Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s film Birdman, or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance, is an electric fever-dream of a movie. It’s a swan dive into ego and madness shot with the kinetic motion of a seemingly unedited single shot. The entire film wasn’t shot in just one go, but it feels that way because large chunks of it actually were, an incredible technical feat for the actors and crew.

Just reflecting on this technical triumph is dizzying, but what’s even more impressive is how beautifully Inarritu’s story handles some of the deepest existential questions human harbor about ourselves. It’s an insanely hard thing to do. There’s nothing like the disappointment of a jarring, land on a riverbed when you expected to deep dive. Edward Norton’s character Mike Shiner represents how pretentious we can seem when we confuse sophistication and education with wisdom, when we use a bit of insight we’re able to glean to cynically serve our self-purposes instead of allowing it to help us grow.

The main character, Riggan Thomson, is a washed-up actor who once achieved the pinnacle of fame and fortune playing the superhero character Birdman. He’s now trying to jump-start his career and find critical redemption and acknowledgment with a stage adaptation of Raymond Carver’s short story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.” He’s completely broke and risking everything for this neurosis-fraught production, and he’s also hearing a voice in his head: a gravely version of his own voice as Birdman. It adds weight to the story that Keaton was once Batman, Edward Nortan played the Incredible Hulk, and Emma Stone, who portrays Thomson’s troubled daughter, is contemporary Spiderman’s Gwen Stacy. It wouldn’t be necessary to cast this movie with actors familiar with superhero franchises, but it does cast a knowing shadow across the entire film.


The film opens with this quote

“And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.”

? Raymond Carver, A New Path to the Waterfall

Raymond Carver’s presence in the film is like another character. While Birdman speaks to Riggan directly and appears before him in all his metallic finery, Raymond Carver never manifests himself to Riggan. Instead, Riggan is striving towards Carver, toward an artistic ideal that is in conflict with the broad acclaim his stint as Birdman gave him. He wants his ideal of Raymond Carver, and his ideal of himself as Birdman to somehow reconcile within him, and the conflict is driving him mad.

He wants to be beloved on all fronts, to have fans and critics alike be satisfied with his work. He wants to soar over the city and soar into the pen of the staunchest critic. When an unlucky series of events leaves him striding through Times Square in his underwear and, instead, soaring into the absurdist land of online virality, his daughter tries to explain that this is a type of power, too.

And it is, it’s a type of power that a more self-aware, less self-important (or unsell-aware and completely shameless) celebrity could laugh into a successful career change, but viral humiliation is not the type of power Riggan wants. Not taking yourself seriously seems to be a secret to a less miserable life, but in order to truly do so, the ego must relinquish its grandiose ideas about the self. This isn’t something Riggan is even close to being able to do. He’s so far gone; he can’t counter the voice in his head with a different perspective.

Wanting impossible things is the shortest path to disappointment and unfulfillment, but those are exactly the things he wants. He wants his estranged wife (Amy Ryan) to love even his worst movies; he wants to prove something to everyone who has written him off as just the superhero guy. He wants everyone to give him the love and devotion he thinks he deserves without him having to give anything back in return.

He also wants to kill himself, but does he kill himself? Is he actually dead at the end of the film? The answer to this seems to be left up the air, but I think there are clues that can lead to a reasonable conclusion.

When Riggan’s daughter Sam looks out the window in the very last shot, she’s the first character to see these fantastical things Riggan’s doing. All of his levitating, telekinesis, flying, and explosions happen when he’s the only one bearing witness. When the light falls on the actor, he claims responsibility to his lawyer (Zach Galifianakis,) leaving the possibility open that all these things are really happening, but the light could have just fallen and he imbued it with physical proof that he was capable of such things.

His most impressive stunts happen in the middle of the city: he causes an explosion and flys to the tops of buildings. During this impressive scene, he talks with a couple of people, but all of that deflates into part of the fantasy when he is seen rushing into the theater and then a cab driver runs after him for payment. That was a pivotal moment in unlocking what’s really going on with Birdman.


The cab scene seems to conflict with the last shot of the movie, but it really doesn’t. What the cab scene does establish is that not only is Riggan imagining these things, but that part of his imagining sometimes involves other people reacting.

