Fight or Flight

Change is hard.

Let's back up a minute and talk about the movie Birdman.  What is Birdman, really about? 

Superficially, it is the story of a washed-up actor, best known for his role as the eponymous Birdman in superhero films, trying to regain relevance as a Broadway "auteur," with his adaptation of Raymond Carver's What We Talk About When We're Talking About Love.

The subject of the work-within-a-work is immaterial.  It's the MacGuffin  around which our protagonist confronts, and ultimately loses to, his psychosis.

This is a movie about anxiety and depression.  Our protagonist, Riggin, is haunted by his former success and two decades of bad choices, leading to his final crisis. 

What about fight or flight?  Remember, change is hard.

It can be comforting to dwell on our former glory.  Think Uncle Rico from Napoleon Dynamite, perpetually passing the football over the camcorder.  

While a bit of hindsight is beneficial, an awareness of history prevents its reprisal, after all, and if a past glory becomes the benchmark to which all current and future challenges are compared, it can become unhealthy.  Especially if the now is always losing to the past.

So over two decades, our hero, Riggin, takes the easy course and neglects his contemporary responsibilities in favor of a life dedicated to his past.  It becomes clear, though his interactions with his daughter (fresh out of rehab) and his ex wife (who, incidentally, would have been like 7 when she gave birth to said daughter, given the real life age difference between the two actresses, but I digress), and the rest of the cast of his opus, that these years of neglect have built up in Riggin powerful feeling of shame, which manifests itself as his imaginary Birdman powers (telekinesis).

Early on we see a plum-smuggling Riggin meditating in his filthy dressing room, while hovering about waist high above the floor.

On several occasions, Riggin, in response to stress, is destructive, willing objects to throw themselves across the room.

This is revealed to be imaginary, when the laywer walks in on Riggin trashing his dressing room.  Which is why I believe the film is a metaphor for losing out to anxiety and depression.

The neglect, shame, anger and further shame form a vicious cycle, and it ultimately manifests itself as severe anxiety.  We begin judging our actions in terms of how their viewed by others, and in a vain attempt to prevent more emotional turmoil, assume the worst intentions of others, and brace ourselves for the inevitable let-down, as our worst fears become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Trying to escape this rut triggers an extinction burst, wherein we try to convince ourselves to return to our self-destructive tendencies.  Riggin's hallucinations of his Birdman character, egging him on to return to the role,  and the final scene, where he succumbs.*

Change is hard.

I saw a bit of myself in Riggin the first time I watched Birdman.  I had months before succumbed to my own demons of neglect, shame, and anxiety, but I did what Riggin didn't, I got help.  That's about as far as I'm going to go down this rabbit hole here.

I'm much better now, and have since breaking out of my rut, established a new moment of glory with my recent professional promotion.   To me, it is the culmination of all of the hard work I have put into changing my outlook and overcoming my demons.

Change is worth it.  The pride of new accomplishments is much sweeter than the glory of yesteryear.

* I'm very firm in my belief that the film ends about 10 seconds before it really does, and that what we're really seeing is the last gasps of a psychotic mind with time dilated by the surge of adrenalin release triggered by the fall, making turning the plummet into a flight.

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