretation is that Mr. Robot concerns itself with themes like depression, anxiety, disassociate identity disorder, and so on as much as technology/hacking. Esmail wants to reach out to the depressed yuppie culture he has seen in the booming tech field. As an undergrad in computer science myself, I’m certainly in Esmail’s target audience, which brings me to perhaps my absolute favorite part of the show. I relate to Elliot Alderson so much, it’s not even funny.

Here’s a man who’s talented at what he does yet emotionally broken. A man who just wants to be able to connect to people. “I’m not good at talking to people”, he declares in the first 5 minutes of the first episode of the show. Thus, he retreats into his laptop and technology and distances himself from the world. How many of us find ourselves able to talk to people online, only to clam up and shut down when dealing with people in person. I know I certainly have. Like Elliot, I possess a tinge of social anxiety that makes it much more desirable to be alone. Talking to others and general interaction can be so exhausting. Never before have I seen a show that’s spoken to me on this level and portrayed social anxiety and general anxiousness to such a relatable degree. I, and many like me, am Elliot Alderson. I’m not bragging that my computer science skills are amazing, but they do mean a lot to me just like Elliot.

It’s hard to definitively establish my identity or what my destiny is. Same for Elliot, I’d say. What matters, however, is that he’s working towards it. Getting involved in FSOCIETY, reestablishing old relationships, stepping out of his large comfort zone. It’s all in the pursuit of identity. I personally believe we give life meaning. Without our efforts, life is inherently meaningless. Who we are means something only to us and maybe our closest cohorts. We choose our destiny through our every day actions. One day at a time.

My Thoughts

Mr. Robot is a technical marvel in nearly every aspect. The acting, especially Rami Malek as Elliot & Christian Slater as Mr. Robot, is absolutely fantastic. The writing is sharp and insightful.  We learn something new about each character through their dialogue and actions every single episode. The cinematography is incredibly impressive and unique. Characters are constantly painted in corners or filmed at a long distance. Their bodies are often cut off from overhead angles.  Shots are meticulously symmetric and clear. Close ups are also utilized to emphasize overwhelming emotions characters must be experiencing. Parallel wide shots are often used in scenes with multiple characters to establish their dominance or lack thereof over the other characters in the shot. This type of unorthodox symmetry is definitely on purpose. We feel cornered, out of frame, detached just like the characters are supposed to feel. Shots are still and calm. There is little to no music during most scenes. Dialogue is crystal clear so we hear its importance. Esmail also enjoys throwing in various teasers and easter eggs to keep us wanting more. We think we know what’s going on with characters, but we end up being completely wrong in some cases. Our understanding of the universe portrayed is just as muddled and confusing as the characters’ within it. We’re helpless to do anything within the universe or affect the fates of the characters, characters we’ve come to empathize with and understand. All major players in the show are well fleshed out and developed, but we just keep wanting more. We root for Elliot, Darlene, Angela, Gideon (CEO where Elliot works), and so on. There’s a sense of mystery that enshrouds the show and never really goes away. You’re hooked in without warning, and you’re rarely given any time to breathe. A common complaint among fans and critics is the large amount of questions that have yet to be answered within the show, but to me, that just keeps things gripping and exciting.

Conclusion

Mr. Robot is a show that has revived my interest in discovering fresh, original television that I had lost when I moved away to college. The next season won’t air until October 2017, and I’m already feeling the lack of new material in my schedule. These 6 months will hopefully pass by quickly because I’m not sure how much longer I can stay away. To reiterate, Mr. Robot is, in my opinion, the best tv show on the air and my current favorite television program of all time. As good as it already is, they have nowhere to go but up in my view. In a way, I feel part of Elliot’s existence and have become fully invested in his well-being. I can’t wait to see what Esmail has up his sleeve for us in the future. For now, however, I’m incredibly grateful I was able to stumble upon this show and alter my television viewing stance for good.

Rating: 9.3/10

 

Kong: Skull Island (2017) Movie Review

Introduction

To date, the only King Kong related media I’ve ever seen is the Peter Jackson version from 2005. Personally, I liked it. It went on way too long and the characters were flat, but the effects and creature design were amazing and certainly enough to keep me engaged in the story. With the newest installment in the franchise Kong: Skull Island, I had hoped for something along the same lines. All I desired at the end of the day were visually stunning action scenes among Kong and even the human characters. Here are my thoughts and feelings about the recent release Kong: Skull Island. I will be avoiding spoilers and reveals in this review completely.

