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.
Call To Adventure
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.
Refusal Of The Call
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.
Meeting The Mentor
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.
Crossing The Threshold
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.
Tests, Allies, Enemies
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.
Approach To The Inmost Cave
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.
Reward (Seizing The Sword)
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.
The Road Back
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.
Return With The Elixir
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.