Inherent Vice: A Smokey Sleepwalk

inherant vice I wanted so badly to not only like Inherent Vice but also understand the film in a way no one else did. Instead, I stumbled out of the theater feeling sleepy and almost as if I inhaled the second hand smoke that’s in just about every scene. What we have on our hands is a protagonist much like The Big Lebowski’s the Dude, whose film is based off an American classic noir The Big Sleep. All three have many similarities, except the only overall success being The Big Lebowski for having the most likable and hysterical characters. I remember watching The Big Sleep in one of my intro film classes and the only things that kept my attention was the noir’s captivating shadows, costume design, and Lauren Bacall. The same can be said about Inherent Vice. Joaquin Phoenix plays a private investigator Doc and never falls a step out of character. Despite his lackadaisical attitude and grungy appearance, he’s a likable guy and despite the films lack of continuity we relay on Doc for our one entertaining constant.

One of the most frustrating parts about Inherent Vice are the women that surround Doc’s investigations to find his old lover, an ex-heroine addict, the Golden Fang (whatever that is) and all the other side jobs he’s taken on. The women—all minor characters—leave absolutely no room for imagination. Maybe they are meant to portray the type of femme fatales that always make a story more interesting, except they don’t hold the same classy, dangerous, or secretive traits like Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity or again like Laura Bacall in The Big Sleep. Instead, their revealing outfits, gaudy makeup and constant references to sex make them desperate women whose purpose becomes simple and known very quickly. They are eye candy—much like the blondes in last year’s Wolf of Wall Street. Viewers don’t have to imagine what the women look like in Inherent Vice when they are behind closed doors with their lovers because their butt cheeks are already hanging out of their miniskirts or they strut across the room completely naked, giving the male gaze on and off screen exactly what they didn’t even ask for. That’s not to say there aren’t women or moments in the film where they act human and respectable. Take Sortilege (Joanna Newsom) for instance, who acts like a mother figure to Doc and whose point of view the story is told. Except, like the cowboy in The Big Lebowski I wonder why we should trust her when there are many others who know Doc more closely. Her voice-over pops in out during the film as does her homely appearance. It’s a relief, though, to see a woman with a different look and agenda. I can’t say all things are frustrating with Anderson’s new film.

Like his rest, the cinematography is always a wonderful, unique treat. The long takes paired with great music are present in Inherent Vice too. One of my favorite scenes of all times is in Anderson’s Boogie Nights when Night Ranger blares through the speakers while Dirk Diggler and accomplices sit terrified on the couch during their much anticipated drug deal. I have the same strange but giddy feeling when Doc struts through the L.A streets with Neil Young singing in the background and wonder where he’s going next and who he’ll meet. Smoke is also one of the most interesting props used in Inherent Vice. It’s not the tobacco smoke we see in noirs after a couple lies in bed with the previous actions left unsaid. The marijuana smoke follows Doc wherever he goes and leads the lens into different parties, different rooms with fabulous 60’s attire, and once again superb music riding with the camera.

Don’t not see Inherent Vice because of what others are saying. See Inherent Vice because of what others notice and use your own eyes, own connections to see all that’s packed into this puzzling work. I’m a little biased, I admit, because Anderson’s work in my eyes is typically flawless. But there’s always different ways to get people talking—and talking we do. Perhaps that was the motive behind the making of the film. Even if our remarks aren’t always positive or helpful, at least we haven’t stopped thinking about Inherent Vice and ultimately wondering what the heck is going on.

The Imitation Game: Safe Secrets


As much as Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) is removed from relationships and lacks simple, general knowledge about human connection—The Imitation Game focuses on the unbreakable bonds that evolve throughout life. Unbreakable bonds that form for even men like Alan, who don’t seem to yearn for partnership and who lock themselves away from any potential attachment. This is by far the best thing about the film: watching Cumberbatch embrace a character extremely removed and painfully lonely.