The Story

A group of commandos/scientists embark on a mission to mysterious Skull Island in hopes of mapping the island. Upon arrival, they are quickly greeted by the infamous Kong, a gargantuan ape “the size of a building”, who quickly separate the team into various groups on different parts of the island. From here, they must find a way to regroup with their other comrades and find a way off the island, all the while avoiding the giant & deadly animals who habitat the island. As their numbers dwindle, they come to realize their deadliest enemy may not be Kong and that Kong himself may be their best hope to safely leave the island.

My Thoughts

I had my reservations when I learned the director, Jordan Vogt-Roberts, was mainly known for his indie debut The Kings of Summer, quite the far cry from the CGI heavy, big budgeted film audiences were expecting. Luckily, Roberts is able to achieve the pre-summer blockbuster look for the most part. The design of Kong looks decent enough and will probably satisfy most of the general viewing audience. The other monsters on the island are also visually sleek and impressive, engaging in convincing action sequences that were easily the highlight of the film for me.

When it came to the human characters, I got exactly what I expected, which wasn’t much. Everybody does a great job portraying their characters, working well with the generic characterizations and dialogue they were given. I was surprised to learn two actors from the film Straight Outta Compton (Corey Hawkins & Jason Mitchell) had roles in this film, roles that were huge variations from their roles in the former film. Thankfully, they show a lot of potential as young actors and I look forward to future roles these two have.

However, I found myself hardly caring for most of the main cast and honestly felt more connected with the lesser focused on characters. Tom Hiddleston plays a generic British commando. Brie Larson is the photographer archetype. Samuel L. Jackson is the leader of the commandos whose role is to be skeptical of the painfully average John Goodman character and also spout one liners here and there. John C. Reilly is admittedly great as a WWII solider stuck on the island for 29 years, but his humor is really hit or miss for the majority of the film. Since the bulk of the film’s humor comes from his character, for me, the humor really was not necessary in the long run. I also felt this ended up contributing to the inconsistent tone of the film. Should I be on the edge of my seat now, yet laughing hysterically 30 seconds later? Maybe if the majority of the humor had hit would I excuse these jarring shifts of tone, but unfortunately, Kong: Skull Island can’t deliver.

Conclusion

Kong: Skull Island is a decent action-adventure flick with an excellent visual style but a lacking story beneath the surface. Characters were there as food fodder for the beasts of Skull Island, but the film was going for that in the first place. For those who are able to turn off their brains and enjoy the spectacle in front of them, I would highly recommend this film to you. For me, nonetheless, Kong: Skull Island was an average pre-summer blockbuster that serves to fizzle out amongst a laundry list of potential superior films both already released and to be released in the upcoming months.

Rating: 7.4/10

Bad Movies: Suicide Squad (2016) Review

Introduction

Since every article I’ve written so far have been about good films, I thought I’d take a step back for my next one and revisit a bad one. I originally wanted look at one of my least favorite movies in depth, but I decided I would rewatch them and really come out guns blazing. So for now, my inaugural bad movie article will talk about one of the most disappointing and bewildering films in recent memory, Suicide Squad. 

I, like many who had seen the trailers, wanted to like this movie so bad. The DC Extended Universe was 0/2 at that point. Sure, Man of Steel was ok, and Batman V. Superman was terrible (it deserves its own article). Still, the cast seemed solid, the director had an overall positive track record, and the trailers looked genuinely great. The hype train was real for me and a lot of people. Then, the reviews actually started to pour in. Things didn’t look good, maybe even worse than the last two DC films. Nonetheless, I wanted to see the film with my own eyes and decide for myself. As I went in, I still really wanted to like it.

Oh God, I don’t know if things could have been worse. This movie deserves to be discussed as to why is was such a failure on almost every level. No major spoilers in this review, although I probably wouldn’t recommend anybody watch this movie.

Positives

Spoiler warning. This section will be pretty damn short. It’s still a section in the review. I did find some things I enjoyed about the film. Margot Robbie, Will Smith, Viola Davis, Jay Hernandez, and Jai Courtney all give pretty good performances given the material they’re working with. The humor was hit or miss but when it hit, I found it pretty funny. The stories and arcs for Deadshot and El Diablo seem decently fleshed out and given care to, and it pays off. I found myself caring for these two the most out of everyone.

Alright, no more positives. I’m serious.

Negatives

“Fasten your seatbelt, it’s going to be a bumpy night”. Naturally, I have quite a bit to talk about here. So much so that each primary negative deserves its own subsection.

