Follow TV Tropes


Film / Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
aka: Birdman

Go To
"I'm a fucking actor! This play cost me everything!"

"How did we end up here? This place is horrible. Smells like balls."

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is a 2014 black comedy-drama film directed and co-written by Alejandro González Iñárritu and starring Michael Keaton, with Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan, Emma Stone and Naomi Watts in supporting roles.

It follows Riggan Thomson (Keaton), a washed-up actor best known for playing the superhero Birdman in a series of movies, as he tries to revive his career by writing, directing, and starring in a Broadway adaptation of Raymond Carver's short story What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.

Along the way, he faces various difficulties both on and off stage, as he battles his own ego (and alter ego), a narcissistic actor (Norton) who attempts to wrestle control away from Riggan, and a critic hell-bent on destroying the production, while attempting to repair his relationship with his family, in particular his daughter Sam (Stone).


Notable talking points for the film included its original music consisting entirely of solo jazz drums, its score being infamously disqualified from Academy Award consideration for including classical music, and the fact that it's largely structured to appear as if it was filmed in one continuous take. (Even with this effect being achieved through editing, the film still has only several dozen visible cuts and required takes of 10-15 minutes in length.)

Not to be confused with the Hanna-Barbera cartoon series from the '60s or the satirical show which had said cartoon's hero take up law practice or the Japanese comic of a similar name. Or the rapper. Or that bird-themed skateboarder who inspired a line of skateboarding video games.


This film provides examples of:

  • Actor Allusion:
  • Adam Westing: Quite a few. Riggan's history as "the guy who played Birdman two decades ago" is similar to Michael Keaton's portrayal of Batman. Edward Norton plays a brilliant but difficult method actor, similar to his own reputation, and also echoes himself in Fight Club.
  • All Part of the Show: The in-universe audience doesn't realize that Riggan actually shot himself for real at the end of the play. Once they learn the truth, however, they like it even more, praising the "Super-Realism" of the production.
  • Ambiguous Ending: The film could've ended a multitude of ways, mostly considering some of the film takes place in Riggan's mind. It all depends on whether or not his powers are real.
  • Animal Motifs: Obviously, birds play a major part in the movie. For example, Sam has a tattoo on her shoulder of a feather that turns into a small flock of birds.
  • And I'm the Queen of Sheba: Jake tries to motivate Riggan by telling him that Martin Scorsese, who is casting a movie, will be in the audience one night. When Laura asks if it's true, he replies, "Yeah. I'm the new pope, too."
    • ... which may be a reference to yet another Keaton film, Johnny Dangerously, where Keaton's character, the eponymous Dangerously, says "around here I'm just plain Johnny Kelley", to which the Pope replies, "Sure, and I'm-a the Pope."
  • Animation Age Ghetto: In-universe. The New York Times critic Tabitha derides Hollywood for presenting awards to cartoons and porn, implying they are equally artistically bankrupt. This is a belief among certain critics.
  • Anthropomorphic Personification: The visualized Birdman, possibly the ghost of Riggan's past self in character, may represent Riggan's subconscious desire to return to blockbuster cinema, a temptation which the real Riggan furiously resists.
  • Artistic License – Medicine: People will debate if it is real or a dream sequence at the end, but if it isn't: if Riggan was supposed to be lying in bed at the hospital, he should have been hooked up to a heart monitor, and an alarm should have gone off at the nurses' station when he got up. He also shouldn't have been able to take the bandages off so easily by himself. Hospital rooms also do not have windows that open.
  • As You Know: How Riggan introduces Jake: "Look, you're my attorney. You're my producer. You're my best friend."
  • Ate His Gun: Discussed by characters. Apparently Lesley's former lover did this but survived. It foreshadows Riggan's Bungled Suicide at the end.
  • Attempted Rape: Mike attempts to make his sex scene with Lesley during first preview "more realistic" without telling her. She is traumatized and almost quits the show.
  • Attention Whore: Mike Shiner is one, even stealing Riggan's story about Raymond Carver for an interview.