The only relationship we see the mathematician desire throughout the film is one through flashbacks with a schoolboy who introduces him to code breaking and true friendship. These childhood memories let us see certain parts of Alan that are carried with him to adulthood, and the beginning moments when he realizes his sexual identity. Even though these flashbacks help us understand Alan’s experiences and personality, I have been battling with certain decisions the film made. Should we be shown the romantic relationships Alan might have had in the latter part of his life? Part of me thinks this would be more sincere than how we find out Alan is homosexual by these prude moments during childhood and when the assumption is finally proved as he nonchalantly tells John (Allen Leech) in a crowded bar during his engagement party. I have a hard time feeling the authenticity of this scene since Alan is happily closed off from his enigma team prior to this moment and the fact that these men can turn at any moment and go back to seeing Alan as a rotten outsider. At the same time, if the film focuses on these detailed aspects it could convolute much of Alan’s true character. The focus of his sexual orientation could mask other traits the film is clearly trying to show: his determination, persistence, and the true genius that’s hidden behind his quirks. Focusing on the relationships Alan may have had with other men could lessen the importance of the one between him and Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley) as well.

The beauty of this friendship is shown in many scenes in different ways. One of the most essential moments is when Joan stands in front of Alan and does not even flinch when he tells her his secret, but she simply accepts his homosexuality and promises to stand by his side. The most prominent is in the end sequence when Joan arrives at Alan’s home and knows exactly what to say and do to get his spirits up again. The shot/reference shot editing here allows the camera to focus completely on Joan’s expressions and the true concern she feels for her friend, no matter how much he has let her down in the past. And the most unique aspect about their relationship besides these sincere moments—possibly one of the reasons they connect in the first place—is the their place in society. Both are minorities during the time period of the film: Alan a gay man and Joan an intelligent workingwoman. Although we know from the start a romance between the two is unfathomable, we see a magnetic force that brings about an entire different partnership.

The film does a nice job revealing these similarities, but I still want to see more. Another close-up shot of Joan’s reaction when Stewart Menzies (Mark Strong) compliments Alan shows us how bemused she is that Menzies refuses to acknowledge her achievements. However, I want to see Joan’s frustration other than the brief moments we get of her twisted facial expressions. The same goes for Alan. When he is interrogated about his homosexuality and goes deep into the psychoanalysis of judgment to the police officer, I wonder where these reflections were earlier. Instead, the internal frustration within the characters is either saved for the end or not shown enough. The film has a chance to reveal so much about certain people’s place in the world. It has a chance to take a risk—one that the industry desperately needs—but unfortunately it lingers in the safe zone.

Big Eyes: Seeing Through the Shadows


I wasn’t expecting to enjoy Big Eyes as much as I did. Being that it was a Tim Burton film, I assumed the topic/story would not be taken seriously enough, but again to my surprise it was not very Tim Burtonesc.

The film opens with Margaret Keane, played by a wonderful Amy Adams leaving a pastel colored world with neat little houses and a picture perfect blue sky. It’s a place viewers may not want to leave just yet, but the pastel color scheme carries through the next few scenes when Margaret settles down in California in a new apartment and job. Burton changes tones once Walter (Christoph Waltz) is in the picture and the two get married. Some of the simple scenes that follow these moments are constructed creatively and effectively and the moment I saw them, I knew I had to write about them. When Margaret makes an appearance for the first time at the club where her artwork is being sold and a buyer asks whom the artist is, the camera stays on Walter and Margaret for an uncomfortable amount of time. The two search for how to answer the question, but it’s also a moment for the viewers to notice the position of the characters and the key lighting. Margaret stands almost a head taller than her husband on the stairs and grips the painting. Walter is below her with a shadow casts across his face. Here, we have time to truly judge them (Walter especially). Is Walter really so controlling that he’s going to take credit for something he didn’t do? And is Margaret that insecure to let yet another man prevent her from the life she deserves? However, no matter how the question is answered the scene provides foreshadowing that eases any worried minds with the dark lighting and by Walter’s staggered position. Of course Margaret is going to eventually rise above her controlling husband and take ownership of the artwork she holds protectively. Another one of these moments is when the two argue in the living room about some of the secrets Margaret has discovered about her husband. By argue I mean Margaret quietly, but sharply reprimanding her husband. The position of both during this scene is similar. Walter sits in a chair with the same dark shadow across his face. Margaret stands above her husband, looking down, and realizes how much smaller he has become. This is yet another one of Burton’s ways to show who these people are and what they will ultimately become.

