Maybe basing a life's work off of a hastily scrawled compliment someone wrote on a cocktail napkin after your high school play is a bit childish…but that's exactly why Riggan decided to dedicate his life to acting.
Carver's napkin-compliment didn't just inspire Riggan's adaptation of a Carver story; it was the genesis of his career as an actor in the first place. So, needless to say, the napkin has a lot of significance for Riggan, which is why Mike disrespecting it hurts so much:
MIKE: It's on a cocktail napkin. He was fucking drunk, man.
Oof. Riggan's a bit stunned that a compliment by the great Raymond Carver—who he's now paying homage to—could simply be disregarded as a drunken joke.
So what does he do with the napkin? He tries to show it to Tabitha to start off a nice conversation about the play. After all, it's a great anecdote that most columnists would love to use to introduce a piece.
But like Mike, Tabitha want's nothing to do with it; she doesn't even look at it. And after Tabitha leaves without drinking her martini, Riggan decides to finish it for her…and slams the empty martini glass down right on Carver's napkin before he leaves.
The napkin's gone full circle. It started supporting the condensation of Carver's alcoholic beverage, became an inspiration for a young boy, a cherished memorabilia of an aging actor, and finally, a cocktail napkin once more.
This happens right before the deepest part of Riggan's depression and self-doubt. We can only guess how having something that had given him purpose and direction and affirmation all his life totally disregarded played a role in this decline.
Dang. That symbol's so depressing it sounds like a motif straight out of a Raymond Carver story.
First things first: these are the lines from Macbeth we hear in the film:
The queen, my lord, is dead.
She should have died hereafter;
There would have been a time for such a word.
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
The italicized lines are recited, not by a trained Shakespearean actor, but by crazy street person. This dude's belting these lines out at the top of his lungs as Riggan walks in a daze through the New York City streets at night.
And yes, these lines inspired one of the great novels of the 20th century and we could unpack them for, quite literally, pages and pages…but let's ask how they relate to this specific moment in Birdman when Riggan is essentially at rock bottom.
"To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow" cries the man, almost in despair. This isn't a happy song about how the sun always rises. This ain't a production of Annie. These tomorrows speak of a painful infinity that slowly drags out, just like the recitation itself. There is a futility in living but also in dying, as Riggan learns after his failed suicides.
He feels small and powerless and alone…and feeling small and powerless and unknown is exactly what Riggan fears most. He's terrified that he'll "strut and fret" his "hour upon the stage" and then will be "no more." He'll simply be the next dead celebrity, filling Instagrams around the world for a few days until memory of him fades away, the next Farrah Fawcett unable to measure up to the Michael Jacksons of the world.
Of course, Riggan is the idiot telling the tale that's full of "sound and fury, signifying nothing." This tale is the Birdman franchise in a nutshell: a franchise filled with meaningless action, explosions, glamor and all the big flashing lights of celebrity and money and fame—basically everything that Tabitha hates and everything that makes Hollywood Hollywood.
These lines also pertain to his play: Riggan's also worried that he's turned Raymond Carver's story into a senseless play that no one will understand or care about. And, of course, they're also about his life, filled with the sound and fury of all these movies and plays and relationships, all of it meaningless as it roars together in Riggan's head.
Bleak? Oh yeah. A little dramatic? Also: yes. But symbolically meaningful? A resounding yes.
Who would have thought Birdman—you know, the caped crusader of Hollywood fame—would be referencing ancient Greek mythology? But he does:
BIRDMAN: We have to end it on our own terms, with a grand gesture, flames, sacrifice, Icarus.
This is what Birdman says to Riggan as he ascends to the top of the building and prepares to jump off. Birdman is all about spectacle and wants Riggan's life to end with a bang, not a whimper. If Riggan slowly becomes washed up and irrelevant nobody will remember him. He will be that one dude who played the bird guy in those action flicks, and Birdman can't let that happen.
No, he needs to jump off a New York City building in broad daylight with onlookers shouting his name as he falls to his fiery demise, sacrificing his life to uphold his reputation and his celebrity.
Yeah. Birdman's a jerk.
But let's back up a sec. What are we talking about when we talk about Birdman? Well, in Greek mythology, Icarus is the son of Daedalus, the craftsman who built the labyrinth for King Minos to imprison his stepson the Minotaur. But when Daedalus helps the princess Ariadne make her way through the labyrinth, Daedalus himself, along with Icarus, are locked away in the labyrinth by Minos.