  • Bad "Bad Acting": Ralph, the actor in the beginning, is said to be a very bad actor by everyone who works with him. He's so bad that Riggan claims he made the light fall on his head to remove him from the play. Amusingly, Michael Keaton commented in an interview that Jeremy Shamos (Ralph's actor) was probably the most theatrically experienced actor of them all and one of the most talented actors he'd ever met. Indeed, Shamos' work is a fairly realistic example of this trope, as Ralph comes across as a genuinely bad actor, but not nearly as exaggerated as most examples, to the point where it's believable he'd be cast, especially in such a Troubled Production.
  • Bad Review Threat: Tabitha Dickinson, a highly influential theater critic, promises Riggan that she'll give his play a terrible review and get it shut down early. She's not even blackmailing him; she just despises that he's a Hollywood actor trying to succeed on Broadway. Subverted in the end when, following Riggan's attempted on-stage suicide, Tabitha ends up giving a glowing review of his "method acting" and makes the show a success.
  • Bilingual Bonus: People who understand Gujarati know that the cab driver who walks into the theater after Riggan's flight scene is saying that Riggan didn't pay for his ride and is demanding his fare. It is made visually clear when he walks out later, money in hand.
  • Black Comedy: Riggan's life after the Birdman trilogy is an utter mess, and the film takes equal time making light of this as it does playing it for drama.
  • Bookends: In the movie's opening, Sam buys some flowers for Riggan. In the closing scene, she brings some more. There's also the meteor dream.
  • Boom, Headshot!: Riggan's version of What We Talk About When We Talk About Love ends with his character shooting himself in the head after finding his wife in bed with another man.
    • During the premiere, Riggan shoots himself in the head with a real gun. He survives, though.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: During a brief, explosive action sequence, Birdman looks directly into the camera and says, "Look at how their eyes light up. People, they love this shit. They love blood. They love action. Not this talky, depressing, philosophical bullshit."
  • Brick Joke: The actor who was hit by the light in the beginning returns with his lawyer later in an inappropriate moment.
  • Bungled Suicide: A running theme.
    • In the play, Lesley's former lover Ate His Gun but survived.
    • Same happens to Riggan during the play's grand finale on opening night.
    • Riggan reveals that he tried Suicide by Sea after cheating on his wife but jellyfish made him return to the beach.
  • Call-Back:
    • The film is littered with callbacks between the Raymond Carver play and the character's interactions. For example, Riggan screams at Lesley to "Shut up for once in your life" on stage, and Jake later yells the same thing to Riggan back stage. Another example is the section of the play about the psychotic lover, which mirrors Riggan's relationship with his ex-wife.
    • During the opening credits, there is a brief flash of lumpy things on a beach. Later, Riggan tells a story about being swarmed by jellyfish. In the end, there's a longer shot of the lumps on the beach that more clearly shows that they are beached jellyfish.
    • During the rehearsal with Ralph, Riggan asks him to sound a little more frightened, he does and then says he can tell Riggan thought it was too much. Later on, a homeless man is shouting out the Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow soliloquy from Macbeth and says the exact same words to Riggan, freaking him out, in what is probably a hallucination.
    • When Sam is walking Mike to the fitting room he comments on her ass. When she asks, "Seriously?" he says "Don't be so modest honey, this is the theater." Immediately after the costume director orders Mike to strip down. He asks Sam if she's going to leave and she repeats his words back to him. Following this, Laura comments that Lesley has a great ass to Riggan.
  • Career Resurrection: invoked Riggan's career has been circling the drain since he bowed out of doing further Birdman sequels, and he is hoping to revive it by adapting Raymond Carver's short story "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love" for the Broadway stage, and directing and starring in the initial run.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Mike demanding that they get a more realistic-looking prop gun. Riggan complies by bringing an actual gun on opening night and, in a fit of depression, tries to blow his head off. He fails.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Riggan is certainly one, with his chronic hallucinations, occasional meltdowns, and manic, stressed out demeanor.
  • Coincidental Broadcast: During the epilogue in the hospital, when they turn on the TV, it cuts right into a news report of people around the country praying for Riggan's health.
  • Creative Closing Credits: Inverted and played straight.