Margaret also progresses realistically in Big Eyes. We don’t have this frustrating, meek woman who wallows in self-pity and we also don’t have a dynamite female demanding the rights to her work, which would be reasonable and fine, but that’s not who Margaret Keane is. Margaret starts off naïve even though she insists to her closest friend in California that she isn’t and we so desperately want so see her grow a pair, which she thankfully does. But my awe isn’t in the moments Margaret gains strength. It is when her struggle unfolds on screen and we watch how these unimaginable situations take a toll on female artist. In the second half of the film, we bounce back and forth from Margaret trapped in a dark, dusty studio painting masterpieces for her husband, then Margaret roaming around outdoors looking completely out of place and completely unhappy. Margaret becomes someone unrecognizable and so does her artwork. She sincerely tries to keep her work a personal experience—something the film also comments on and a theme that’s present in other films this season. Several times through the minor characters in the film, Margaret’s largely commercialized big eye paintings are criticized for not being a true work of art. I can’t say I disagree and I’m not sure Margaret would either. After all, the more they are printed and the more she is forced to paint, the more artificial they become.

There are a few gaps that would make the film stronger if they only they fused together. Like Margaret’s relationship with her daughter. It is like her daughter is a ghost. She appears only in the background for most of the film: in the backseat of different cars or lingering in the hallways of new and old homes. Her name is inserted through the dialogue a few times—but only so we don’t forget she exists. However, I didn’t focus too much on these faults. After all, movies always have the possibility of being better. There are only a handful of films in my opinion that have nothing that needs to be done: Twelve Years a Slave, The Piano, and Adaptation to name a few. Big Eyes may not scream inventive or brilliant, but Burton certainly changes up his style and left me more impressed in an unexpected and strange way.

Foxcatcher: The Truth about the American Dream


As I read the title cards after the very climatic ending of Foxcatcher, one single thought crossed my mind: interesting. What an interesting film.

Throughout the film, we know something unexpected will happen, conveniently right at the end and the foreshadowing in Foxcatcher is done very well. It’s in a way that makes us feel uncomfortable and makes us question every character because once we have a hold on someone’s personality, they change within the next scene. The only one that stays static is wrestling sponsor John du Pont (Steve Carrel). But he’s not static in the way where we know why he acts the way he does, but because his actions are strange from beginning to end. The most peculiar thing about du Pont, however, is not his weird behavior or sudden coke addiction we learn about halfway through the movie, but in his relationships. His mother is in a handful of scenes, but the idea of her is embedded everywhere and I question whether du Pont wants his mother’s approval or is intentionally trying to give her nightmares. Also embedded everywhere is du Pont’s fear of women. Whenever his mother enters a room, du Pont watches from afar, making sure a barrier is always between them. Perhaps this is just backlash after being rejected by her for so long, but what I see most of the time is du Pont ridiculing her and keeping an odd distance whenever she is around.

The only other woman in the film is Nancy Schultz ( Sienna Miller) who is not interested in du Pont, his money, success, or plans for the Foxcather Olympic wrestling team. All star wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) and his sister-in-law even get into an argument regarding her aloof behavior towards du Pont, who ends up leaving the room once Nancy says a meek hello from the hotel bed and turns her attention elsewhere. Although du Pont never says anything negative or degrading about Nancy, he ignores her and does not respect the fact that Mark’s brother David ( Mark Ruffalo) won’t be joining the team because he does not want to uproot his wife and family. Nancy may disregard du Pont, but he does the exact same to her because in his world women are an untouchable, jeopardizing part of life. In fact, he acts the same towards Nancy as he does with his own mother: keeps his distance and often ends up walking away or watches her from across the scene. Why do you think there are so few women in the film? They don’t belong in the story about du Pont, but linger around the outside proving just how paranoid and afraid he is that they may recognize how little of a man he feels.

To me, du Pont not only fears women, but fears not representing one of the most manly traits associated with males: fatherhood. Mark has a tainted childhood and idea of fatherhood ever since his parents’ divorce—but what’s du Pont’s excuse? Why is he infatuated with being a father, a good father for that matter, and making sure that label is given at any opportune moment? He’s obsessed with leading Mark to success and obsessed with being an iconic leader of America. And it is clear what the film eventually tries to say about this country, which like du Pont, is obsessed with sports and guns. We are supposed to have hope in the Schultz brothers and see the Olympics as this beacon for Mark especially. Where the event is supposed to bring the brothers and America together, somehow weapons get in the way and are placed as massive symbols throughout the film. When du Pont wants a machine gun and throws a hissy fit and doesn’t get his way, we are left wondering why he wants it so badly in the first place. Another moment like this occurs when du Pont walks slowly into wrestling practice with a handgun and fires it off. A few men flinch, but sadly the others don’t find this behavior abnormal or alarming. Society has become used to weapons being used recreationally and the film has successfully paired the idea of America with weapons and violence.