Daedalus, being a clever craftsman, builds two sets of wings made of wax and feathers so that he and his son can fly away and escape. Before taking off he warns Icarus of flying too high and having the sun melt the wax. Basically, he's metaphorically warning against becoming too big for your britches, and Icarus unfortunately doesn't heed his warning. He flies too high, melting his wings, and then falls into the sea.
Icarus' rise and fall parallels Riggan's pride. It's Riggan's inability to let go of the respect and fame he once had that's causing his career and his life as a whole to come cascading down upon him in a fiery mess.
As anyone who's ever watched Finding Nemo knows, you want to stay far, far away from the jellies. But Riggan, unfortunately, has obviously never seen this particular Pixar joint.
The very first thing we see before the movie proper begins is a quick shot of the beach and a bunch of dying jellyfish washed ashore. It's brief and hardly memorable, especially compared to the next shot: an older guy levitating in his underwear.
But when we see the same scene again, this time with seagulls that have come to snack on the jellies, we know it's important.
But let's back up a bit to a time before jellyfish. No, not the Precambrian period, we're talking about the credits. We see Raymond Carver's "Late Fragment" appear on screen, and then slowly disappear as the title comes into view. But unlike the previous credits which were wholly gone, "Late Fragment" left behind four individual letters that, read from top left to bottom right, spell the worst four letter world of them all: "amor" (which means love, in case you were wondering).
So, jellyfish = love: sounds simple enough to us. But why are the jellyfish symbolic of love? Does it have to do with their natural qualities? Their fragile yet dangerous nature, with the power to both hurt and be hurt very easily? It's never really clear, but what is clear is that just like the jellyfish are dying…and so is the love in Riggan's life.
When he encounters them in the ocean he's trying to drown himself. If he had succeeded it would have been his own body, not the jellyfish, washed up purple and bloated on the sand.
But instead, he feels their stings:
RIGGAN: […] like someone was holding a frying pan on my back, really burning.
So maybe our lovely jellyfish aren't so depressing anymore. Maybe it's the sting of love, whether his love of himself or his love of his family—or perhaps his family's love for him—that brings him up out of his watery grave.
Yeah. The jellies in Finding Nemo were way less complicated.
Guys, we never find out if Riggan's superpowers are real.
Most of the movie certainly implies they're not. We see him tearing apart his office with the power of his mind, only to switch to Jake's perspective where he's much less majestically smashing and throwing things with his hands. Of course, just because he shows up in a cab when he's supposed to be flying in, that doesn't mean his powers aren't real to him.
And ultimately that's what matters.
Birdman tells Riggan that "they don't know what you're capable of." It seems like he's referring to Riggan's acting prowess—he's just finished comparing Riggan's skill as an actor to Robert Downey Jr. Riggan's powers are a manifestation of his ego, both of which are remnants from his time as a superhero. He still has the chops to make it as a prime time actor, just like he still has his Birdman abilities.
So with this in mind, let's take a look at what Riggan can do.
The wildest use of his powers is when he takes off flying through the streets after a night of drinking, and (possibly) during his hospitalization. (But if you want to hear more about how flight and specifically birds are meaningful to the film, head over to our analysis of them on the next page.)
Most of his powers involve a kind of telekinesis, or ability to move objects with his mind. Some of these are very simple, like twirling the case on Sam's desk after their argument, or when he opens the door to his office as he goes to finish the second act of opening night, or when he turns off the TV by pointing at it. These are all examples of subtle, everyday telekinesis…if telekinesis really existed.
But it gets a little crazier when he starts creating giant metallic birds fighting helicopters and swat teams out in the streets, or when he starts tearing apart is office. These moments happen when Riggan is most powerless. He's using this telekinesis to release his primal urge to smash things.
Finally, we can't forget the curious case of Ralph. This incident is undeniable: Ralph got beaned by a spotlight. Everyone sees it and reacts to it; Mike is brought in because of it; Ralph even shows up later in a neck brace. So the question isn't whether it happened, the question is: did Riggan cause it like he claims he did?
We're guessing no. Our best guess is that, again, Riggan was feeling powerless (because Ralph was such a miserable actor) and that Riggan wanted to believe that he was capable of braining Ralph in order to get him out of the show.
Ultimately, Riggan may not be capable of much except destroying his own world, whether that's because of his super-powers or just because he's bent on his own destruction.
As you know by now, Oh Student of Literature And Film, where a bird appears a symbol is never, ever far behind. And Birdman—a movie with a bird in the dang title—is no exception.
In the play-within-a-film, the character of Laura says the following line:
LAURA, PLAYED BY LAURA: There's a certain distance to it all now, a wistful distance, underscored by a gentle breeze and the sound of the birds, laughing at the whimsy of it all.
She's talking about Nick and the baby they didn't have. It just makes us think how awesome it would be to be a bird, flying high in the sky without a care in the world—except maybe hawks and helicopter blades. And, as in many works of art, birds in Birdman symbolize freedom and perspective—they have the ability to escape the mundanity of everyday life as they soar through the clouds.
But what about being a bird…man?
Birdman isn't your happy-go-lucky kinda bird that's up high enjoying the scenery; he's blowing things up for the people's delight, partaking in the suffering and triumph of the earth. Really, he's about as un-birdlike as you could get, from a symbolic perspective.
This is why, at the film's end, Riggan says goodbye to Birdman and opens the window to the birds flying blissfully outside in the wind.
We'll never find out what Sam sees as she looks out that window, but the tattoo of a feather with birds flying out of it on her left shoulder suggests that she also understands the beauty of flight.
What do we talk about when we talk about "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love"? The answer is actually almost as convoluted as the question.
It's not like Iñárritu decided to pick a play out of a hat and somehow ended up with a short story he decided could be an adaptation even though it's just a bunch of people sitting around a table talking. So let's delve into some of the myriad parallels between Riggan's adaptation and Birdman itself.
Check out how the dialogue this play-within-a-film is repeated offstage.
First, we have a line in the play:
NICK, PLAYED BY RIGGAN: Shut up. For once in your life, will you do me a favor and shut up for a minute.
Later in the hallway, Jake yells at Riggan:
JAKE: Shut up! Just shut up for once and listen to me.
There are lots of people not listening to each other, and Jake needs to talk some sense into Riggan about the Mike situation, just like Nick feels like his story needs to be heard. Then of course we have these lines:
LAURA, PLAYED BY LAURA: I guess we make choices in life and we choose to live with them. Or not.
The "or not" she's talking about have parallels in the "real life" of the movie: (abortion) or erasing life (suicide). Riggan's inability to live with his choices causes him to attempt suicide a few times, and Laura's inability to live with hers leads to an abortion.
Which brings us to…
We mention in her Character Analysis that Laura is pregnant during the course of the movie, and that the character of Laura (also called Laura) is pregnant in the play. You can't ask for a more striking parallel than that.
Then we have Mike, whose character Mel thinks love is absolute. Mike also thinks in these big black-and-white terms. He is either fully authentic or a complete phony, a man who embraces extremes as much as Mel does.
Riggan's character, Ed, tries and fails to kill himself twice: first with rat poison and a second time with a gun. Sound familiar? Riggan's suicide by drowning is interrupted by jellyfish, and his attempt with a gun just ends up blasting his nose off.
But what about how the play affects on a deeper level? How does his obsession with Raymond Carver's story change him? We're going to hand the mic to Riggan for this one:
RIGGAN: This play is starting to feel like a miniature, deformed version of myself that just keeps following me around and, like, hitting me in the balls with, like a tiny little hammer.
Ah, Riggan. Eloquent as always.
Alchemillias, lilacs, roses—quite a few flowers make an appearance in Birdman, although not always in their typical flowery ways.
Flowers are supposed to symbolize love, life, and beauty…but these serene ideas have no place in the chaotic world of the film. For one, Riggan hates roses—and he gets a room full of them on opening night. Then there are the alchemillas. They never actually show up—Riggan gets another kind of bouquet with a note explaining that the flower shop was out of "whatever you wanted."
If this sounds depressing, don't worry: the flowers get a happy ending in the form of lilacs.
Sam goes and picks out a nice bouquet of lilacs for her hospitalized father. Unfortunately, Riggan can't smell them because he shot his nose off. Whoops.
But when he gets up to go to the bathroom he tosses the flowers right on top of Tabitha's oh-so-wonderful Times review of his play. The lilacs mostly obscure the article from our view and symbolize that Riggan may have finally valued his family over the status of his career.
Aww. It looks like the symbolic flower-power finally won.
"Late Fragment" is a short poem written by the man himself, Raymond Carver.
Here it is in its entirety:
And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.
It's the last poem in his last published work. He wrote it while dying of cancer, and it appears on his gravestone. But, while this poem marked the end of Carver's life, it marks the beginning of this film: the movie starts with "Late Fragment" as an epigraph.