    • All of the letters per line of the opening credits and (main) closing credits appear and disappear on screen in alphabetical order, ie. all the As appear first, then the Bs, and so forth. Each letter's appearance is also synced to the drum solo backing it.
    • The opening credits start by having the poem "Late Fragment" by Raymond Carver, whose short story Riggan is adapting, appear onscreen. As it disappears, the film's main title begins appearing; when it finishes doing so, the sequence pauses to show that the final four letters of Carver's poem spell out the word "Amor". "Amor" is "love" in Spanish, and apart from its connection to Carver's poem (which centers around "calling" and "feeling [one's self] beloved on the Earth"), it can also be considered a reference to Riggan's adaptation.
  • Dancing Bear: In-Universe, Riggan's Bungled Suicide ends up earning the play a lot of attention and accolades that it wasn't getting earlier. In-line with how meta the film is, a lot of people had this view about the Long Take feature.
  • Deconstruction:
    • Of the pursuit of fame and recognition, showing what happens when a person's entire self-image revolves around those things. Riggan's life and mental state fell apart after he lost his fame, and his attempts to regain it only send him further into the depths of madness.
    • The film also deconstructs Broadway and theater in general, illustrating just how difficult and stressful putting together a Broadway play is. Clashing egos, relationship issues, and freak accidents (one of which results in a lawsuit) cause production problems; Riggan has to refinance his house in order to fund the play, and by opening night he's broke. Plus there's the added pressure of having to win over an influential critic that could easily sink the play with a bad review.
  • Didn't See That Coming: In a quite literal sense. At the hospital, when Jake boasts about how he can see into the future, Riggan's ex-wife slaps him in the face, just to disprove his point.
  • Domestic Abuse: Mentioned to have happened at least once in Riggan and Sylvia's marriage. When he asks her why they divorced, she reminds him that he attacked her with a knife during one of their altercations- simply because she didn't like a movie he was in.
  • Double Standard: Tabitha gives the example of Hollywood performers making up and giving each other awards for their hollow productions and performances... despite Broadway having the Tonys with over-the-top, big-budget features (not to mention Conceptual/Modern art movements and their self-driven recognition system).
  • Dramatic Thunder: Employed for the climatic bedroom scene in the Show Within a Show.
  • Driven to Suicide: Averted, but only barely. Riggan tells his wife he attempted to commit suicide after cheating on her at their anniversary party, and then, on opening night - believing that his show will be a failure and he will lose everything - he tries to blow his brains out (but fails). He also possibly attempts suicide by jumping off a roof twice (two different roofs), although it's more ambiguous.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Despite Riggan having shot himself in the head, the play is a success, his relationship with Sam is mended, and Riggan is praised for his new acting technique of "Super-Realism". Also, he becomes Birdman in the end. Maybe.
  • Either/Or Title: Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance).
  • Epic Tracking Shot: Half-way through the movie, a tracking shot moves from the street right through the bars of a balcony banister into Riggan's dressing room.
  • Evil Sounds Deep: Riggan's Birdman persona is a Guttural Growler.
  • Expy: Birdman is obviously based on Batman.
  • Fantasy Sequence: Reconstructed and used in several scenes throughout the film. The first scene shows Riggan levitating alone in his dressing room before he ceases and prepares for his role. When he's next on stage, he looks at a light directly above Ralph during a poor read-through of the play, and the light falls and hits Ralph on the head, injuring and removing him from the production. Later, he receives flowers from Sam different to those he requested; so, once alone with them, he smashes the vase in which they are placed telekinetically. Further along, while downcast in his dressing room, he uses his powers to destroy the furniture within it (including his "Birdman" film poster) before Jake enters. Next, on the morning of Opening Day, with a hangover and after a night of heavy drinking and waking on the street, coaxed by his alter ego, he imagines a giant metallic bird destroying a suburban section of New York. Then, after stepping away from the edge of a high roof at another gentleman's insistence, he runs back and jumps off of it, and, from there, begins flying. Finally, while recovering from his gunshot wound in a hospital, he opens the window of the room, seeing a flock of birds flying in the distance, and stands on the sill of the window; we then see the room and Sam enter the room, looking for Riggan; she sees the open window and panics; she looks through it, down to the street; she hears a bird's cry and looks in the same direction as Riggan had looked - where he saw the birds - and smiles.
