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February 22, 2015: Birdman, Revisited

Last night I went to see “Birdman” again. I don’t generally see movies twice. This one was an exception. I am fortunate in that I live a life that’s semi-monastic, meaning I have created an existence that allows for ample time for self-reflection. It is central to my survival as a writer and I do not take it for granted.

The movie was being shown at the Beartooth, one of those semi-ratty dive type trendy theatres where you can eat and drink as you watch the show. My friend Vickie and I ordered a large pizza, and were given a small cone with T-8 on it. Vickie’s son Isaac showed up with his new girlfriend. Eight of their friends joined us once we were in the theatre – he kept in touch with them beforehand, using his phone.

The movie and movie within a movie gave me a great deal to think about – one thing being that there’s a fine line between what’s real and what’s real. (Here, I pause in order to collect my scattered thoughts.) Riggin Thompson, the central character, an aging actor, was a long-time Raymond Carver fan. Carver was a minimalist writer who was in his work attempting to abandon metaphor. He was also a heavy drinker. (One line in the

This photo from a kayaker we met when paddling in Ketchikan.

movie was “he left a piece of his liver on the page every time he sat to write.)

Like Carver, Riggin wanted to create work that would stand the test of time. I have always been of the mind that Carver’s work would fall by the wayside because it was so time-specific. However, the screenwriter of Birdman brought Carver’s work back into prominence. There were two audiences here – one being us older MFA students who in the 80s were all imitating Carver – and also those who have no idea who Carver was or know anything about his work. And the movie spoke to both audiences because it was “what we talk about when we talk about love.”

I would like to think that those in this second audience might now read some Carver, and perhaps venture further and read some of his wife Tess Gallagher’s poetry. She wrote movingly, but in a very abstract fashion about their relationship.

So here’s the catch. Mike Riggins, the younger, secondary actor was in essence, a disruptive character, both on and off stage. All the characters, but mostly him, were bringing into question the notion of the self and postmodern identity. Riggins was only an actor, he had no self and he knew this. He was fighting the notion that he was socially constructed. The younger actor repeatedly affirmed this.

The second time in seeing this movie, I noticed something quite interesting, and this was that Shriner, upon being accosted by the older actor, was reading a copy of Borges The Labyrinth. Whoa – I just figured out something, a piece of the puzzle just fell into place. The younger actor’s having this book in hand – was a salutary nod to magical realism. Riggin’s flying around, was also a salutary nod to magical realism. And the ending, when the older actor jumped out of the hospital window – and his daughter looked down and up – this was another salutary nod to magical realism. And the Birdman, the voice in the older actor’s head – this was yet another nod to magical realism. And both Carver and the older actor were in their lives and work, heavily influenced by this particular school of thought. Riggin was actually haunted by it.

After the movie, Vickie and I went to her son Isaac’s place. He is 30-ish, lives in small hot apartment. He has a front view of Chilkoot Charlie’s bar – said that this past weekend there were two shootings – he slept through one, ignored the other. And he has a rear view of the tattoo parlor where he now works.

In the apartment itself – there were a handful of near dead plants. Vickie, his mother, talked with him about how he might better care for them. Apparently the apartment is really hot, he can’t adjust the heat. And he didn’t know he needs to water the plants frequently.

On the makeshift coffee table, there were several videos – there were no newspapers or books around. I thought, Raymond Carver would have loved this setting, and most likely would have come up with a story about this fellow and his current girlfriend. Carver can’t do this because he’s long gone. But well, his work lives on in those of us who speculate about it, and well, about his life. We are now all socially deconstructing.

Next: 54. 2/24/15: Figuring Things Out

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