Well, I should have written this post almost a year ago, when the film was released. However, considering the artistic elements and the heavy philosophy with which the film is loaded, you simply do not get to understand the film without reading enough books or alternatively without having experienced the anguish of an artist.
Today, somehow I felt that I could try to put in words, the impression that this film has left on me.
When I watched Riggan Thomson talking to his alter ego, a quote by Martin Amis at once came to my mind: ‘Every writer hopes or boldly assumes that his life is in some sense exemplary, that the particular will turn out to be universal.’
Therefore, the presence of an alter ego is nothing but a bold assumption that Riggan has always been exemplary. And so, when he jumps off the building and begins to fly, this assumption strengthens its hold as the alter ego reiterates that Riggan is ‘above them all’. This simply meant that Riggan is so confident about his theatrical genius that he no longer cares about the outcome. Irrespective of how the audience views his performance, Riggan believes that he is a great actor and that faith is what he needs after all.
The virtue of ignorance is unexpected because you are unexpectedly led onto the path of enlightenment. In order to enlighten yourself, you first need to understand your ignorance!
So once Riggan realizes (after a great deal of suffering) that he is ‘above them all’, pulling a stunt becomes easier, because, after all he is now completely sure about his genius.
If the story is interpreted this way up to this point, the ending is hardly surprising. The image of Sam as she looks up, her face breaking into a beaming smile left me with an unexplainable optimism which was the only clue that suggested that the film indeed had an inspiring message. The ending somehow lifted the fog that was threatening to drown Riggan throughout the film. And I just couldn’t see how a suicide could even be considered as a solution here.
So, according to me, Riggan is really up there once again ‘above them all’ saying that the outcome of the play, the success, still doesn’t affect me. I know who I am and that is all I want to know! I am already ‘above them all’. The alter ego will always exist (magnificent and always inviting attention), but now it does not need to scream out its presence, as you make peace with your reality. And the reality is that, ‘Life is a tale. Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.’
The reason why we do not see Riggan flying is because the looker-on really would not understand what being above would mean unless he tastes the unexpected virtue of ignorance.
It just meant Riggan is above us all, and consequently, above judgment.
Maybe, Sam was ‘special’ and so she was already on a journey towards self-understanding and therefore only she is qualified enough to see and judge her father.
And just like Paul about whom we debate whether or not he saw Jesus, we can debate whether or not Sam saw Riggan flying. In both cases we have to be content with what they saw, heard and interpreted.