  • Fatal Method Acting: Barely averted in-universe, as Riggan shoots himself in the head during the opening night performance. He survives, and is also praised for his new acting style of "Super-Realism".
  • Faux Adventure Story: The movie employs the aesthetics of a superhero blockbuster, but is actually a black comedy/psychological drama about a former blockbuster actor attempting to start a new career in theater.
  • Fish-Eye Lens: There is a mild fish eye effect in some close-up shots of individuals, for example when Sam is telling Riggan what's wrong with him.
  • Flight Is the Final Power: Riggan Thompson is shown using telekinetic powers to levitate himself and other objects several times, but when he jumps off a building near the end he finally uses his power to make himself fly dreamily over Broadway (although it's very possible his powers are just in his head).
  • Foreshadowing:
    • The first time a rehearsal of the play is shown in the movie, the characters are discussing an event that ends up mirroring an event at the end: a character attempting, and failing, to commit suicide by a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
    • Birdman tells Riggan he can reclaim his former glory if he loses the goatee and gets some plastic surgery. After shooting himself in the face, Riggan makes headlines and has his face reconstructed, sans goatee.
    • At the beginning, Riggan says about the mediocre actor who was hit by a light spot on the head that bleeding was the only thing he ever got good at. At the end, Riggan shoots himself for real on stage and this cements the success of the play and earns him a glowing review from the critic.
  • Gainax Ending: While the movie itself is pretty weird throughout, the opening night of the show is when things go completely off the walls. It's not because the narrative doesn't make sense (as It Makes Sense in Context), but because of how open to interpretation the last act of the film is - especially the epilogue.
  • Guttural Growler: Birdman. He speaks to Riggan in a deep, growling voice that's reminiscent of Batman. Keaton described it in an interview as a "bastardization" of his Batman voice.
  • Ham-to-Ham Combat: Riggan and Shiner indulge in it at times, with the former complaining the latter is clearly overacting to try to steal the spotlight.
  • Hidden Depths: Riggan may seem like a bit of a hack at first, but he does demonstrate genuine talent at several points. Additionally, during his vicious rant to Tabitha his mentions of craft and technique shows that he has much more respect towards art and thought to his approach of it than you might expect from someone whose main focus in his play is making a Career Resurrection.
  • Hidden Heart of Gold:
    • Mike is a total prima donna and all around Jerkass, but occasionally he shows a softer, more likable side, mostly when he's with Sam.
  • Horrible Hollywood: The New York Times critic (Tabitha) uses this as her reasoning to sabotage the performance, believing that screen actors don't belong onstage.
  • Hospital Epilogue: The film ends with Riggan's daughter visiting him in the hospital after his Bungled Suicide.
  • I Just Want to Be Special: Sam says this is the reason Riggan is doing the play - he's so frightened at being a faceless, forgotten nobody that he has to grab the spotlight back no matter the cost. Considering his personality at times, it's probably true.
  • Imaginary Friend: Riggan's Birdman persona is one to Riggan himself, to some extent.
  • Inadvertent Entrance Cue: Double Subverted. After Riggan injures Ralph and tells Jake to find a new actor, Jake replies: "What, you think the ideal actor is just gonna knock on that door and take the part?!" [knock on the door]. It's only Lesley's face. Then she informs Riggan and Jake that Mike is available after all.
  • Instant Humiliation: Just Add YouTube!: A case of Naked People Are Funny. The clip of Riggan in underwear on Times Square goes viral and receives 50,000 clicks on YouTube within a day.
  • Instantly Proven Wrong: Mike insults Riggan saying that most people don't care about him as an actor. Cue a fan of Riggan's approaching from behind asking to be photographed together with him.
  • It's All About Me: Both Shiner and Riggan, though Riggan's slightly more subtle about it. Slightly.
  • Jerkass:
    • Mike Shiner. He's self-centered, rude, and an Attention Whore to boot! Unfortunately, he's also usually right.
