The following discussion is chock full of SPOILERS.  If you haven’t yet seen Birdman, stop reading now!


…Stop Reading Now…

We may not agree on our interpretation of the ending of Birdman, but I bet we can all agree that the ambiguous ending we were left with wasn’t necessary.  Initially I was a bit angry.  It felt like a bit of a cop-out.  They obviously wanted to make a grand statement by having Riggan shoot himself on stage, but then they got a “happy” ending (without earning it) by showing that everything turns out ok. He’s alive, and happy, and popular!  His show is a hit, even receiving a positive review from the one woman destined to ruin his career and life.  His ex-wife is happy with him and his daughter finally seems to approve.

Come on now.

Here’s what this means:

He’s dead.  Riggan died when he shot himself on stage.  The closing scenes represent his final thoughts before dying.  He’s finally come to terms with his life, and he’s ready to fly away, as Birdman, into the sunset.  The entire film is presented as one single never-ending shot.  It represents the continuity of Riggan’s life.  There are no breaks – it just continues.  Until it doesn’t.  Right after he shoots himself, we finally get an actual camera cut to the next scene.  In fact the entire closing moments of the film feature traditional camerawork.  That’s because his life is over, and he’s ok with that. Consider the story he told about the jellyfish – this shows us he was ok with ending his life at least once before, so it’s not a stretch to see him finally follow through, when the stakes are at the highest.

We see other fantasy moments throughout the film, and each time someone else enters, that fantastical moment is grounded in reality. The only time that doesn’t happen is here at the end. And if that weren’t enough, the bandages on his new nose literally form the shape of a beak. This is the same nose that shows some bruising, but no stitches or other trauma one day after allegedly being shot off. It’s all part of Riggin’s final fantasy, one where his daughter not only accepts him for who he is, but is finally a participant in his dream, seeing her father fly away as Birdman.


About The Author

By day I’m a producer/director at a video game development studio. By night, I’m… um… yeah, i’m usually just a more tired producer/director at a video game development studio. BUT, by weekend I’m a husband, father, and critic of all things.


    Brendan here! I like your interpretation a lot – but prefer my own!

    SPOILERS AHOY, if you’ve somehow not read the article but are now reading the comments….

    Riggan is alive and kickin’. The camerawork changes very deliberately right after the fateful climax, and the visuals get pretty jumbled – partially as comic relief after such a jarring moment, but also very deliberately centered around performance and ridiculousness. I agree that Riggan has definitely come to accept his fate, but he’s not resigned to it – he’s taking control of the role, he’s freeing himself of being only “the Birdman guy” by seizing the agency that he’s desperately been seeking, even if that agency is just to bring the curtain down.

    I think the change in camerawork is a deliberate return to normalcy for Riggan – the life of being Birdman’s alter-ego, the surreal reality of being an aging action movie star that’d been left behind by Hollywood but that still can’t carve out some new existence, even (especially?) with this Broadway play – this is finally behind, this is finally Riggan’s story, driven by him and his actions, not just what he has to say about Birdman. (But Birdman hasn’t been completely cut away – the painfully hawklike nose is a literal memento, and the Birdman spectre in the bathroom will haunt him, but he’s been relegated to haunting instead of possessing Riggan.) The final, controversial 30 seconds are an expression of Riggan’s ultimate acceptance of himself – his willingness to goof off with “powers” that are his and his alone, not Birdman’s, and how delighted his daughter is to find her father in such an unexpectedly vulnerably happy place.

    Or so I think, anyway!

    • Tim

      I really like your more positive take. It’s what I would prefer the ending to mean, but I feel the movie is stronger if he dies on stage. I’m not clear on your interpretation of the final 30 seconds though. Are you saying he actually has powers and his daughter sees him take flight?

      • FOXHOUND

        I could see Riggan’s journey working out that way if not for the tenderness of his connection with his daughter at the end – making that illusory (or tossing it out by claiming that he leaps to his death in the last 30 seconds) seems too cruel an ending to what I think is a bleak but positive film.

        I think his powers are in his head, but that the visuals of what that means are as much a part of the film’s presentation: Riggan imagines himself to be flying around in the streets of New York, and so we get to see that just as much as he does, even though it turns out he’s really just daydreaming as he takes a taxi. I think that the ending of the movie shows us that he’s finally confident in himself enough that he can not only enjoy his own existence, but he open himself up in that same way to his daughter. I think the reality is that he’s goofing around in the hospital room or hallway somewhere. 🙂

        • Tim

          I think the tender moment with his daughter is one of the things that supports my original theory. I find it a tough sell to believe that the cold, self centered, drug reliant problem child without a nice word to say to her father could suddenly share the wonder of his fantasy. I imagine she’s experienced his disappearance from reality many times growing up, so why this time does she finally understand and/or appreciate it?

          I also feel the happy ending is just a bit too tidy. It’s hard to believe he got a positive front page review from a woman who’s opinion of him was so vile that it caused him to willingly abandon his lifelong symbol of inspiration, the cocktail napkin. She made it clear that he stood for everything she despised, and his retort did nothing but strengthen her resolve.

          I also can’t get past the notion that he shot his nose off the night before, only to wake to a brand new one. And the new one just happens to reinforce the one identity he prefers over his own, Birdman. It all just screams fantasy to me when the man who was tired of trying to succeed suddenly finds success in all areas of his life at once.

          I do love that we are interpreting the ending so differently, yet there are supporting points for both opinions. Great movies spark great discussion, and I couldn’t be happier that Birdman walked away (flew away?) with Best Picture.

          • FOXHOUND

            I 100% agree that it ties everything up a little too well – I was having trouble with it until he opened up the window and things got a little more mysterious. I think I most believe that he survived because I WANT to believe that! 🙂

            Great movie and great talk! I hope there’s more like it in the coming year!