Study Guide

Birdman What's Up With the Ending?

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What's Up With the Ending?

Nose Jobs and Redemption

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.

A Window of Ambiguity

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.

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