Monday, March 2, 2015

Birdman and Whiplash - the same movie?

Of course not.

But consider:

1) Both movies involve a protagonist who is obsessed with greatness. One is seeking a future greatness, one is looking back on a greatness he worries has vanished.

2) Both view their greatness through the prism of a bird. Andrew Neiman wants to become like Charlie Parker, a.k.a. Bird, and listens to Parker's CD Birdland repeatedly. Riggan Thompson became famous for playing a superhero with bird features, and worries that the world perceives him as nothing more than a man wearing a bird costume.

3) Both characters talk specifically about being remembered after they're dead. Riggan discusses his fears of dying in the same plane crash as George Clooney, and having people concentrate on Clooney's death rather than his. Andrew speaks about being willing to die young, drunk and full of heroin as long as it means he will be remembered.

4) Both protagonists undergo severe psychological torture while pursuing the performance they believe will define them, for better or worse.

5) Both protagonists bleed, literally, for their craft. In fact, they both receive serious head wounds for their craft.

6) Both are driven by a perfectionist who challenges them to succeed in unconventional ways. Andrew is tormented by his teacher, Terence Fletcher, who pushes his students past the brink of sanity and self-esteem in order to force them to try harder to attain greatness. Riggan is tested by two different characters, the actor Mike Shiner and the critic Tabitha Dickinson. Mike is always trying to push Riggan out of his comfort zone on stage to see how he will respond, while Tabitha lets him know that it will take nothing short of a miracle to get a good review from her. Both protagonists ultimately meet the high bar set for them by those who test them, but not without first engaging in a physical altercation. Those who test them also use acting as a devious method of manipulating them.

7) Both movies feature suicide attempts, either successful or unsuccessful, that result from the failure to live up to the exacting standards of the perfectionist.

8) Both movies feature the protagonist trapped outside a performance space due to unforeseen circumstances, desperate to make it on stage in time for his entrance.

9) Both movies prominently feature drums, either as a direct part of the plot or as the musical score.

10) Both movies follow characters from behind as they walk on stage, off stage, and through backstage corridors.

11) Both movies feature characters shot from behind looking out at the audience, with the footlights keeping us from seeing their audience.

12) Both movies speak of a miniature version of one of the characters. In Birdman, Riggan likens his show to a small version of himself, following him around and hitting him in the balls with a tiny hammer. In Whiplash, Fletcher dismissively refers to an assistant of his as "Mini Me."

13) Both movies make prominent use of understudies.

14) Both movies feature a romantic relationship that is ruined in part by the protagonist's quest for perfection.

15) Both movies take place in New York City.

16) Both movies end in ambiguous fashion, leaving the viewer to debate what actually happened, and what happens next.

Is 16 major similarities enough for you?

In my second viewing of Whiplash, my sixth favorite movie of 2014, on Sunday night, it was all made so clear to me.

Maybe my upcoming second viewing of Birdman, my favorite movie of 2014, will reveal even more.

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