‘Birdman’ won the Oscar for Best Picture after beating ‘Boyhood’ in a close race. By now, I am assuming most of you have seen ‘Birdman’ and, like me loved the film. As I wrote in my review “Whether it be the innovative use of camera and music, or the stupendous performance of its actors, or just as a completely different movie-viewing experience, ‘Birdman’ gives you several reasons to not miss it. So, in spite of an ending that might leave you slightly befuddled — I found it interestingly complex – I highly recommend this once-in-decades cinematic experience.”
Over last few months, I have watched ‘Birdman’ a couple of times more and got enough time to ponder upon its interestingly complex ending. Even though the plot of the film itself is not difficult to follow, it is the magical realism elements in the film — especially the ending — that twists your head. And therefore, it hardly surprises me that fans have come up with several theories on the twisted ending of Birdman. But having closely analyzed the film’s themes and motives, and after reading screenwriter’s interpretation of the ending, I have zeroed down on two theories that perfectly explain what happened at the end of ‘Birdman’. Which one out the two is actually the correct interpretation depends on what you, as a viewer, want to take away from the film.
Theory 1: Riggan dies on-stage. The rest of the film is his hallucination while he is dying.
There are several strong arguments to be made in support of this ending theory. But most important of them all has to be the fact that everything that happens after Riggan (Michael Keaton) shoots himself are just too good to be true: He gets his recognition and fame as an artist; his ex-wife is supportive of him; his daughter idolizes him; even the New York Times critic has only good things to write about him. In short, he has won over everyone: audiences, critics, and his family. The sudden change of fortunes of Riggan is not only too good to be true but also, goes against the theme and dark nature of the film itself. If the answer to the complex questions about ego, fame, and celebrityhood that director Alejandro G. Inarritu raises during the course of the film was a perfectly happy ending then I don’t think he would have chosen this ending in the first place. However, if the ending is actually Riggan hallucinating during his death, then it further emphasizes on the fact that how deeply affected Riggan was, so much so that even as he was dying, he imagines himself to be at the center of attention of everyone, and once he gets that gratification he further imagines himself to be free and flying (which his daughter presumably sees in the final shot of the film).
This theory is also supported by several clues in the film: