Birdman Ending Explained: Why that Obscure Final Shot Makes Total Sense!

Birdman Ending Explained

Alejandro G. Iárritu directed the 2014 black comedy-drama Birdman, also known as The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance. Armando Bó, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris Jr., and Iárritu penned the screenplay.

“What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” stars Michael Keaton as Riggan Thomson, a faded Hollywood actor best known for playing the superhero “Birdman,” as he struggles to mount a Broadway adaptation of Raymond Carver’s short story.

Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan, Emma Stone, and Naomi Watts round out the supporting cast.

With the exception of a brief scene, the film appears to have been shot in a single take, an idea Iárritu had from the beginning of production.

Birdman’s cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki was convinced that the amount of time required to record the long takes could not have been achieved using older equipment.

Fox Searchlight Pictures, Regency Enterprises, and Worldview Entertainment all contributed to the $16.5 million budget for the New York City shoot in the spring of 2013.

It premiered the following year at the Venice International Film Festival, where it opened the 71st edition.

Plot Summary

Birdman Ending Explained

Actor Riggan Thomson is best known for his role as “Birdman” in a three-film series that ran from 1989 to 1992. In his mind, Birdman mocks and criticizes him and he often imagines himself performing levitation and telekinesis feats of his own.

To reclaim his lost fame, Riggan is adapting Raymond Carver’s short story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” for the Broadway stage. Riggan’s identity cannot exist without the Birdman voice, who wants Riggan to return to the big screen.

Laura, Riggan’s girlfriend, and Lesley, a Broadway debutante, star in the play produced by Riggan’s best friend and lawyer, Jake. Sam, Riggan’s reformed drug addict daughter, is working as his personal assistant.

Ralph, Riggan’s co-star, is injured when a light fixture falls on him the day before the first preview. Ralph is replaced by Mike Shiner, a brilliant but volatile method actor who is Lesley’s boyfriend.

To make matters worse, in the first previews, Mike breaks character by substituting plain water for his gin, then goes on the attack against Lesley in a sex scene.

It all comes to a head when Riggan reads an interview with Mike in the New York Times in which Mike steals Riggan’s personal reason for performing in a Raymond Carver play from Riggan.

After a convincing argument, Riggan agrees to carry on with the play. She rebukes and chastises Riggan in an insulting manner after he confronts her about her marijuana use, telling him he is irrelevant and the play is for his own egotism.

Riggan’s robe gets caught in the fire escape door during the final preview of the movie. Walking through Times Square in his briefs, he enters the audience to perform his final scene.

As soon as the curtain falls on the show, Sam returns to his dressing room with a worried look on her face. She demonstrates to him the viral nature of the Times Square footage and explains how it benefits him.

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Birdman Ending Explained

Riggan meets Tabitha Dickinson, a cynical but hugely influential theatre critic, at a bar for a drink. With a demeaning review, she promises to “kill” his play before it has even been seen.

After buying a pint of whiskey on the way back, Riggan passes out on the stoop. On his way to the theatre the following day, he imagines Birdman trying to persuade him to abandon the play and make a fourth Birdman movie while he is groggy from the night before.

When Riggan finally arrives at the theatre, he imagines himself flying through the streets of New York City. On the first night, things are going well.

During an interview with his ex-wife Sylvia in his dressing room, a strangely calm Riggan admits that he tried to drown himself in the ocean years ago after she caught him having an affair.

He also tells her about the Birdman voice, but she doesn’t listen. After Sylvia departs, Riggan procures a real firearm for the final act of the film, in which he kills himself.

Riggan takes his own life on stage during the show’s climax. An enthusiastic response is heard from the audience. He wakes up in a hospital where his nose was surgically reconstructed after he attempted suicide.

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Birdman Ending Explained

According to a glowing review by Tabitha, the play’s attempted suicide was exactly what American theatre needed.

Sam visits him with flowers and takes a picture of him to post on the Twitter account she has set up in his honor.

In the bathroom, Riggan removes the bandages to reveal his swollen new nose and bids farewell to Birdman, who is seen sitting on the toilet while she goes outside to look for a vase.

As the birds fly by outside his window, he opens the window and climbs out onto the ledge to take a closer look.

In an empty room, Sam frantically rushes to the open window, scanning the ground and then smiling at what she sees up in the sky.

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Ending  Explanation

 Theory 1

Birdman Ending Explained

Riggan dies onstage. Throughout the rest of the film, he has a hallucination.
There are a number of strong arguments in favor of this theory’s conclusion. What’s more, after Riggan Michael Keaton shoots himself, everything that happens seems too good to be true.

His ex-wife backs him up; his daughter is enamored with him; even the New York Times critic has nothing but praise to say about him. In other words, he’s a hit with the public, the press, and even his own family.

Riggan’s sudden change of fortune is not only too good to be true, but it also goes against the film’s theme and dark nature. Director Alejandro G. Inarritu would not have chosen this ending if the answer to the film’s complex themes of ego, fame, and celebrityhood had been a simple yes or no answer at all.

Alternatively, if the ending depicts Riggan’s death-induced hallucinations, then it emphasizes how deeply affected Riggan was, to the point where he imagined himself to be the center of attention for everyone even as he was dying, and once he receives that satisfaction, Riggan then imagines himself to be free and flying which his daughter presumably sees in the final shot of the film.

 Theory 2

Birdman Ending Explained

The bullet that hit Riggan misses him. Even though he has the support and love of his fans, critics, and family, he still suffers from the mental issues that plagued him prior to his current hospitalization.

After seeing Birdman in the bathroom, he jumped out of the window to commit suicide because he realized that no amount of fame or acceptance could cure his demented mind and ego.

In the final scene, his daughter Sam looks up and smiles instead of crying or shouting as she is taken aback by what she sees.

Because seeing her father dead may cause a mental breakdown, causing her to believe her father is actually Birdman and has superhuman abilities to fly.


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