But here's a question: is the "feeling beloved" that Carver talks about wanting in the poem any different from the kind of love that Riggan spends the movie chasing? Doesn't Riggan also want to feel himself beloved? "Late Fragment" shows us how this life goal of wanting to be remembered in a certain way can sound like a sweet sentiment or an egotistical nightmare…depending on how it's framed.
Ever notice that every blockbuster movie has the same fundamental pieces? A hero, a journey, some conflicts to muck it all up, a reward, and the hero returning home and everybody applauding his or her swag? Yeah, scholar Joseph Campbell noticed first—in 1949. He wrote The Hero with a Thousand Faces, in which he outlined the 17 stages of a mythological hero's journey.
About half a century later, Christopher Vogler condensed those stages down to 12 in an attempt to show Hollywood how every story ever written should—and, uh, does—follow Campbell's pattern. We're working with those 12 stages, so take a look. (P.S. Want more? We have an entire Online Course devoted to the hero's journey.)
Riggan's ordinary world is that of a washed up actor trying to rejuvenate his career in a meaningful way. We get a large slice of this as he talks to the reporters. One wants to critique everything he does, one wants all the juicy gossip, and the other is just excited about the prospect of another Birdman. Riggan is trying to break out of this cycle.
Oh, and he has superpowers. Maybe.
If Riggan's adventure is the play, then we don't really see the call. We start as Riggan is fumbling around, trying to get everything in the play to work out.
But what Riggan's call was isn't hard to guess. He was feeling irrelevant and wanted something that would put him back on the map, and not just as a braindead movie star.
Riggan's call to adventure seems to be of his own doing, so there's no real refusal. The only thing Riggan is refusing is another Birdman sequel.
The only person who talks sense into Riggan is his ex-wife. Sylvia just wants him to be happy and wants him to be a good father. Their first meeting in his dressing room doesn't go so well, but eventually Sylvia's words will get through to him.
Riggan's crossing the threshold is the moment he decides to write, direct, produce, and act in and adaptation of "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love." But this threshold isn't just about doing the play, it's also about his giving in to the mental constructions of Birdman and telekinesis.
It's when Riggan begins to lose it when he crosses over into the other world.
Riggan's tests are a series of mishaps involving Mike, who starts to take over the play, Sam, who he's too selfish to help, and Tabitha, who wants to destroy his play.
Jake's always by his side, but there's only so much he can do to keep Riggan from going insane and taking drastic measures, like giving Mike a shiner or running through the streets in his underwear.
In the final moments before Riggan's Ordeal, he gets drunk and hallucinates a conversation with a physical Birdman, who berates him for giving up his successful life on the big screen.
Riggan's mental issues are now out in full force. He starts flying around, unable to tell what's real and what's not. It's a miracle he even makes it to the show.
Riggan shoots himself in the head. Well, in the nose to be exact.
Unable to take the pressure of the play and of life, of getting old and becoming irrelevant, Riggan decides to end it all onstage, in front of a live audience. But he misses.
Riggan's play is a huge success, and probably in part because of his attempted suicide. The critics all love it; even Tabitha wrote a rave review. Unfortunately, this reward doesn't seem to mean as much to Riggan as it he thought it would.
Riggan's road back is coming to terms with what he did, what he's become, and what he needs to be. He's finally alone with his family in a hospital room and away from the craziness of the stage. He has a minute of calm to figure things out.
Riggan walks into the bathroom to find Birdman sitting on the john. With a crude goodbye, Riggan leaves Birdman behind, finally putting his old life and old aspirations behind him.
Riggan's elixir is Sam's smile. She looks up and sees…whatever she sees, and is happy. Riggan has finally done something good for his daughter and for the mending of his family as a whole.
Setting a movie in the Big Apple is hardly groundbreaking. But this ain't the sweet-natured NYC from rom-coms, or the hardened, gritty Scorsese NYC. This New York is just…weird.
And we hardly ever get to see it, because most of the time we're stuck in Riggan's head, er, the theater.
The St. James Theater is the actual theater used from the exterior and interior stage shots of the film. (Despite how the movie might make it appear, it's actually quite the prestigious venue in the real world.) It's located right next to Times Square—you know, the place with all the people that flock to an almost-naked Riggan and later appear on stage in Riggan's dreams.
Hallways are traditionally a place of transition. You don't go in a hallway to be in a hallway; you go in a hallway to get somewhere else. And while this is true of all the theater corridors, there's a surprising amount of action that takes place as people are moving about. But before diving into this action, we should ask why we're spending so much time walking through the hallways in the first place.