The Plot/Story

Suicide Squad follows a ragtag group of bad guys (you know they’re bad because they always say it out loud instead of demonstrating it through their actions) who are recruited by a mysterious agent Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) to execute a dangerous, life threatening mission. In exchange for their cooperation, their current prison sentences will be commuted by a number of years. The bulk of the movie follows the squad struggle to get along with each other while it seems their mission is far more under the surface. There’s a side plot involving The Joker (Jared Leto) trying to get Harley Quinn back for himself and out of the squad. Why is the story description in the negatives section?

The story is awful, to be honest. Like really awful. The idea behind the squad is so in case of a super-villain of Superman proportions, we would be be well equipped to stop him. A bat wielding psychiatrist, a guy who has good aim, a guy with useless boomerangs, a guy who’s supposed to be a crocodile, a witch, and a guy who can shoot fire out his hands will stop Superman. Only two of those seem like they’d be even the least bit effective. Perhaps more special ops missions would be more appropriate for this group? Well I guess in the end, the villain they end up facing is so laughably pathetic everything works out. More on that later.

The Editing/Pacing

This has to be my least favorite part of the movie. I don’t remember if I’ve ever viewed a big-budget, highly anticipated, good-on-paper film with such atrocious editing. A company who edits trailers was apparently brought in to edit the entirety of the film after the popularity of the trailers themselves. It goes without saying that the two don’t mix well. Cuts are jarring and headache inducing. The frenetic editing style does not mix well with the film overall about 95% of the time. Apparently to these editors, the more nauseous and disoriented your audience is, the more exciting and fun your movie is! I remember setting in the theatre about 3 rows from the front and feeling a headache coming along only 15 minutes into the movie.

The entire structure of the film is horrendous. It’s hard to chalk too much of it too editing, but it’s worth editing. Why are we introduced to characters and then introduced to them again 20 minutes later through lazy expositional dialogue? Why is the last “main character” not introduced until literally halfway through the movie? Why is their mission only taking place over the day and yet the entire main conflict is revealed and solved? Whose decision was it to throw EVEN MORE character flashbacks IN THE MIDDLE OF THEIR MISSION? “Oops, this character is in danger, let’s flashback to an important part of their backstory so the audience remembers to sympathize and relate to this person”. There’s really nothing wrong with making your movie longer as long as you devote time and care into fleshing out your characters. Out of the entire cast, I cared about maybe 3? Bringing me to my next complaint.

Characterization

Remember when I said I liked Deadshot, Harley Quinn, and Diablo? They were the only ones. Everyone else is either annoying, underdeveloped, or most noticeably, useless. Captain Boomerang, Killer Croc, Katana, Flagg, none of them made a difference. They barely even say anything in the film! Just factory made lines of dialogue designed to make audiences laugh. “I want BET”, proclaims the crocodile black person stereotype. I guess it’s funny if you watch BET? Captain Boomerang’s solitary contribution to the squad is to use a boomerang with a video feed on it? Even that stops working quickly. Was Boomerang able to rob so many banks because he could see video feed of the inside? Katana has one moment of brevity where we’re supposed to feel sad for her. Yet, we know nothing about her story. We haven’t seen her do anything at this point, so why should I care? Flagg is just your generic tough guy soldier befallen by love. Nothing separates him from the rest of his soldiers except for the fact he’s in looooove.

So, these are the bad guys, right? Some kind of Suicide Squad? Thankfully the movie does you a favor and holds your hand throughout the entirety, constantly reminding you how bad and evil they are. Yup, this group of hardened badasses become family after one day on the job. They barely know anything about each other but they got each others’ backs! These are the ones we want fighting bloodthirsty, merciless supervillians. If I had the ability to bond with anyone over one round of drinks on one night, I’d be more of an alcoholic. It’s as if the studio heads wanted to make a movie about bad guys while still making them likable and nice so audiences weren’t turned off. Poor them.

The Villain

The villain of the film deserves its own subsection because it’s objectively the worst thing about this film, no argument. The motivation for said villain is so incredibly vague and confusing, the filmmakers knew it only needed one or two lines (explained by the villain itself!). So, the villain goes about its plan, a cliche so tired in these blockbuster films I’m almost surprised Michael Bay didn’t direct. We’re intended to see the villain as extremely powerful and threatening. They’re a threat to our existence as we know it! Thankfully for our dumb audience members, our heros defeat the villain quite easily. Almost as if it was a “Ahhh gotcha!” moment and then the villain would come back. Nope, the squad manages to take out the Superman-esque villain by with hand to hand combat. I shit you not, the movie turns into The Raid for a few minutes while the squad pummel Superman Muhammed Ali style. Hey, at least some of the squad finally has something to do!

