Apart from addressing that Raymond Carver continues to be an unparalleled source of inspiration/proof that no other alcoholic will ever be able to write as clearly as he, Birdman is thus far the ultimate commentary on the twenty-first century--while still possessing an air of timelessness. Acknowledging themes that have stretched across every era of humanity, Alejandro González Iñárritu's, dare one say, masterpiece examines the struggle to be noticed and feel loved, often confusing admiration for the latter.
The star of Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton, in an all too appropriate role) faded long ago in the early 90s after he decided not to make a fourth installment of a comic book franchise called Birdman. Ever since, he's been atrophying away, both in terms of talent and celebrity. His only daughter, Sam (Emma Stone, carrying off ripped tights as no one else can), serves as his personal assistant, just one example of the many damaged relationships in his life. In order to pull himself up by the proverbial bootstraps and regain a modicum of respect in the "acting world," Riggan decides to adapt Raymond Carver's short story, "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love," for the Broadway stage.
The story, about different kinds of love and where each of these kinds of love go when they seem to disappear, is all too poignant when held up against Riggan's own life, like some sort of cruel funhouse mirror. Playing multiple roles within the play, Riggan's portrayal of Ed, a jilted lover of one of the other characters, Terri (played by Naomi Watts), is the one most eerily similar to his own persona--with quotes like, "Why doesn't anyone love me? I tried so hard to be who you wanted and now I don't even know who I am anymore." This reference to not being loved by any sort of public is also especially salient due to the other lead actor, Mike Shiner (Edward Norton, amazing as usual), stealing the front page of the New York Times Arts and Culture section with his interview about the play.
All the while, Riggan has the interior voice of Birdman telling him what a fuck-up and failure he is for having ever abandoned the character. In typical Iñárritu fashion, the film often borders on the surreal, or, what theater critic Tabitha Dickinson (Lindsay Duncan), might call "Super-Realism," but it never strays from its most overt theme: Does cultural relevancy equate to love, and vice versa? Perhaps no other writer-director has explored this concept with as much depth in a time increasingly punctuated by a lust for fame--at any cost--that people confuse with love.