There is a possibility that he actually died when shot himself on stage at the end of What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, and the last scenes were a dream he had before his heart stopped beating. The fact that he got the review he wanted from the prickly critic, and his relationships with his daughter, wife, and best friend seem to be almost instantly repaired seem to suggest that. The belovedness he was seeking is suddenly all there for him in a neat little package. The audience sees Sam look up and smile after he jumps out of the window, but this could just be part of his dream come true. Not only did he share a tender moment with his daughter and critical accolades, but she saw was able to see how special and powerful he truly thought he was. This is his imagination’s refutation of her soliloquy on human insignificance, and her assertion that he was just as unimportant as everyone else.

Everyone from his daughter Sam, to professional rival Mike Shiner people are trying to tell him he’s on the wrong path, that he is reaching for the wrong things, but the only voice he listens to is Birdman. Perhaps the most pure delivery of this message was when Sam shows him a physical model of how insignificant human life is to the universal using a roll of toilet paper with marks on it, but he is unmoved by her demonstration of profundity. Instead of accepting his existential place in the world, he clings to his dream of greatness.

Mike Shiner has more malicious intentions, as he’s stoking his own beast of an ego, when he burns Riggan’s idol: a word of encouragement written on a cocktail napkin by Raymond Carver after he saw Riggan in a student play. Riggan chose to be an actor because of that scrawled note and carries this talisman with him always. Shiner points out that Carver, a hopeless alcoholic for most of his life, probably only wrote that note because he was drunk. In a further cynical move, and to twist the knife even further, he steals Riggan’s story about Carver inspiring him to become an actor. It’s a defeat of meaning Riggan can’t seem to withstand, and he later leaves the cocktail napkin at the bar, the magic having been sucked out of it. In a way, he’s abandoned this outside hero, Carver, and clings to Birdman, the superhero version of himself.

What do you think? Is Riggan dead? Was he dead the whole time?

  • MH

    I think he died at the end of the movie, having committed suicide. The look on his daughter’s face is what he wishes happening, him, flying away, finally the hero he embraces.

  • Ant

    Maybe he died on the stage and what you’re saying at the end about him receiving his little neat package in his mind, before he becomes brain dead, is what really happened. And if he actually did die at the end by jumping off the window, I think in a way Sam is smiling because somehow that’s what she wanted to do. Remember she was always at the edge of the building when Mike goes up to smoke. And maybe she kind of wishes she was dead. So maybe she’s happy her father did what she unconsciously wanted to do but didn’t.

    • Manisha

      Well guys I think sometimes writers don’t want to make things more complicated at the end but rather simplify . Riggan Thomas once had everything name,fame,wife, family as Birdman but the appreciation of Raymond Carver had made him see more than what he was in himself. There was a piece of him which wanted to prove that he was rather a great actor than a mere action hero. In one such attempts he lost all. And then his struggle to regain the fame . That’s all the movie was his struggle to succeed as an actor but at the end he realises that all he wanted was fame.By the end of the movie co actor and critic made it very clear to him as to where he stood in terms of acting . ‘People want action ‘and the bird man thing comes back to him. It’s a way for him to realize that all he can do is action and that’s what he is good at. So he decides to shoot himself in the nose. Also when he gets all back he sees the birds flying. For the first time he sees them like an ordinary person..symbol of freedom.. So bird man is no more a hero but a guy defecating .. And he leaps to his freedom.. Thus his daughter is happy for him.

  • Jim

    I agree and I’ve been surprised that I have not read any other reviews or comments coming your (and my) conclusion about the ending. Consider what the film is doing with the single take technical feat. It serves a narrative purpose beyond being just a gimmick or a way to add to the tenseness of the chaos in Riggan’s life. Inarritu has even said in interviews “there are no cuts in life” and after Riggan shoots himself on the stage the film cuts. The “structure” of the film (as Riggan reminds us to pay attention) reveals the most truth about the final scene.

    • Mark

      I have not as yet seen anyone discuss this movie and the similarities to Black Swan. I found them to be striking.

  • Michael

    I don’t think he died. When he jumped off the building we saw him fly. This was a delusion as he took the cab and forgot to pay. Likewise, I think at the end he imagined himself flying away, but maybe he was just in another delusion. His daughter was happy at the end because he was running outside being crazy old dad. That’s my opinion an way

  • Aaronzon

    I think that the smile of his daughter is the beginning of her madness. Now, she is crazy like his father and start doing and imaging the same strange things. In someway, she inherited that illness. Just think this, she is junkie, she just lost her father and the mother is far away. In the first instance, she looks down the street, so I imagine that she looks her father died and instantly she became nuts. I don’t think that the last scene was part of the Riggan mind, cause now he is dead. Now we are watching the reality of Sam.