I almost forgot the henchmen. I could not complete this review without referring to these Angry Jellies. The villain is able to spawn numerous henchmen/guards/future body count victims of the squad to protect itself. Of course, these micro-villains are about as intimidating as the jello they’re portrayed to look like. They’re even weaker and more useless than the squad, which needs to happen so the movie becomes heavily lop sided. “Our audiences won’t like it if our heroes are in peril, let’s make them look like gods compared to the villains”. Even Harley and her Louisville Slugger are able to take down numerous Ivan Ooze wannabes. Why was anybody even worried in the first place? Boyhood had more intense conflict than this movie.

The Joker

If you asked me two things I’ll always love about film, I’d say Heath Ledger’s portrayal of The Joker, and Jared Leto. Leto is a fantastic actor all around, and one of my favorites. I knew he wouldn’t be able to match Ledger’s revolutionary turn as The Joker. But was it too much to ask to still give a good interpretation?

Let’s Joker is in about 12 minutes of the final film. I’ve heard many of his scenes were cut out to the frustration of Leto himself. I can’t completely blame him for his portrayal. The material was shit. Let’s talk about how he made use of his 12 minutes of screentime.

A lot of growling, purring, acting edgy. Some line delivery so unbelievable it would be more appropriate in the Lego Batman Movie. If I had to give one word as to how I’d describe this Joker, I would use silly. It was silly to plaster The Joker’s body with try-hard tattoos and Hot Topic makeup. To these filmmakers, crazy = saying weird and random shit. “Hunka hunka!”. It’s easy to compare Ledger and Leto and automatically deem Leto inferior. I’d rather look at Leto as his own, and as his own, what a disappointment for fans of The Joker character.

The Soundtrack

It’s clear that the filmmakers are huge fans of Guardians of the Galaxy and wished to replicate its charm and humor. They realized how great of a soundtrack it had and decided to do the same for their movie. Sorry guys, buying the rights to really popular and well known songs and lazily shoving them in your film isn’t the way to go. For me, the score or soundtrack’s main goal is to evoke emotion within viewers. It’s supposed to be memorable. How many people can hum the Star Wars songs or remember the scores from Inception and Interstellar years after their releases? The entirety of 2001: A Space Odyssey is filled with gorgeous classical music that remains one of the films best aspects.

After I had heard 4 different popular songs in the first 20 minutes, I was exhausted. The trailers had admittedly done it well, so I guess we had to go overkill. I get it, Waller is a badass, so play Sympathy For The Devil. Harley is her own woman, you definitely don’t own her! Talk about holding the audiences hand? This is locking the audience in your house and never letting them experience the outside world. At least I know where most of the budget went (Hint: it wasn’t the script).

The Script

Director David Ayer was forced to write the script to Suicide Squad in 6 weeks. Transformers 4 was written in 6 weeks. Don’t mistake me, Transformers 4 is a piece of garbage and one of the most boring films I’ve ever seen. Suicide Squad is a lot better. Still, the rushed nature of the screenplay is so apparent in the film. Pacing, characterization, plot points are all affected by the script. I can’t completely fault Ayer for producing the best he could under a shit ton of pressure. This movie should have been called Exposition: The Movie. It plagues nearly every part of it. More importantly, it’s done horribly and as cliche as you might think. Shit, parts of this film transcend lazy exposition. Flagg’s introduction of Slipknot and Katana might just be the most blatantly obvious and lazy pieces of exposition I’ve ever seen. No exaggeration. It’s fucking embarrassing. Take time to write your films.

Conclusion

Suicide Squad is one of the most pandering, focus-group oriented films released in a while. Perhaps the original vision and some of the original scenes were great. We didn’t get that as an audience. We got what corporate fat-cats thought we as dumb audience members wanted. All you need to do to make a good superhero flick is for it to be fun and zany and wacky! Sure, a lot of people do like that, and I’ll never mock them for enjoying that. It’s not my right to ever disown someone for liking any film I like. My gripe isn’t with fans of the movie. It’s with idiots who think they know how to make movies. It’s with idiots who care about lining their wallets as much as possible, not caring to make a quality product. DC Extended Universe, please get your shit together. My faith in Wonder Woman and Justice League is very little right now. It might just take a couple more flops to actually get your heads in the game.

