or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) Best Picture
Best Actor in a Leading Role
Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Best Actress in a Supporting Role
Best Writing (Original Screenplay)
Best Sound Editing
Best Sound Mixing
Gone Girl Best Actress in a Leading Role
To kick off my Oscar Challenge 2015, I figured I could do worse than pit these two auteur takes on ambition, performance and relationships. Birdman and Gone Girl are two very different beasts; the former a backstage satire of Hollywood and Broadway, the latter a sudsy pulpy thriller, and while both are technical wonders with various trapdoor plot devices that end in decidedly ambiguous ways, I am fascinated by the way they mine the male psyche embodying and representing competing and complementary versions of current masculine anxieties. [Spoilers ahead]
“You always confused admiration with love”
While leveled at Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) in Birdman, this line could just as easily been bandied at Ben Affleck’s Nick Dunne in Gone Girl.
Indeed, at the center of these two films is a man forced to reckon with his inner demons as he is haunted by the very failings that created them. While the line between admiration and love is seemingly clearer when discussing a performer (so often narcissists and very much so in González Iñárritu’s film), Fincher’s psychosexual thriller is also premised on the thin line between a man’s desire to be admired and his need to be loved. Many things amount to the implosion of the Dunne marriage, but none more so than Nick’s inability to command (and deserve) the respect of his erstwhile perfect wife. Both men are driven to self-destruction by their inability to live up to the roles they were seemingly born to inhabit: Riggan cannot escape Birdman, both fictional hero and extant action star, while Nick finds himself trapped playing “Amazing Amy’s Husband”, both a painstakingly created fiction and a realistically hopeful promise.Indeed this meta fictional understanding of both characters is what drives the two plots; Riggan and Nick push themselves away from their set narratives, unable (or unwilling) to see the cost in doing so. Riggan’s desire to become a “self-respecting serious actor” just works to unravel him while Nick’s indulgent new life as a writerly cliche (sleeping with his student) is nothing more than a desperate attempt at regaining the central narrative power of his life which Amy seemingly held — and which, of course, she’ll exert through the entire film.
There’s a way to see both these films as films about the creation and destruction of narratives. Wanting to be one’s own narrator and plot one’s own storyline is as seductive as it is futile. It’s also fascinating that Riggan and Nick lose control of their narratives by trying very hard to assert their masculinity (both look very much like immature men going through rather embarrassing middle-age crises), running away from the chains of marriage and fatherhood. Of course the difference between the two films is that while Riggan is quite explicitly writing himself a new part (adapting Raymond Carver’s “What Do We Talk When We Talk About Love?”) looking back to simpler times though oddly finding himself playing a wreck of a man with no will to live, Nick finds himself a pawn in the “Missing Amy” saga and only survives by agreeing to play his role in Amy’s twisted narrative (“The only time you liked yourself was when you were trying to be someone this cunt might like,” Amy tells him).
As studies of the performance of masculinity, both are tellingly bordering on misandry if not outright misanthropy, for as they keep unearthing the various levels of everyday performance (of sanity, of manhood, of fatherhood), these films find nothing but bleak realities and impossibilities which is why Riggan and Nick’s final plunge (into variously defined fantasies) feels equally hopeful and hopeless.