    • Tabitha is a snobby, pretentious Straw Critic who fully plans to kill Riggan's play just because she hates the idea of a movie star trying to make a move to Broadway.
  • Jerkass Realization: After delivering a huge "The Reason You Suck" Speech to Riggan, Sam looks at her father with guilt in her eyes. She leaves without apologizing, but it's clear she realizes she went too far, and she never acts anywhere near as mean spirited to Riggan after that.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold:
    • Riggan's selfish and sometimes blunt to the point of rudeness, but he loves his daughter and ex-wife, and does care about the rest of the cast and crew. Except Mike.
    • Sam, Riggan's daughter. She's very cynical and doesn't mince her words for anybody, but she's not a bad person and shows a more caring side several times.
  • Large Ham:
    • Riggan's Birdman persona thoroughly enjoys every line he speaks (the opening line of the film, mentioned at the top of the page, sets the character's tone immediately.)
    • The homeless man reciting Macbeth seems to be aware that he's probably playing his monologue up a little too much. "Was that too much? I can see it in your face, it was too much. I was just trying to give you some range."
  • The Last Dance: Invoked. After letting his Birdman persona pump him up before the opening night, Riggan performs a hell of a performance to the point that people are gushing about him during the intermission and eager to see more. He ends it with a suicide attempt that, ironically, is the finishing touch that makes everyone go wild.
  • Leave the Camera Running: Given the nature of the film to serve as an Epic Tracking Shot for two whole hours, the camera pauses at an empty hallway at one point and sits there for a whole twenty seconds before Riggan walks into frame.
  • Left the Background Music On: A jazzy drum beat recurs frequently throughout the movie. At one point, Riggan tips a street performer who is apparently providing the sound. Later, the same drummer is again seen backstage at the theater.
  • Levitating Lotus Position: Riggan is floating in midair for his meditation practice in the opening scene.
  • Little People Are Surreal: It's revealed through dialog that the play Riggan is working on includes a dream sequence with dancing dwarfs.
  • Long Title: In-universe; the play Riggan is performing is called What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.
  • The Loins Sleep Tonight: Mike has a hard time getting hard outside of the stage, which Lesley brings up after nearly he tries to have sex with her on stage for the sake of method acting. Mike also shows reluctance towards Sam's attraction to him at first, and states this as the reason.
  • May–December Romance:
    • Riggan appears to be much older than his girlfriend Laura. There's a significant age-gap of about 18 years between the actors.
    • The exact same situation happens with Sam and Mike and their actors also have an age gap of about 19 years as well.
    • For that matter, the kiss, and potential future romance, between Laura and Lesley borders on this trope, as the two actresses have an age gap of 13 years.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: It's not clear how much of the film's Magical Realism is meant to be real, or exist solely in Riggan's mind. There is evidence for and against:
    • When he uses telekinesis to wreck his dressing room, Jake walks in and sees him using his hands to wreck something, suggesting all the psychic powers are actually in his head.
    • After Riggan goes flying, when he lands in front of the theater and walks inside, a cabbie rushes into the theater almost immediately afterward demanding cab fare. This suggests that his flying trip was just a cab ride, but we also never see who the cabbie collected his fare from.
    • When Ralph gets hit in the head with a stage light, Riggan claims responsibility for it because he wanted Ralph out of the play. Riggan can also be seen repeatedly glancing at the lights above Ralph, suggesting he's telekinetically tampering with them. It could've just been a coincidence and he was just rolling his eyes at the Bad "Bad Acting".
    • There's really no possibility that the meteor strikes, monster bird and phantom Birdman are real, so we know that at least some things are all in Riggan's head.
    • In the very end, Sam looks out into the street for Riggan, then looks up into the sky and smiles. It's not clear if she's seeing Riggan flying, or looking at something else, or is simply part of Riggan's fantasy to begin with.
    • When Riggan flies off the street to the roof, people stop and stare. Riggan leaves the frame, but the people continue to stare as the camera pans up and shows that he is now perched on top of a roof. Someone asks if he's shooting a movie or not. Either these bystanders saw Riggan float up there or they are looking up to see a famous actor perched on a roof.