The pieces all fit together in the end. The infatuation with guns isn’t just another one of du Pont’s odd traits; however, these messages aren’t hammered over our heads either. Instead the film has a quiet mood, yet we are waiting for this big moment that makes sense of everything. We get that moment eventually, but reflect on the meaning of this true story after the film ends and we recognize all the signs that point to catastrophe.

Wild: A Woman in Threes


The true story chronicling Cheryl Strayed (Resse Witherspoon) and her 1,100 mile hike reminds me a lot of the Chris McCandless in the film Into the Wild. Of course there are many differences between the characters—but the nature of hiking in solitude because they both wanted to disappear from society is the same. Cheryl’s journey is beautiful and also ends beautifully, something that was unfortunately absent in Chris’s story.

Much of the reason why Cheryl’s hike and life ends up the way it does is because of her ambition and desire to get better and improve. Her voice-over throughout the film reveals the dark, depressing thoughts of a lonely woman, but underneath all those profanities and anger is someone who is basking in the struggle because she knows the outcome will be better than her life has been in the past few years. Throughout the hike we get to know Cheryl’s sarcastic and sometimes naïve side, but we also learn about all the women she once was. This is, in fact, one of the most important aspects of the film: a person is made up of different layers and Cheryl’s are revealed and change slowly.

We meet the most current Cheryl in the beginning of them film when she’s getting ready for her journey and have to wait for the story to unfold to know who she was before and why her relationships are in shambles. As we are taken back to her past, it’s hard to imagine that the woman hiking all these miles alone, fearing the men along the way that make her feel uncomfortable, is the same person in these flashbacks giving up her body to strangers, or leaving her husband and shooting up heroin with her new companion. And once we get to know the self-destructive Cheryl, it is hard accepting it’s the same woman in other flashbacks who stays up late studying, writing papers, reading Flannery O’Connor, and hanging out with her mother. The same woman who was addicted to drugs, refused therapy or help in anyway, left her family and friends to find herself, is the same mousey haired, innocent woman who had perceptive dreams that no one was going to stand in the way of.

The flashbacks of Cheryl are not featured in order and it’s up to us to place these moments on a timeline, but part of me thinks it doesn’t really matter. Certain people, places, but most events are what makes Cheryl want to leave and change. The time they happened is irrelevant—the importance lies within the three different parts of this woman—and whether or not she will choose one to be again or someone else entirely. Some reviews about Wild complain about the ongoing flashbacks, but to me they are needed to show us just how human Cheryl Strayed is. Like all of us, she is complicated and is affected by her past and worries about her future. She also hikes 1,100 miles mostly alone—so who wouldn’t take that time to reflect? These reflections/flashbacks is also what brings Cheryl to her truest moments. There are only a few times when Cheryl lets her guard down completely and sobs for help—but the vulnerability is important because it allows her to realize her own weaknesses.

The plethora of flashbacks is necessary, but more with her ex-husband Paul (Thomas Sadoski) could be included. The moments with Paul are out of order, but that’s not why I feel a disconnect between the couple. I want to know when they first fell in love and see that relationship play out a bit on screen and then watch it fall apart. What’s most interesting about the relationship, though, is Cheryl is the one who faults Paul. She whole-heartedly admits her infidelities and mistakes, when typically in films we see these situations reversed: the woman is usually the one left behind. Cheryl’s still left behind and taken over by her own grief, but chooses to find a life again. Except it’s without Paul.

There are other aspects of the film that also could have been sketched clearer, like Cheryl’s heroin addiction, if she’s sober, or when she last used. However, perhaps focusing on Cheryl’s relationship with Paul or heroine would take away from the most essential one in the film: the bond between Cheryl and her mother. Yet, for Cheryl the loss of her mother doesn’t mean dwelling on how much she misses her. Loss turns into the desire to know oneself and fleshing out all those others that live within us that either need to disappear or shine through again.