    • MikeLowrey1996

      It kind of reminded me of Take Shelter a little.

    • Pravin Daswani

      oooh shut up you negative prick.

  • chasekahn

    It makes for interesting discussion and theorizing, but I think what physically happens at the end of the film is irrelevant. Whether he’s dead on the stage or flying through the air outside of his hospital window, Riggan has won back the love of his daughter, his wife, his fans all the while achieving his greatest ambition of justifying himself as an artist. Either way, it’s his perfect ending.

  • PS

    The film opens with scattered letters that turn into these words: “And did you get what you wanted from this life?” “I did.” Then it cuts to a comet flaming to earth. The same comet that appears after Riggan “shoots” himself on stage. Was the film a flashback up to the shooting? Then does it becomes his final thoughts in his last moments of life? The hospital scenes are all that Riggin wanted in life: loving ex-wife and daughter, huge fan base, successful play, and stellar review by NY Times theater critic. The hospital is illogical because his nose would not heal in one day, no IV drips or monitors, no gun shot burns, his attorney was jubiliant before his suicidal client, the critic left the theater before the audience knew he used a real gun, no theater critic would praise/encourage an actual shooting in a nightly performance, hospital room windows do not open.

    • Vicky

      Great observations, all but this all illustrates the obscure meaningless plot that never commits to anything. If it did it would truly have something to say. I think the movie was cowardly non-commitment under the guise of art, and confusion hiding under the guise of “arty brilliance” and “open-endlessness”. I am wasting my time guessing – what does the empty canvas mean???

      • flicker

        Exactly….a dishonest, pseudo-intellectual, self-serving piece of garbage. I’d have rather watched one of the birdman super hero movies if they had made them.

    • Aaron Siegel

      You realize that quote in the beginning is a direct quote of Raymond Carvers? Right?

      • Pravin Daswani

        Carver not Carvers.

  • sdonlan

    Fantastic movie. For me the ending represented him opening the door of the bird cage, the freedom and release from the power the birdman celebrity life had on him. During the movie he made the transition from birdman, the celebrity, to a greater version of who he is. He dared greatly. Constantly the struggle and vulnerability needed was answered by the fear and protection of the ego tellling him to stop. He triumphed through the many challenges of change needed to transition from identifying himself with the safety of the birdman celebrity persona. In the neutral zone of change, he remade himself, with each scene his performance became grittier and more believable. The vulnerability that we experience when being vulnerable was portrayed in so many ways from his naked run through public (who hasn’t had this drream), his getting drunk – numbing himself, birdman actually materializing to bid him to return to his old self when he was on the verge of completing the change. When I think about it the movie circled through the same events, rehearsal and people, multiple times each one challenging him and supporting him, to either move forward fearlessly or stop. (e.g. lack of money, loss of family, loss of recognition) the struggle to be who you are.

  • Chris

    I think that He does in fact shoot himself in the head in the play (not the nose) and that when he wakes up in the hospital it is merely a metaphor for his success. His superpowers represent his ego and self-worth, flowers represent admiration for him (with his daughter finally showing the admiration that he had yearned for the whole movie). The whole final scene stands to wrap up that his suicide was not in vein only he realizes that he “can’t smell the flowers”. He overcomes his insecurities about only being birdman making birdman silent in the last scene while his daughter finally sees the greatness in him that he saw all along which is why she looks up.

    Note that Riggin always flies horizontally unless suicide is being contemplated so his daughter’s gaze going straight up means he is ascending or going to heaven with his suicide.

    Also just to point out, the taxi is not the only evidence of the superpowers being a delusion. When he is wrecking his room he thinks he is doing so with his powers but as soon as Zach Galifianakis enters the room you see he is doing so with his bear hands, the first clue that the powers are indeed a delusion.

    • Jamie

      I think he died the moment he jumped off the building. From then on, this film reminds me of “incident at owl creek”.

      Every event is less believable than the previous, until one must realize it is all a dream… that dream that happens at the moment of death.