  • Meaningful Background Event:
    • The day after the initial preview, the backstage halls get narrower and the carpet changes to something reminiscent of the hotel in The Shining. They get narrower again the following night.
    • On the way to the bar with Mike, Riggan tips a drummer. The drummer's not there on the way back, but the drumming is.
    • When Mike's not on-stage, all his costumes are based on James Dean characters.
  • Meaningful Echo:
    • At one point, Riggan vents to his ex-wife about how he shouldn't have videotaped Sam's birth because he missed the moment. Then, in the epilogue he finally gets to share an authentic moment in a hospital with Sam.
    • Riggan to Lesley: "You're beautiful and you're talented and I'm lucky to have you." Laura, his girlfriend, hears this and sulks because he never said anything like that to her. Then Lesley repeats the line to her in a meaningful manner.
  • Meaningful Name: Mike Shiner is an arrogant Prima Donna who gets punched a few times. "Shiner" is slang for a black eye.
  • Meaningless Meaningful Words: Riggan chews out Tabitha Dickenson's reviews for being this, and not actually putting any time into the technical or structural elements of plays.
  • Media Scrum: The crazy crowd of journalists in front of Riggan's hospital room at the end. The police can barely keep them in check.
  • Meta Casting:
    • Like Thomson, Michael Keaton once played a superhero on film, and struggled to find high-profile roles after.
    • Fitting with the superhero theme, Gwen Stacy and the Hulk were also cast in supporting roles. Additionally, Edward Norton's casting as a prima donna actor set on undermining the director's vision is fitting, given Norton's own history as a perfectionist who would come into conflict with directors and executives of films he starred in. The most notable examples include his Creative Differences with Tony Kaye over the editing of American History X and his decision to leave the Marvel Cinematic Universe after disagreements with Marvel on the development of his character (hence why Mark Ruffalo was cast as the Hulk in The Avengers).
    • Naomi Watts plays an aspiring actress who, at one point, shows romantic interest in a dark haired woman. Sound familiar?
    • Lindsey Duncan isn't a very recognizable name to the average moviegoer, but she's an acclaimed, award winning stage actress. With this in mind, it makes sense why she was cast as Tabitha, a Broadway critic who hates the Hollywood scene.
  • Method Acting: In-Universe, Mike is an extreme practitioner of this, demanding to be threatened with a more real looking gun, botching a preview over a glass of gin that's actually only water, and almost raping Lesley on stage in an effort to look "more real".
  • Mind Screw: Does Riggan have psychic powers? Did he commit suicide at any point in the film, with the remainder serving as some sort of Dying Dream? What did Sam's reaction to the ending indicate? Good luck figuring those out.
  • Mr. Imagination: Riggan, who frequently imagines having both telekinesis and Flight as well as some other powers, not to mention having Birdman follow him. This gets played for both laughs and drama. The ending leaves it ambiguous whether it's Real After All.
  • Naked People Trapped Outside: Riggan's robe gets stuck in the door, so he is forced to walk around Times Square in his underwear.
  • Narcissist
    • Mike Shiner is a pompous actor who loves to flaunt how much better he is than those around him.
    • Riggan is somewhat of a Downplayed example. While his show reeks of being a Vanity Project, he's deeply insecure of himself as both a a professional and a person.
  • Narm:invoked In-Universe, Mike's Raging Stiffie during a preview causes derisive laughter during what is otherwise meant to be a very emotional scene.
  • Nasal Trauma: During Riggan's opening night show, he loads the prop gun with real bullets, intending to commit suicide onstage. Instead he ends up shooting his nose off and fainting, waking up to find he's still alive, his play is getting incredible reviews for "super realism", and he's been surgically given a new nose.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: Watching the trailer, you might be forgiven for thinking that Riggan is a former real superhero who starred in films about himself, not a regular actor who might simply be delusional. Many of the shots in the trailer are, even considering the ambiguous nature of Riggan's powers, certainly just in his head.