Interstellar: Ideas in Multitudes


I didn’t plan on seeing Interstellar and figured it would be too similar to Gravity. Sitting through one pace odyssey within the last year was enough; however, when I read an article in Film Comment that broke the film down into three acts, I realized it was much more complicated and interesting than a scientist who travels to space while the expected order of events unravels. After seeing the film, I appreciated many of Christopher Nolan’s intricate thoughts as well insight into a future that is not convoluted with unrealistic ideas or animated imagery.

Many science fiction films are redundant with the CGI robots or zombies that wander through the planet during apocalypse, but Interstellar’s scenes on Earth show beautiful land with dry weather and dust-infested homes. It’s something we can truly see happening—especially one of the film’s first conflicts involving humans not having enough farmers, hence not having enough food. There is that typical eerie feeling, but brought on by low-key lighting in the homes and grayness of the outdoors. Again, it is a feeling viewers can imagine because we see it often. And like these moments on Earth, the lack of CGI used during the spaceship/space scenes make the odyssey more realistic. Some moments are dramatic and intense, but don’t blow us away with images and effects that are unrecognizable. More specifically, there is a scene during the second half of the film when part of the Endurance crew reaches a planet that is a potential alternate home for humans and while the camera zooms out and shows this vast landscape with hills and solid ground, there is an essence of planet Earth. The pictures of Earth and the planet do not match perfectly, but there is a subtle beauty and solitude in both. The planet makes us see space as something we had never imagined possible: a common, familiar place. The similarity between the two gives this certain hope from God’s green planet to a new land He created that’s worth investigating.

On the contrary, the relationship between Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) and daughter Murph (Jessica Chastain) is centered around time and juxtaposed with the vivid landscape scenes the relationship is ghost-like, intangible, much like the visitor Murph talks about the in the beginning. Murph isn’t the only one who’s haunted by this ghost, however. The strange childhood visitors lingered in my mind the entire time—knowing it was all going to wrap up—the conclusion involving the essence of time. Nolan does a pretty neat pairing with the simplicity of props, lighting, and editing to get the effects without animation, alongside complicated concepts about wormholes, repopulating, and relocation. However, Nolan strings many concepts throughout that convolutes the story. For example, when Cooper floats in the wormhole and peers through time, or his daughter’s bookshelf, it is an emotional moment and also what I thought was the ending. But the film keeps going, as do these ideas that build off one another and evolves into an entire different film for an entire different day.

A good film doesn’t always need to have a conventional ending and I felt Nolan thought along those lines when the final scene ends with Cooper encouraged to start another journey, but the ending sequence flips and flops, tying up loose ends, but unknotting others. It is complicated like the rest of the film, but the beautiful simplicity from the first few acts quickly vanishes.

Whiplash: Passion in New Forms


Even though Whiplash is told is conventional in the Classical Hollywood narrative, much of the other film’s elements are not.

Similar to Birdman, Whiplash experiments with editing techniques. Although, in terms of cutting it does the opposite of Birdman in some of the most memorable scenes. Like when we follow Andrew(Miles Tenner) into the rehearsal room where the intense Fletcher (J.K Simmons) is conducting his students. The camera only focuses on one prop for a few seconds. First it’s a drum, a cymbal, someone’s bloody hands, then a drooling mouth. These shots are cut short and zoom in on that single object, framing it perfectly. The quick shots leave me trying to keep up with everything going on in the tiny room, which brings about certain intensity I didn’t expect from a movie about jazz music. The intensity is also raised from the film’s diegetic sounds. The music becomes louder and quickens as the camera flashes from one frame to another. Except the sound is not the typical non-diegetic music that gets louder to heighten suspense like we hear in Hitchcock films, but comes from these talented students practicing in the band room. The objects within these shots may be simple, but the sound and quick camera movements are not and neither is the way we feel as these scenes unfolded. I even feel a little whiplashed—looking left, right, up, down—not sure where my vision will jolt to next. Most of all, I recognize the way Andrew probably feels seeing this for the first time: overwhelmed but inspired by all the chaotic talent.