      Riggin becomes an awesome actor.
      Riggin does not realize he is loading a real gun.
      Riggin gets back his relationship with his daughter.
      Riggin gets back his wife.
      Riggin shoots himself in the head, but somehow only has actually shot his nose.
      Riggin shot his nose, but when his bandages are removed, his nose is still there.
      Riggin’s best friend (and attorney) transforms from the guy who always brings him down with a dose of reality into the guy who suddenly says that his show will go on forever.
      Riggin gets 300,000 youtube followers in one day
      Riggin gets 80,000 twitter followers in one day.
      All across america there are “candle light vigils” for the man who shot his nose.
      Riggin’s worst enemy (the theatre critic) becomes his greatest supporter.

      These implausabilities all begin to pile up after he jumps from the building… and become this insurmountable wall that forces us to finally realize it is all a dream.

      • Syl

        This scenario works for me! Thanks for the interpretation

        • Devin

          I disagree, I don’t think he dies when he jumps from the building and starts flying.

          Jumping from the building symbolizes how Riggan has gone crazy and given himself over to the ego of birdman. The fact that they chose to include the cab driver chasing after Riggan for payment, when Riggan believes he flew there, is an indication of his break from reality, he jumps from the building, into madness not death.

          The next scene as he’s laying in the dressing room, his wife is comments on how calm he looks, it shows his fight with birdman is over, and is no longer torn, he’s decided to do what he believes will bring him back to the spotlight…which is kill himself on stage

      • Devin

        I disagree, I don’t think he dies when he jumps from the building and starts flying.

        Jumping from the building symbolizes how Riggan has gone crazy and given himself over to the ego of birdman. The fact that they chose to include the cab driver chasing after Riggan for payment, when Riggan believes he flew there, is an indication of his break from reality, he jumps from the building, into madness not death.

        The next scene as he’s laying in the dressing room, his wife is comments on how calm he looks, it shows his fight with birdman is over, and is no longer torn, he’s decided to do what he believes will bring him back to the spotlight…which is kill himself on stage

      • Lori Sheridan

        This makes the most sense to me as to the question when did he die

      • Accuracy

        Riggin’s performance was no better or worse after the jump – he doesn’t “become an awesome actor.”
        Riggin knew 100% that he was loading a real gun. It was different than every other gun he used before, and he SAW the bullet in the magazine.
        Riggin shot his nose off, and when Zach Galifinakas enters his room, he CLEARLY states, “but they gave him a new nose” – implying that he has a surgically repaired nose–which indeed looks different upon removing the bandages.
        Riggin gets 300,000 youtube VIEWS in one day because he’s a famous Hollywood star running naked in the street.

        I’m not saying your interpretation of everything after “the jump” is not reality, but at least get the facts straight to back up your opinion.

        I think the more obvious and likely accurate way of looking at it is that “the jump” was a moment of clarity (so to speak), and that he actually shot himself on stage… and everything after THAT is a dream/last thoughts before passing.

  • Matthew

    I think he is alive at the end of the movie, and the closing scene was just another suicide fantasy he was having at the hospital while his daughter went to get the vase. If he had truly jumped, and was dead, his daughter obviously would not have looked up, and laughed. So that was clearly his fantasy. All of his fantasies take place in real time, while he is alive, and therefore he is alive, when the closing fantasy takes place. If he is alive at that point, then he is alive at the end of the movie. Whether or not he decides to kill himself after that fantasy is something that is beyond the end of the movie.

  • m & m

    A few observations that have not been discussed. Hospital windows in NYC do not open, thus, leading to the idea that Riggans did shoot and kill himself on stage. The final scene was his own neatly wrapped package of how he wanted his life to be….a wife, daughter, critics and fans who loved him. When Sam brought him flowers that Riggans said he could not smell, symbolized the fact that Riggans never stopped to enjoy all of the fantastic things that life had brought him. A loving wife, daughter, success, fame, and fortune. However, he never stopped to “smell the flowers” of life. Lastly, when the gun is fired on stage, you will notice that the gun kicked higher when it was shot. This would have missed his face and hit his head. Riggans died on that stage, and the final scene was his wish for what his life should have been. The birdman was finally free.

  • dude

    He jumps from the building, then you see him lying on his back with his arms folded in a room full of flowers – his ex-wife dressed in black viewing his body. The rest of the movie is a post-mortem self reconciliation complete with great review, professional and popular adoration, a loving moment with daughter – an unbelievable perfect resurrection.

