Sunday, 22 February 2015

In time for the Oscars- A review of the film, Birdman

Hello all,

Been drafting away for other publications, so have neglected my blog slightly- sorry! So here's my review of the film Birdman as published in this month's Therapy Today magazine. Will have to see how many Oscars this film might fly away with after tonight's ceremony!

Till next time,



 Birdman is a dark, satirical black comedy that tells the story of a former action hero actor, Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton), as he prepares for the opening show of his Broadway play, which he hopes will rejuvenate his flagging career.

We experience the chaos of Riggan’s desperate existence while he frantically rushes back stage from one dysfunctional relationship to another. This includes his strained relationship with his wayward daughter, whom he has hired as his assistant (Emma Stone); his envied, younger, more famous co-star (Edward Norton), and his grounded, sensible agent (Zach Galifianakis). The film plays as one continuous scene, increasing the sense of disorientation. 

We discover, however, that there is a far more significant relationship in Riggan’s life – Birdman, the action hero character that brought Riggan fame many years earlier. Birdman speaks of his disappointment and anger at what has happened to Riggan’s career, taunting and trying to persuade him to become Birdman once more. Riggan appears to be on the verge of a breakdown as he battles with his inner Birdman and his fading public persona. 

From a Jungian perspective, Birdman represents Riggan’s shadow, the unacceptable and denied aspects of himself that acts out his evil thoughts and destructive tendencies. The shadow is an integral part of therapy as it is often the reason clients seek help in the first place, though this is normally unconscious. Through therapeutic exploration such as dream analysis or art therapy parts of a client’s shadow can be revealed and brought into the conscious so that it may be incorporated into their way of being, instead of being repressed and so causing distorted behaviour. 

As the play falters towards the opening night we see Riggan give in to Birdman and allow this denied part of himself to be assimilated and brought into his consciousness. This results in a kind of euphoric madness, where Riggan/Birdman flies amid the city’s skyscrapers, causing explosions on the streets with just a click of his fingers. 

He's behind you!! 
The film purposefully blurs the boundaries between reality and fantasy, forcing us to accept the bewildering happenings of Riggan’s life in their entirety. This reminded me of how, as therapists, we need to appreciate the narratives our clients bring as their particular experience of reality. Through suspending our own judgment, we too can fully experience our client’s way of being, which may include elements of their shadow, be they projected onto others (like the Birdman fantasy) or seeking acknowledgment as parts of themselves.

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