Rating: 5.5/10

My Favorite Films (#6): Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)-A Critique of Modern Film

Introduction

How many films from the 2010’s do most people regard as masterpieces that may be cemented as classics for decades to come? The Social Network, Boyhood, Inside Out, Mad Max: Fury Road, and Her certainly come to mind first. The films stand out within their respective genres and still resonate with audiences to this day. All of these films are certainly excellent and I’m a quite a fan of all of them. However, the movie I personally consider the best of the 2010’s so far is a film that’s far too unique, original, and intelligent to not deserve an in-depth dissection. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is a film that works as a critique of many different things. The film is composed as a black comedy, a satire, and surrealist drama all rolled into one masterful character study (of multiple characters). This essay will strive to explain & decode the multiple layers of a modern cinematic masterpiece. There will be no major spoilers in this essay, however it may be essential to understand the analysis/interpretation. Let’s delve into Birdman.

The Story

Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) is a washed up actor who was once famous for his portrayal of superhero Birdman 20 years previous. Now, he’s struggling to regain relevance and fame within his industry. He wants to be taken seriously and not only be associated with a superhero flick. Thus, he decides to write, direct, produce, and star in his own Broadway play adaptation of Raymond Carver’s short story, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”.

Involved in the process are his best friend & lawyer Jake (Zach Galifianakis), recovering addict daughter Sam (Emma Stone), and hot-headed yet talented actor Mike (Edward Norton). Riggan’s ex-wife and current girlfriend are also by his side during the stressful project. Along the way, Riggan deals numerous obstacles. He and his daughter seem distant, and they struggle to repair their relationship after her recent stint in rehab. Also, Mike’s narcissistic, overbearing personality leads to clashes on how to go about the play. Notably, Riggan is often tormented by apparent visions of Birdman, often hearing Birdman’s voice in his head and suffering hallucinations. Riggan must find a way to alleviate these concerns and put on a successful production, achieving the relevant recognition he desires.

Analysis/Interpretation

Birdman is much more than the story that I’ve just described. It is quite unconventional and could even be described as art-house, films which are typically not multiple Oscar winners (it won 5, including Best Picture). The way it is presented and what exactly it is presenting is incredibly unique. For those unaware, Birdman is shot to appear as if it is one single take. The execution is absolutely fantastic and is quite relevant to what the film is attempting to accomplish. As mentioned before, the film is highly critical of many things. At the same time, it serves to highlight many themes, such as relationships and purpose. Each of these will be devoted to in this analytical essay. Without wasting any more time, here’s my analysis/interpretation.

Pretentiousness, Arrogance, & Film Criticism 

Birdman is a highly meta film about film itself, or the film industry. It seeks to highlight commonly seen issues with Hollywood and films themselves through portraying them. Mike is a hot-headed, full of himself actor who adds something to every project. It seems very difficult to work with him. Nonetheless, he is viewed as extremely talented and highly sought after. Riggan is one who seeks to remain relevant and famous, thus he takes on quite the ambitious project to do so.

There is a scene within the film involving an altercation between a popular critic and Riggan. The critic declares that she will “give the play a bad review even without seeing it”, causing Riggan to go on an angry tirade in which film criticism simply doesn’t matter and the ones criticizing have no more relevance than anyone else. The critic herself is portrayed as a pompous know-it-all. What is Innaritu saying here? Is he completely agreeing with Riggan here? Yes and no.

The fact that the critic will give the play a poor review even without seeing it directly reflects similar action in real life. In recent memory, many people decided to flood review sites with 10/10 ratings of films like Batman V. Superman and Suicide Squad to make it appear it’s getting great reviews. Of course, this was before these films had even been released, and in my opinion, turned out pretty bad. These ratings simply reflect a desire to assert one’s predetermined love/hate for a particular property, in this case DC Extended Universe films. The film argues that this dishonest portrayal of a movie often taints the actual appeal and meaning of a film. It discourages people from thinking for themselves and is more concerned with personal satisfaction. However, it doesn’t mean that one’s opinion on film or art or on anything is less/more relevant than another. We shouldn’t disparage the critic for their opinion. What matters is how genuine it is. The late Roger Ebert would sometimes clash with general consensus over really good films, and vice versa with bad films. For this, Ebert should be respected. Every review was how he saw it and what he took from it. This is the goal I hope to accomplish on my personal website as well. Everything you read from me is what I took from it. All I can do is do my best to explain where I’m coming from.