    • Peg

      Yes! Also, he literally sees a light at the end of the tunnel when he’s flying and goes into the light. I don’t know how there could be another explanation for this other than he’s dead. Plus it’s all about Carver. Not like he’s big on happy endings.

    • Devin

      I disagree, I don’t think he dies when he jumps from the building and starts flying.

      IMO Jumping from the building symbolizes how Riggan has gone crazy and given himself over to the ego of birdman. The fact that they chose to include the cab driver chasing after Riggan for payment, when Riggan believes he flew there, is an indication of his break from reality, he jumps from the building, into madness not death.

      The next scene as he’s laying in the dressing room, his wife is comments on how calm he looks, it shows his fight with birdman is over, and is no longer torn, he’s decided to do what he believes will bring him back to the spotlight…which is kill himself on stage

      • Nice Stride

        That’s an interesting comment, because it is a known real-life psychological phenomenon that often when a person makes the decision to commit suicide, the decision is not made immediately before doing it. Sometimes it is made even days in advance. And because the decision has been made, the problems which caused the person the level of stress leading to suicide are deemed solved and stress is released. Many family members of a suicide express disbelief that he or she killed himself because that person “seemed so happy” in the hours or day or so before the act. But they are looking at it from an outsider’s perspective, not the perspective of the person who felt the relief of having a way out.

        • Devin

          That’s a good point.

          Also the hospital scene is another “dream” for Riggan.
          It’s what he wishes would happen after he kills himself on stage.

          As the scene opens his bandages give him the appearance of Birdman, there’s significance in this. In his mind he wants to survive the shooting, so he can bask in the glory of making the play a success. He wishes people would hold candlelight vigils for him around the world and the critic gives him an outstanding review.

          In reality, none of this would happen, the critic who was known for being tough, wouldn’t praise a stunt like suicide on stage and applaud the entire play as a masterpiece for a stunt like that.
          People around the world wouldn’t hold vigils in his name, Riggan wasn’t that big of a star at that time. It’s his ego, Birdman, that makes him believe those things will happen.

          The entire hospital scene is what Riggan hopes would happen after he pulls the trigger on stage, but what actually happens is he just dies.

    • Rizki Adrian Hakim

      Yeah I think he dies after that jump, considering how his act becomes significantly improved after that, which we can conclude from audiences’ positive remarks. It’s one of his dream: to be critically successful. However the sudden improvement may also be the result of the end of his internal struggle with Birdman voice. The scene where he flies across the city indicates that he has fully succumbed to his Birdman voice, thus ending his internal struggle, calms him, and allows him to be focused on the play. Also, perhaps by uniting with Birdman, he discovers his true potential within?

  • Ryan

    I’m wondering what the significance of the nose is. When we see Birdman chasing Riggan earlier in the movie, the face under the mask is not that of Riggan. It is the face of the man at the end of the movie with the disfigured nose. When Riggan looks at the Birdman sitting in the bathroom, he has the old Riggans face! Somehow implying that his ego had totally taken over and Riggan is now in the backseat. It just adds to the mystery of the final scene. I think he died onstage. The hospital scene was a dream. And his daughter finally seeing him for who he thought he should be.

    • zippy

      How about a take on the old saying, “Biting off your nose to spite your face” as it relates to self destructive behavior. Of course he allegedly shoots his off, so he’s reeeeeally being self destructive.

      • guest

        Or the saying that “no one gives you flowers while you can still smell them”…he says he can’t smell the lilacs Sam gives him, which further implies that he killed himself on stage.

  • Shelb G


    • Doug

      Gonna have to watch it again with that in mind. I didn’t see it.

    • Kollogov

      i watched the sequence again, but no such thing.

  • The1theycallFoo

    I think the ending should have went something like this .After he shoots himself on stage, have the hospital scene and everything the same exact way it was. except,after they show his daughter looking up,fade back to the play and show that he actually did kill himself,and the hospital scene was really just all in his head. Him being at peace and getting everything he wanted.It would have been more powerful to me. I’m all for ambiguous endings,but that ending was a little to ambiguous .