Whiplash could easily turn into a typical coming-of-age story, but thankfully like the editing, it exceptionally differs. Part of the reason being that Andrew is a rare character. He has similar characteristics a nineteen-year-old college boy would. Headstrong. Stubborn. A little cocky. However, Andrew’s goals are not simple and never were. They are not entirely tangible like many of the other films involving someone his age. He doesn’t want to fit in with the popular crowd, attend the biggest parties, or the date the girl of his dreams. He wants to be the best drummer and invest all his time in doing so. Andrew’s passion also didn’t bloom halfway through the movie, it is there from the start and grows with the film. We also have many relationships worth analyzing in the film that stray from the typical coming-of-age father/son or mother/son relationships. I chose to focus on the most interesting: Andrew and Fletcher. It may not be apparent at first, but the two are very similar despite the age difference. In many instances, I find myself judging Fletcher with his cruel choice of words and the unrealistic way he encourages Andrew or any of his other students. It wasn’t until after the film that I realized Andrew and Fletcher were the perfect match. This is proved specifically in the last scene; however, it is apparent throughout the film, but just masked by Fletcher’s exaggerated teaching techniques.

The biggest commonality that drives the two together is passion. While Fletcher treats Andrew with disrespect and is unfair in many cases, Andrew fights back with talent. He takes his passion, practices until his hands are impaired and shows Fletcher that he wants to succeed just as badly as him. While Andrew would have the fame if this happened, Fletcher would receive much of the credit. Hence the reason they see the possibility within each other, but continue to battle until the very end. Yet we still don’t know what will happen to the relationship that was never really on the right track. There is a strange, twisted hope as the film ends for their relationship to continue—but a hope that is once again brought on by a rare, infectious passion few experience or see.

If only Andrew could inject us all with that young drive. But then the world might be filled with too many Fletcher.

Gone Girl: Complexity Cut in Half

gone girl

One of the downfalls about seeing a highly anticipated film is the expectations that sometimes end up falling short. The anticipation and hype wasn’t the only reason Gone Girl didn’t reach the mark it seemed to promise, but perhaps because I finished Gilliam Flyn’s novel the day before.

This isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy the film. It’s entertaining, but after I left the theater, I tried remembering some of the shots that stood out. The risky, uncomfortable camera angles that often stay with viewers after a movie ends. As for cinematography, there weren’t any I could point out automatically. There were, however, some well choreographed scenes worth remembering. Like when Amy (Rosamund Pike) stages a desperate, bloody breakdown. Besides Pike’s key performance, the high camera angle and use of color is what brings this specific picture together. Here, Amy wears a cream colored silk nightgown and when the blood from her wounds seeps through the silk, the contrasted dark red against the white makes a haunting image. One that made me wince, turn away, but more importantly made me remember the sequence afterwards and wonder why it worked so well.

Another scene like this is when Amy constructs her master plan to escape her ex-boyfriend’s house. The precision in the shot sequence is the slow way it moves at first. The music is low and Amy moves with Desi ( Neil Patrick Harris) in a sly and graceful way, but then things are kicked up ten notches as the music turns louder and demanding, as does Amy when blood is spilled all over her pale body once again. The image is captivating—the crimson color splashed across a beautiful woman—and one that again made me turn away, but circle back to when the film was over.

For those who haven’t read Flynn’s Gone Girl, I’m sure they are very surprised once we learn more about Amy and the plot shift she creates. I even heard a few gasps from the audience as Amy’s voice-over starts the story from the beginning. The real story.  For me, I wanted to see a drastic change in style; however, I did enjoy Amy’s car rides and deserted hide away scenes compared to the previous of husband Nick ( Ben Afflack) who sulks around his house acting strange. In relation to the novel, David Fincher does a very nice job of keeping viewers on the outside and revealing the truth in a sudden, yet strong way. The other issue I saw was the lack of Amy’s rounded character that was present in the novel. Flynn even wrote the screenplay and I’m sure it’s hard to create a complex charter in half the words, half the time. But still, there are some medium-sized holes that need filling. I don’t think we are supposed to pity Amy but I do think the novel makes a point to show with a very extreme example, what happens when humans, especially woman, try to be a certain way to please men. Amy’s situation or the aftermath of it seems like one big, smart hyperbole. She takes a sucky situation a lot of women face and goes to extremes by punishing the one person who fooled her into becoming someone she wasn’t. We hear it in the movie a few times, the reference to ” cool girl”, except I think we need to hear it much more. It’s endless in the second half of the novel, the way Amy admits she tried to be that girl that is completely fictional and whether or not Flynn meant for it to be a solid message about forcing change, I feel the film could have made it more of a reoccurring issue. Instead, we tend to only see Amy as a psychotic bitch that brings on the most gripping and interesting moments. After reading an exclusive interview with Fincher in Film Comment the interviewer even stated, “ I just can’t understand Team Amy. I see it as a movie about a basically nice guy who falls for a crazy woman.” Fincher responds saying she isn’t crazy, but made crazy. However, the interviewer proves that is not how the film portrays its most interesting character. After all, every scene worth rewinding involves Amy, a sharp object, and blood.