Relevance, Purpose, & Identity

Let’s take a look at Riggan’s rise to fame, Birdman. The movie within a movie (adding to the meta quality) was a superhero film similar to Batman that was hugely popular back in the day. Ironically, Michael Keaton himself became famous for playing Batman in the original 1989 film, making this character even more meta. When people recognize him on the street, they recognize him as Birdman. Riggan is so affected by this reputation that he often hears and sees Birdman, who taunts him for his fall from grace and lack of modern relevance. Clearly, Riggan wants to move past this. Birdman has effectively replaced Riggan’s subconscious, berating him how he unknowingly berates himself for leaving the spotlight. Riggan’s is not as passionate about his passion project as most would imagine. He decides to tackle a serious drama and possess nearly every major role. You would think this is a passion project. Perhaps the film itself it lamenting these so-called “passion projects” we often see from directors that turn out not so good.

Riggan’s main motivation is to be relevant again. More specifically, he wants to be taken seriously. Thus, he takes on a Broadway play adaptation based on a serious short story. Superhero films won’t get him the relevance he wants and feels he deserves. In reality, he could do more Birdman movies and achieve that recognition again. His ambitions go beyond this. His control freak nature of the play directly symbolizes his desire to completely control his life.

That being said, is this Riggan’s ultimate purpose? Certainly it’s one he has set for himself. But what’s the purpose of being relevant and respected in the industry? It has personal meaning for Riggan, but only for him, it seems. Jake and Sam both question his large ambition and ask him why it means so much to him? Being relevant, of course. But what’s the appeal in being relevant? We live in a culture where celebrities, film stars, and Hollywood denizens’ worth is based on their popularity. We celebrate uninteresting, trashy things and we ourselves increase their relevance and popularity. Think Kardashians or viral videos. It’s easy to parrot the usual, “we make stupid people famous” argument, and quite frankly, the argument itself is getting tired. It adds nothing to the discussion. There is more harm being done than good. The concept of going viral and glorifying trash is only growing, due a lot in part to the internet.

Most importantly, who cares? One’s relevance in society or their perceived popularity should bare little relevance to us. What’s more important is to ignore this culture and focus on your own life. That’s what Birdman is telling us through Riggan. It’s his relevance, and that’s all that matters. His reasoning, or even a lack thereof, is unimportant to everyone. Riggan feels he can find satisfaction in his project. Who is anybody else to take that away from him? When you discover what will make you personally satisfied, don’t let anybody get in your way. They should be worrying about their own satisfaction first. There really is unexpected virtue of ignorance, sometimes.

This directly ties into Riggan’s identity, a crisis many characters face in the film. Riggan wants to be identified as the talent behind his successful play. On a broader scope, he wants to be known as a talent in the film/theatre industry in general. Sam struggles to understand her role in her Dad’s and Mike’s life as well. Mike’s extreme self-confidence in his own identity presents an ironic picture of insecurity and self-doubt. Before the play, Birdman had always been Riggan’s identity. It was an identity he didn’t assign to himself, presenting the driving force of the film. Thus, we can conclude we should always be able to choose our own identity. They set us apart and define us, so why let somebody/something else control it? The entirety of the movie follows Riggan as he struggles to establish a new identity. He wants to spread his wings and fly away from the life he’s known.

Conclusion

The film’s decision to appear as entirely one shot is flawless. This makes the film feel like a play in itself. The pacing is constant and fast paced, never letting the viewer take a break and instructing them to maintain a constant focus. For me, this was quite effective as I often struggle to focus for long periods of time. We feel like we’re involved the play’s production itself, helping us relate and understand each of the characters. Each character is portrayed with immense depth and complexity. We learn so much about them in the span of a 2 hour film. We see Riggan’s inner turmoil, his inner thoughts spoken out loud the portrayal of his subconscious. We see Sam’s attempts to stay clean, Mike’s thought process and attitudes. Most importantly, we see their growths and arcs complete. Each main character’s ending I find quite satisfactory and appropriate.

The acting in this film is phenomenal all around the board. Michael Keaton is definitely the best he’s ever been and I firmly believe to this day he was robbed of the Best Actor Oscar. Edward Norton hasn’t been this good since American History X, and Emma Stone and surprisingly Zach Galifianakis are both excellent. The cinematography is amazing both in execution and visually. The screenplay is honestly one of the best screenplays I’ve ever read/seen for a film. Each conversation, each encounter, each moment establishes humor, irony, the depth, and satire combined like I’ve seen only a handful of times before. Birdman is a masterpiece of 21st century cinema and among the greatest films I’ve ever seen. I see Birdman being considered a film classic in the decades to come. It certainly already is for me.

Rating: 9.3/10