    • Alecs Stan

      No it’s not. There are so many clues. All over the movie.. 🙂

  • zooeyyl

    I believe Riggan died at the last scene…it can be told from the noise from police radio in the tailor song. It’s not hard to tell that Riggan’s nose was shot off by himself on the stage–that’s why his head was wrapped by gauze, and not coincidentally, it made him look extremely resemblance to bird man. So my Interpretation was that the part Riggan shot off was not only his nose, but also his beak: this symbolized he conquered the bird man. That’s also why the bird man stopped talking when he met Riggan in the bathroom. Unfortunately, Riggan didn’t realize this, when he looked out of the window, he thought he could fly like he used to imagined, so he jumped, and died.

    • Alecs Stan

      Yep. And the new nose is everything he whished he had including the love of his daughter. But I believe he died on stage. His last flight is just him passing away in the arms of his daughter who for the first time sees him as her superhero for saving her from drugs, giving her a job and reasons to be proud of him..

      • zooeyyl

        I agree with the interpretation of the new nose.

  • Gonçalo Baptista

    I agree with the opinion that he dies on stage, and i believe in that because the movie was pretending to make the film looks like one shot, but in the end, when he shoot’s himself, apears to have alot of cut’s. What’s the deal with the cut’s in the end if not to say that he was dead.

  • Garrett

    I really enjoyed reading your theories on the ambiguities within Birdman. To me this film is a work of art, almost like a painting. There are so many ways to look at it and everyone walks away with a different perspective or meaning.

    If I may add one small critique of your essay, there are quite a few grammatical errors towards the end which makes it a bit hard to read. It isn’t too big of a deal, but maybe just do a little proofreading and you’re good to go!

    Nice work!

  • Larry

    Obviously he died from the gunshot. The hospital scene takes place in his mind in the last moments of life. I say this because there was no I.V., he manages to get up and walk immediately after what would have been a very long surgery, he removes the dressing with no apparent discomfort, we see no sutures, and the Birdman fails to speak for the first time in the movie.

    • Sajt

      I agree

  • Anna1953

    This film was posted as a “comedy”. It was anything but. It reminds me of “American Beauty” — with the ambiguous ending. I do not like ambiguous endings.

    • Ikarus

      I seem to remember American Beauty’s ending as fairly definite (at least for Kevin Spacey’s character) whereas Birdman seems to ask the viewer if he or she is an optimist or a pessimist.

  • Please fix the spelling of Ed Norton’s name! It’s distracting from an otherwise great review.

  • Riggens died from a self-inflicted gunshot onstage. The final sequence was his icarus time… burning through the sky as the bullet had burned through his head… he resolved his worldly issues as the blood poured out the bullet hole. The ending was the Jacobs Ladder/Mulholland Dr/Fight Club homage.

    One of the most compelling features of the film (and there were many) was the transitions. The seamless shots that made a stream-of conscious connectivity between scenes all the way up till the last gunshot on stage …also the scat drum audio weaving a thread to hold the viewer’s pulse… raising to fever pitch as Keaton ran down the hallway to Ed Norton’s sun-bed.

    My two favorite shots were the long moving transitional pulls across the street through the wrought iron railing… and the night to day sleeping on a step sequence… brilliant… its the most mesmerizing sensorially cognitive film I’ve seen in a while… amazingly it might even out-Lynched, David Lynch.

    So upon the Opening night gunshot conclusion… notice he even pointed the gun into the crowd and said bang… right at the critic… we see this as the lights brighten and she leaves the seat… he took aim at her in his last moment to let her know how far he was willing to go for theater. Then we got our first jump cut… stills of his life like the jellyfish, drummers from his embarrassing previous night..the action figures and superheroes that taunted him… then another jump-cut opening to the hospital… where he is recovering from surgery having not killed himself… and as his producer comes in with the full page critical acclaim in the Times…. and his wife consoles him, and the crowds love him, and he has that long hoped for reunion with his daughter…. we find out he only blew off his nose… his beak…

    Note that no hospital has sliding windows with the possibility of spreading infections… note that he has no wires, monitors, IV drips or anything attaching him to his bed… pretty strange for a man who just blew his face off hours ago? Then as his daughter goes for the vase he takes off the mask… the nose looked bad but was not a real representation of recovery from the last evening’s trauma. Then you see the Birdman character on the toilet… and he never speaks… at last he has been silenced… Keaton even tells him to fuck off. Finally he joins the birds and his daughter actually believes in his powers…. all a Jacob’s Ladder dream in the moments following his gunshot on stage.

    Its even foretold at the beginning of the film with the Carver quote:

    “And did you get what you wanted from this life, even so? I did.