  • No OSHA Compliance: Hospital windows — especially the ones with a large drop outside — don't open. Riggan also doesn't seem to be connected to any monitors. Which supports the idea the ending is all a dream as Riggan is lying in bed.
  • No Such Thing as Bad Publicity: In-Universe. After accidentally locking himself out of the St. James, Riggan is forced to scurry through Times Square in his underwear in order to get back in. The show gets tons of free promotion.
  • The Oner: The movie is shot and edited to look like a single, uninterrupted take (though prior to the shot of Riggan levitating, there are two CG shots of the Birdman flying through the New York skies). In reality, the film contains roughly 16 scenes that were skillfully stitched together in post production to give the illusion of a single take. The actors cited that if any of them made a mistake, it would be on them. Apparently, Emma Stone made the most mistakes, Zach Galifianakis made the fewest. He actually did mess up a few lines during the filming, but played his mistakes off well enough that the shots were included in the film.note 
  • One-Word Title
  • Only Sane Man: Sylvia is the only character whose actions and responses both during the movie and backstory are fairly rational. Subverted with Sam, who is the only other major character who doesn't suffer some extreme personal breakdown during the movie, but had severe psychological and emotional distress in backstory that still affects her (it's that sort of movie). At the same time though, as someone who only acts as an assistant during the production, she acts as this to the more egotistic actors.
  • Orbital Shot: The camera moves in circles around the kitchen table while characters do some talking.
  • Order Versus Chaos: Sylvia vs. Riggan (and everyone else). In the end, everybody praises Riggan's performance, whereas she (and Sam) are the only ones who actually give a damn about his health and safety.
  • Parental Neglect: Sam accuses her father of this. They kind of reconnect in the movie's epilogue. See Meaningful Echo.
  • Power Fantasy: Riggan's "flight" and "telekinesis". Maybe.
  • The Power of Acting: Riggan's Birdman persona gives him the motivation to go out and continue to act.
  • Pregnancy Scare: Riggan's girlfriend reveals to him that she missed her last two periods. His excitement is underwhelming which earns him a slap in the face. Later we learn that the girlfriend made her pregnancy up just to observe his reaction.
  • Protagonist Title: Refers to Riggan, who played the titular fictional superhero.
  • Public Domain Soundtrack: Though most of the soundtrack is a series of drum solos, it is mixed with snippets of classical music. The incidental music for the play includes the slow movements of Tchaikovsky's Fourth and Fifth Symphonies (the latter also plays after the scene in which Sam takes Riggan down a few pegs), the opening of Mahler's Symphony No.9, and Ravel's "Pavane pour une infante defunte", while Ravel's Piano Trio plays during Riggan's trip to the bar and confrontation with Tabitha, and the "flying" sequence is set to a composite of the first two movements of Rachmaninoff's Symphony No.2. The prominence of these pieces appearing in the score is what lost Antonio Sánchez his Oscar nomination for his drum score.
  • Raging Stiffie: Mike gets an embarrassing one onstage after improvising a sex scene. It almost ruins the show (again).
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech:
    • Sam gives Riggan a particularly nasty one; he may ridicule social media and viral videos, but she tells him they're a large part of how society and popular culture have moved on and left him behind. She immediately looks like she regrets it, but walks away instead of apologizing.
    • Riggan serves one to Tabitha, calling her position and work methods as a critic cowardly and risk free while he's risking everything on his play. Tabitha gives one right back to him, calling his Hollywood movies "cartoons and pornography" and telling him that no matter how good his play is, she'll demolish it, though she apparently was impressed enough to write a positive review afterwards.
  • Realistic Diction Is Unrealistic: Downplayed. While the characters tend to make verbose speeches and can rapidly go back and forth in dialog, you can occasionally hear them repeat words or stutter.
  • Rewatch Bonus: During the scene before Ralph is injured, Riggan can be seen glancing at the lights above, implying that he has or is tampering with them in order to get Ralph out of his play.
  • Right Behind Me: Leslie doesn't want Sam to hear her bad-mouthing her to Mike.
    Mike: Then perhaps you should ask her to leave.
  • Scenery Censor: When Mike Shiner poses nude in front of a mirror, his best part is covered by a chairback.
