Study Guide

Birdman Truth

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MIKE: Oh, come on, people, don't be so pathetic. Stop looking at the world through your cellphone screen. Have a real experience. Does anybody give a s*** about truth other than me? I mean the set is fake; the bananas are fake; there is nothing in this milk carton; your performance is fake.

Okay, Mike might be a little drunk, but this doesn't seem to out of character. This is what Mike is all about: truth and authenticity. If his character is supposed to be drunk then he'll be drunk, dangit.

MIKE: (reading Riggan's napkin) Thank you for an honest performance. Ray Carver.


MIKE: Yeah?

RIGGAN: That's when I knew I was gonna be an actor, right there.

MIKE: (chuckling) Oh…

RIGGAN: What's so funny?

MIKE: Nothing, it's just, it's on a cocktail napkin.

RIGGAN: Yeah, so?

MIKE: He was f***ing drunk, man.

1) Carver thanks a young Riggan for an "honest performance." It's truth that Carver sees and enjoys in his acting. 2) Mike's point is that a drunk Carver didn't know what he was saying, and there's no truth in a drunk man's words.

Which of these two truths is, well, truthier?

MIKE: Don't call me Mike; call me Mel, Mel. [They struggle as Mike tries to have sex with her and Lesley tries to keep him off. Riggan pounds on the door and enters with the scene continuing as normal…until the audience laughs at Mike's erection, visible through his pajama pants. When Mike delivers his "Don't do anything stupid" line, Riggan throws in an improvisational punch.]

Mike is more real on stage than he is offstage. It's not that Mike needs his acting to be real; it simply is real. On the one hand you could say Mike ruined the scene by taking the audience out of the moment as they laugh at him…but on the other hand he also made it more authentic. There was more truth in Mike's erection and Riggan's anger-filled punch than the toy gun he was waving around.

SAM: Truth or dare?

MIKE: Truth.

SAM: You're boring.

MIKE: Truth is always interesting.

If truth is interesting, why does Mike act? Why does he lie to the press and create a false impression of himself? What Mike seems to like to do is create his own version of truth.

RIGGAN: 'Cause my father was. My father was a mean f***ing drunk, you understand?

MIKE: Okay.

RIGGAN: He beat the s*** out of us. That was okay though, you know, because at least when he was beating us he wasn't thinking about taking us—taking us out to his toolshed. Because when we got to the toolshed that son of a b**** would smile and say, "You wanna get down on your knees and unbuckle my belt, or do you want me to take it off and use it on you?" After a while I made myself numb so, you know, but my—my little sister…

MIKE: Oh, okay, okay, okay. Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, oh God, I didn't know, I'm—I'm sorry. I'm sorry that's—that's f***ing horrible man.

RIGGAN: Yeah, yeah, it's also not true. See, I can pretend to you little—

Okay, Riggan's gone a little bit crazy, improvising an awful story so he can prove…what exactly? That he can look real when he's fake? That he can sound truthful when he's telling a lie? That's what acting is all about, deceiving an audience; making them feel for something that never happened to someone who's not there. Riggan might have gone off the deep end but he's got a point: if Mike is so concerned with truth, why tell all these lies to the press?

BIRDMAN: You were a movie star, remember? Pretentious but happy.

RIGGAN: I wasn't happy.

BIRDMAN: Ignorant but charming. Now, you're just a tiny, bitter cocksucker.

RIGGAN: I was f***ing miserable. I was f***ing miserable.

BIRDMAN: Yeah, but fake miserable, Hollywood miserable.

We know that Riggan must have got out of the blockbuster scene for a reason.

On the one hand, we're sure that Riggan is being honest: he probably was miserable and it's wrong of Birdman to dismiss this real human emotion, even if that human is in an enviable position in society.

On the other hand, we can't help but agree. Any sort of misery (such as feeling unfulfilled or whatever) is a joke compared to the real misery that some people have to suffer through, misery that entails more visceral pain than an existential mid-life crisis.

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