Birdman: A Journey that Shouldn’t End


Birdman was the first film I was extremely excited about this year. Like one of my favorite films Adaptation, it is important to realize the unreliable way the camera works. Bizarre scenes unfold in front of our eyes, but the real truth lies within the narrative. Very similar to Adaptation’s protagonist, Riggan ( Michael Keaton) isn’t just one person but two. When his other half Birdman says, “People, they love blood. They love action. Not this talky, depressing, philosophical bullshit,” it references the foundation of the entire film. Hence the reason we have scenes with unexpected explosives and giant CGI birds flying around. It doesn’t work with the film, it’s not real, but it’s what much of society craves. It is a constant reminder that being great means car chases, escaping hungry alligators, or shoot-offs. In other words: Hollywood. These ideas and cliché storytelling start contradicting everything Riggan tries to do with his artistic life—he is torn between what is appealing and what is truth. And like Adaptation, the film involves and alludes to works of literature that do not have a conventional exposition, rising action, extremely intense climax, falling action, and a nice conclusion that either ends with an unrealistic twist, or a perfectly happy ending. It’s a story about a man with typical insecurities. But who really wants to see something that common? Birdman is inserted for dramatic effect—for drawing a large box office audience—but fooling us as we realize it’s not really about a birdman. Or is it?

Besides the film being similar to Adaptation, I think Riggan is a true on-screen adaptation of one of Raymond Carver’s complex characters in his short story collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. Viewers don’t have to have read the collection or even know whom Carver is to understand the film, but the comparisons are certainly clear as Riggan plays the lonely character in his adapted play based off Carver’s story collection and is actually very similar in his own life. Almost all the men in What We Talk About When We Talk About Love have an infidelity issue and/or drinking problem, much like Riggan. But that’s just the surface. Underneath those commonalities are men who are much more complicated: their isolated, disappointed with what life has dealt, and trying to find something to make themselves feel better. Riggan, according to society, should have it figured out by now. He’s a middle-aged man whose fame has run its course, but Riggan is not satisfied with the way things turned out and devotes his time to proving those handfuls of disappointed people that he is much more than a try-hard, old actor.

Riggan also isn’t the only disappointed character whose unhappiness becomes a clear motif throughout the film. One of my favorite scenes that shows this universal issue is when Lesley (Naomi Watts) talks to co-star Laura (Andrea Riseborough) and marvels over the fact that she finally made it to Broadway—her lifelong dream—except this moment of pure happiness is brief. It spoils seconds later as the two break themselves back down to feeling defeated and unworthy. We ride this rollercoaster of emotions with Riggan as well as all the other unsatisfied people in the film the entire time, and we eventually start to question our own ambitions. Why are we doing what we’re doing? Who are we doing it for and what are we trying to prove?

Of course the most talked about aspect of Birdman is the cinematography and the continuous shot that’s few cuts are masked extremely well. My favorite aspect of these superb camera movements is when we are taken through the hallways of the St. James Theater, where I assume the hidden cutting took place. To me the narrow hallways symbolize Riggan’s journey and also his spirally, chaotic mind. The colors in the hallways fade, light up, turn from dark hues to bright. The camera moves quickly, and then slows down, bracing us for what is about to happen next. Except, like Riggan, we don’t know what that will be and instead are left to navigate the hallways ourselves. Unfortunately, the shot/film comes to an end, but Riggan and Birdman’s philosophies still linger like ghosts. After watching Birdman, I felt similar to how I feel after reading a Carver story: the meaning is delayed while I start the next.