  • Schrödinger's Butterfly: Schrödinger's Bird. Given how Riggan's dream sequences appear between his real life, some exploit this possibility.
  • Set Behind the Scenes: The whole story is about the production of Riggan's play, and most of it takes place backstage of the rehearsals.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Birdman 3's title font resembles that of Iron Man 3's.
    • Riggan's Birdman voice suggests calling their comeback film The Phoenix Rises.
    • During the scene when Riggan is envisioning Birdman flying and using his powers, Birdman's beams look identical to Birdman's solar beams.
    • The carpeting backstage is similar to that in The Shining.
  • Show Within a Show: Riggan attempts to stage a theatrical version of Raymond Carver’s short story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” that he’s adapting, directing, and starring in himself. It is not going as well as he’d hoped.
  • The Show Must Go On: Never referenced by name, but happens often with Jake's uneven behavior and Riggan's breakdown, but best displayed in Riggan's scene running around the building in his underwear to make sure he makes his cue.
  • "Spread Wings" Frame Shot: Riggan is a washed-up actor who imagines his most famous role, the superhero Birdman, as a critical voice in his head. At one point, Riggan is walking on the street and now sees Birdman as a visible figure, who flies up behind him and for a second makes him look as if he has wings.
  • Spurned into Suicide: In the Show Within a Show, Riggan plays a character that commits suicide because his wife doesn't love him anymore.
  • Straw Critic: Tabitha is described as a petty tyrant who delights in destroying plays that displease her. She makes it quite clear that she plans to kill Riggan's production on opening night because of a prejudice against movie stars appearing on Broadway. She ends up writing a positive review because she mistakes his attempted suicide as art.
  • Studio Chatter: The first seconds of the opening credits and the final seconds of the closing credits feature drummer/score writer Antonio Sánchez speaking to director Iñárritu, who was sitting in the recording booth with Sánchez, during the recording of the film's score.
  • Take That!: Some pretty nasty ones.
  • Take That, Critics!: During the brief moment where we see Riggan imagining explosions and a bird monster, Birdman's comments seem to be pointing fingers directly at the viewers. Additionally, it's somewhat of a pre-emptive snark considering it's one of those movies that has a bunch of negative public reviews labeling it "pretentious rubbish."
    Birdman: Look at how their eyes light up. People, they love this shit. They love blood. They love action. Not this talky, depressing, philosophical bullshit.
  • Television Geography: The street outside St. James Theater is depicted with some licenses.
  • There Are No Therapists: No theater production staff in their right minds would leave a dangerously depressed important lead actor by himself, even if he was the director.
  • Through the Eyes of Madness: We see the film through Riggan's unstable mind. Though the ending suggests that it's real.
  • Title Drop:
    • "The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance" appears as a newspaper headline at the very end of the film.
    • In-Universe. The play's title "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love" is namedropped at the end of Act I.
    • During his meltdown at the rehearsal, Mike says, about the fried chicken on stage: "That's a nice bird, man!".
  • Trash the Set: Riggan is a Prima Donna Director and in a fit of rage he completely wrecks his dressing room.
  • Troubled Production: In-Universe. The film is about the problems the show faces, internally and externally.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Riggan seems to believe he has superpowers, but evidence throughout the movie points to the idea that the audience is merely seeing his hallucinations.
  • The Unreveal: The last scene of Sam looking out of the window in awe, yet we never learn what she saw.
  • Unusual Euphemism:
    Jake: How do you know Mike Shiner?
  • Vanity Project: In-universe with Riggan's Broadway production.
  • Wag the Director: invoked A good portion of the film is dedicated to Riggan dealing with Mike's attempts at usurping control of the play.
  • We Were Rehearsing a Play: Inverted. Riggan walks up to actors on a stage having a discussion and it is a minute or so before the audience is clued in on whether this is a bunch of actors having a real conversation on the set, or a rehearsal - it's actually the rehearsal.
  • World of Snark: Pretty much every character of note has some kind of witty remark on hand.

"Let's go back one more time and show them what we're capable of!"

Alternative Title(s): Birdman