The short answer is: one long tracking shot. In a normal movie, any sort of transitory scenes, where a character moves from one locale to another, are cut. Do we really want to spend five hours hanging out with our protagonist as they snooze on a plane from L.A. to New York? Not really. But in Birdman we don't have a choice. The camera never turns off and so we're trapped in a way, forced to follow Riggan and whoever else as they move from room to room or from back stage to on stage.
And "trapped" isn't a bad word to use. The title of the book Mike is reading as he gets his tan on is Labyrinths, by Jorge Luis Borges. And these hallways are a kind of labyrinth. As an audience we never fully make sense of what is where, as we peek into various rooms and go up or down stairs to the stage or the balcony. The staccato beats of the drums are always playing, adding to the claustrophobic spaces a sense of entropy and urgency. This is show business and people are always rushing around, needing to be at one place or another. The hallways serve to add that sense of urgency to the movement of our characters, as well as a purposeful senselessness, like rats running through a maze.
But in one moment the hallway is a place of serenity. After one of the most chaotic sequences, in which Riggan runs through NYC in his underwear and ends up finishing the scene on stage in the same manner, the camera uses Jake to drift away from the main action where it comes to rest looking down and empty hallway. In the background we hear the shot from the toy pistol and, after a moment, the applause from the audience. But the camera remains still, pointed away from it all, a brief respite which puts the success of the play and the craziness of Riggan's life into perspective as we stare down the calm, vacant hall.
Cinephiles sure do love their tracking shots. Google "tracking shot" and you'll get more top ten lists than you can reasonably sort through in one afternoon—or maybe even two.
These kinds of extended takes are difficult to pull off: you can head to our Best of the Web section to hear the actors tell you all about the strict timings and what it feels like to mess up five or more minutes of acting at the very end of the scene (we're looking at you Emma).
Wait, five minutes of acting? Surely we mean two hours of acting because the camera never seemed to turn off until Riggan shoots himself.
Well, the gig is up. It's not all one shot, it's just a lot of short (okay, actually really long) shots strung together with some clever editing. Every time you see a pan or other camera movement from one place or person to another, there's probably some fancy editorial tricks happening that makes it appear seamless.
Still: what's important for our purposes isn't the execution but the intention. Everyone told Iñárritu that making a film that was one long tracking shot was nigh impossible, so why did he still try it?
We keep returning to the idea of the movie as a play (which hopefully makes a lot of sense, it takes place entirely in a theater and is about people doing a play) and the tracking shot plays into this idea.
Theater actors don't get to take a break every few seconds to rehearse their next lines or grab a Capri Sun. We don't want to be like Mike and get all pretentious about actors, but there is a commitment to character that they must maintain that Hollywood actors don't, and it's something we get at least a taste of in Birdman.
Yes, it's a movie about making a play, but that's not the kind of drama we're talking about here. Birdman's a film that center's around its characters' struggles to make sense of their lives, and their favorite way to do this is arguing with each other (or their feathery past-selves) about their own purpose and meaning and essentially what it means to be alive and to be successful.
The problem with success is that it's all relative, defined by the success and failure of our peers. So both Riggan and Mike want to use the play to find their own success, all the while Sylvia has a very different definition that involves a little more fathering and a little less knife throwing.
It's a hodgepodge of emotion that drives the film towards its climax.
But for all of the serious, heartfelt confessions and confrontations, there's an equal (if not greater) amount of silliness. We don't want to take the movie joke by joke and ruin them all for you, so let's look at a pretty subtle one that may have flown under the radar (if it still had any feathers).
Yeah, we're talking about the scene where a drunk Mike interrupts Riggan during the first preview and starts tearing apart the set after he's done ripping into the audience. He's pillaging the fridge and notices that everything except a piece of chicken is fake. So he takes a bite decides it's pretty good—as food tends to be when one is inebriated—and he says "That's some good bird, man."
It's really one of those things you need to see first-hand because it will catch you off guard, given the serious nature of the scene. And that's the thing about humor in Birdman: it's all so interwoven into the dialogue of the characters and their ridiculous antics that we find ourselves laughing at them even in their lowest moments.
We're like the people following around an almost-naked Riggan with our smartphones, laughing at his vulnerability.
Don't get us wrong, we like the title; it reminds us of our favorite lawyer.