    And what did you want? To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved on the earth.”

    in tis post script to a life… where on is asked if they got what they wanted…. his answer would be yes…

    • JohnB

      Perfect summary, from seeing it once and since then reading many theories on the ending, I agree with your take on it.

  • MMDC

    I agree Riggan shot himself in the head onstage and dies from that wound; he does not jump out the window or fly away. A lot of things seem to confirm that: one that people don’t seem to mention much is that in the scene just prior his wife enters his dressing room and he is lying on his back surrounded by flowers in a very funeral-like state. Then when he is discussing his regrets he expressly says that he won’t have a life going forward. Also in a real scene if he had just shot his nose off he would have made some sound onstage; in the scene he just crumples to the floor silently. (BTW that’s a really good point below to notice that he first aims the gun at the critic). Note also that in the Raymond Carver story itself Nick who shoots himself in the head does not actually die until he is in the hospital.
    What I’ve been trying to make sense of is that in the final scene there is a lot of Christian imagery in what happens. Riggan seems to have died but to have been resurrected; his body — represented by is nose — really looks like it has come back from a dead state; then he shares a brief time back on earth with those he loves; and then he seems to ascend to a sort of heaven where he can finally leave his flawed self — the birdman who is taking a crap — forever. His friend talks about being reborn and the play living forever. The lilacs that Sam brings him are a typical Easter flower. And one theme here is that Riggan could be seen as ‘dying for the sins’ of the world of movies and theater both, and that his death redeems his own failed life by showing the people he failed how he was compelled to live for his art. I do not think the director is trying to make a “Christian” movie; but is using this imagery as part of a statement about the meaning of the love that is being illustrated in Riggan. Or maybe it just shows the extent of Riggans own ego; even while dying his ego makes him think of himself as a Christlike figure when he is just a defeated alcoholic who gave up and committed suicide.

  • Doug

    I’d recommend watching the ‘taxi driver sequence” again, folks. Maybe you saw a different edit than me, but I doubt it. We never see Riggan in the cab, exiting the cab, near the cab, or interacting with the driver, at all. We see the driver pull up to the curb in front of the theater, enter the theater, exit the theater, and drive away. We’ve made up the story about Riggan and the taxi driver without actually seeing it play out, just as the filmmakers intended.

  • Lightone

    The hospital was something of a purgatory for him.

  • music!

    if you pay attention to the music of this film,what we have is two diffrent type of music,orchestral music and a voice of dramm,the moment that we hear dramm it means on that moment something real is happenig(which realated to riggan )and on the other hand when we hear orchestral music,something is happening which is not real!
    the last scene we hear the voice of dramm and then we see an hospital bed which is empty,that would say rigann was dead on scene!!!

  • Tom

    This is kind of scary and reminds me of Heath Ledger. He gave up his ego to the Joker and was never able to turn back to himself.

  • Joseph Dickerson

    I believe his character died, he clearly was one who was living past his glory days and decided that his life was not worth living, it was a sad film about real life, about how actors who play superheros interact with a very harsh real world. I felt the movie while starring Michael Keaton felt like an allegory of Christopher Reeve’s life, Reeve became known for being Superman, he struggled to get other acting roles outside of that character and the public associated him with the character, he spend the last 10 years of his life as a paraplegic.

  • Kollogov

    Riggan should be dead when he shot himself on stage on first opening night of his play. Because after that Birdman speaks in voiceover that we shall not hear from him again. So the hospital scene should be a premeditated idea of Riggan- one that he had hoped for before dying.

  • Doug Mertaugh

    I think the cab driver following him after the flying scene indicates he was alive and didn’t really jump from the building. The whole time he was flying, he was following the same course the cab was taking so I think he was hallucinating at that point but not dying. Otherwise, there would be no reason for the dose of reality of the cab driver demanding his money. He would have just stayed in the delusion. However, I agree it is quite possible he died when he shot himself and everything after that was his dying delusion where he got everything he wanted. I read an article where someone suggested that his daughter showed some signs of delusion and may have been deluded herself at the end. When she looks out the window and down, screams and converging sirens can be heard but she seems to not see anything. She looks up and smiles and may be buying into his delusion. Of course, that has flaws. I recall no point where she knows about his Birdman delusion and I didn’t personally see where she was delusional. But I only saw the movie for the first time yesterday. I do think you may well be right that the final scene is his dying delusion though.