But isn't this movie all about Riggan Thomson? Riggan's in almost every shot and Birdman has only one real scene and a little extra dialogue. So what gives? We know Birdman is a fiend for the spotlight, so maybe being the title character was worked into his contract along with the birdseed and the apache attack helicopters.
The point is that we spend a whole lot of time re-envisioning Raymond Carver on the stage, but we never even see a single clip from Birdman 1, 2, or 3. And yet, Birdman is still the title of the film.
Was What We Talk About When We Talk About Jellyfish just too long?
But we can't underestimate the significance Birdman and Birdman play in the film or, more specifically, in Riggan's mind. Riggan is in many ways defined by his past success in this blockbuster series.
Birdman isn't just a fictitious character; Birdman is Riggan…or at least a part of him—the part that wants to throw away his useless, worthless pursuit of "art" and go back to something a little flashier.
So while Birdman as a physical manifestation doesn't take center stage, the film's title isn't about him but what he represents, and what his existence and persistence mean to Riggan.
But let's not forget about the second part of the title, The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance. This subtitle appears in the film—it's the title of Tabitha's review of Riggan's play.
So what in the name of all that's pretentious does "the unexpected virtue of ignorance" mean? Like so many aspects of Birdman, we never get a concrete answer on this one. It's not like we can call up Tabitha and ask her, and even if we could, we probably wouldn't want to.
Probably the whole point of The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance is that it's vapid and meaningless; it's just another instance of Tabitha throwing some big word labels around and making people think she's smart and insightful without really saying anything about with substance.
Sylvia's reaction to the article as she reads the paper says it all; while Jake is ecstatic, she understands that this stellar review cannot make sense of her husband's attempted suicide…just like it can't make sense of the play.
After a series of the first noticeable cuts of the movie, we find Riggan sitting in a hospital bed with a very Birdman-esque face mask.
People have called Riggan a washed up actor, but here he's depicted very literally as a beaten-up version of Birdman. When he takes the mask off, not only is he very black and blue but his beak—er—nose is totally different…which of course makes him look like a totally different person.
Could it be that his new aesthetic identity coincides with his new inner identity: a new nose for a new Riggan? Well, his nonchalant dismissal of Birdman in the bathroom suggests that their relationship is through, and we've already heard him confess his mistakes as a father and husband to Sylvia during intermission.
He may not be able to smell the lilacs, but it seems like the hospital has finally given him a chance to stop and smell the roses…except, of course, he hates roses.
But we know why you're here: you want to know what happens at the very end.
Riggan leans out the window. And then, when Sam walks in the room, he's gone. She rushes toward the open window and looks down in fear. Confused, she searches for him until her eyes slowly lift upward and she smiles. Does she see him flying with the birds of the sky? Does Riggan really have the power of flight after all? Or is all of this in the mind of Riggan? Is he sitting on the bed imagining what it would be like if he flew away?
Well, hopefully you're ready to be disappointed because the answer is: we don't know. The ending is intentionally ambiguous.
And ponder this one: even if we had seen Riggan flying away in the distance, would that mean he had super powers? We've seen him fly before but assumed it was all a "mental formation." Would this be any different?
It seems that our desire to imagine Riggan flying is due to the alternative being so grim. Riggan has already attempted suicide twice, and we'd hate for "third time's the charm" to apply here. If Riggan did leap out the window without the ability to fly, he certainly had the ability to die. But after a reconciliation with himself and his family—not to mention his success as on Broadway—we can't imagine that he still harbors so much self-hatred.
But don't worry, the smile on Sam's face and the staccato beat of the drums seals the ending as a happy one. Whatever interpretation you decide to take (hey, maybe he killed himself on stage and the whole hospital scene is a death dream…or maybe he's just hiding under the bed) the tone of the finale is certainly uplifting, even if it is a bit chaotic.
If you have a problem with the f-bomb, we suggest you get out before it's too late.
Iñárritu may not be Quentin Tarantino, but he gets pretty close with all the profanity thrown around. There's not a whole lot in terms of violence—unless two half-naked middle aged men rolling around makes you squeamish. Riggan does shoot his nose off, but we only have to see the after effects of the procedure. Drugs are mostly absent with the exception of a small joint that Riggan smokes briefly, and the drinking is mostly benign, until Riggan has a bit too much and falls asleep on the street.
There's nothing too graphic in terms of sex, other than a lingering shot of Mike's naked backside as he gets fitted, and Mike's erection through his pajamas, though. But these might not be images you want floating around in your mind.