Analysis of Birdman

Screenplay Rating:


Executive Summary

The screenplay is recommended for its engaging dialogue, tense emotional tone, and effective establishment of atmosphere. However, there are areas that could be improved, such as smoother transitions between scenes, more focused and concise dialogue, and clearer objectives or conflicts for each scene. The screenplay would benefit from more development of the overall plot, the characters' backstories and motivations, and a stronger sense of emotional stakes and consequences. Notable points include the use of tension-building elements like ticking clocks and falling lights, as well as the exploration of complex relationships between characters. Overall, the screenplay has potential but requires further refinement to fully engage and captivate the audience.

  • The dialogue between the characters is engaging and reveals their complex dynamics. (Scene 2)
  • The scene effectively captures the tense and urgent emotional tone. (Scene 3)
  • The use of different character voices and perspectives adds depth to the scene. (Scene 4)
  • The scene effectively establishes the chaotic and tense atmosphere of the theater. (Scene 7)
  • The scene effectively sets the stage for the first preview, creating a sense of anticipation and excitement. (Scene 9)
Areas of Improvement
  • The transition between scenes could be smoother to provide better context for the audience. (Multiple scenes)
  • The dialogue could be more focused and concise to maintain the audience's attention. (Multiple scenes)
  • The scene could benefit from more visual descriptions and details to enhance the atmosphere and immerse the audience in the setting. (Multiple scenes)
  • A clearer sense of the overall plot and the significance of the play in Riggan's life. (Multiple scenes)
  • More development of the characters' backstories and motivations. (Multiple scenes)
  • A clearer understanding of the overall plot and how each scene contributes to it. (Multiple scenes)
  • More information about the other characters and their relationships with Riggan. (Multiple scenes)
  • A stronger sense of the emotional stakes and the consequences of Riggan's actions. (Multiple scenes)
  • A clearer objective or conflict for each scene to drive the narrative forward. (Multiple scenes)
  • Further exploration of the themes and messages that each scene could convey. (Multiple scenes)
  • The use of the clock ticking and the handwritten phrase on the mirror adds a sense of tension and mystery to the scene. (Scene 1)
  • The introduction of the falling light creates a moment of chaos and foreshadows potential conflicts to come. (Scene 2)
  • The mention of other actors like Philip Seymour Hoffman and Michael Fassbender adds a layer of realism. (Scene 3)
  • The scene effectively captures the chaotic and bustling atmosphere of a theater backstage. (Scene 4)
  • The dialogue between Mike, Lesley, and Laura provides insight into their characters and hints at potential conflicts and tensions. (Scene 7)
Summary Riggan Thomson, a middle-aged actor, is preparing for a play performance while dealing with various issues. He witnesses a disastrous performance by another actor, Ralph, causing chaos and frustration. Meanwhile, Riggan's daughter, Sam, is disgusted by the inappropriate behavior of a famous actor, Mike. In the costume department, Mike's behavior continues to cause chaos as the costume designer struggles to find clothes for him. Lesley confronts Mike about his behavior, but he tries to make amends. Amidst the chaos, Laura reveals to Riggan that she is pregnant, leading to a mix of emotions and confusion. Riggan also has a conversation with his ex-wife Sylvia about his financial troubles and the importance of being a father. Riggan's frustration escalates and he confronts Mike about his behavior, which leads to a physical fight. Riggan's actions result in him being locked out of the theater and running down the street in his underwear, facing public humiliation. He encounters Ralph in the theater lobby, setting up a confrontation between the two.

Screenplay Story Analysis

Story Critique The plot of the screenplay has potential and explores themes of identity, insecurity, and the pursuit of validation. The character arcs are well-developed, particularly Riggan's journey of self-discovery and acceptance. The tension and urgency in the scenes create a sense of suspense and keep the audience engaged. However, the repetition of certain scenes and conflicts can become tiresome and could benefit from more variety. Additionally, some of the dialogue feels repetitive and could be tightened to enhance the pacing. Overall, the story has strong elements but could benefit from further refinement.
Suggestions: 1. Consider adding more variety to the conflicts and scenes to avoid repetition and keep the story fresh. 2. Tighten the dialogue to improve pacing and eliminate any unnecessary repetition. 3. Explore additional themes or subplots to add depth and complexity to the story. 4. Consider incorporating more visual storytelling elements to enhance the cinematic experience. 5. Develop secondary characters further to provide more depth and complexity to the overall narrative. 6. Consider exploring different settings or locations to add visual interest and variety to the story.

Note: This is the overall critique. For scene by scene critique click here

Characters in the screenplay, and their arcs:

Riggan Thomson

Riggan Thomson is a middle-aged actor and theater director who is struggling with his relevance in the industry. He is eccentric, with a dark sense of humor. He is driven and passionate about his work, but also vulnerable and insecure. He is a father who is trying to reconnect with his daughter, but his past mistakes haunt him and affect their relationship. He is haunted by the voice of his famous superhero alter-ego, which represents his past success and potential failure to live up to that image.


Sam is a strong-willed and sassy young woman with a strained relationship with her father. She is intelligent, ambitious, and somewhat naive. She is critical of her father's attempts to regain relevance and is disillusioned with the world. Sam is a recovering addict who is trying to find her place in the world, drawn to Mike's honesty and unafraid to confront him about his behavior.


Ralph is a complex character with a troubled past and intense emotions. He is both an actor and a theater producer, and later on in the movie, he appears as a lawyer. He struggles with dysfunctional love and delivers a disastrous performance in the production. Ralph is capable of confrontations and adding to Riggan's stress, but he also has moments of vulnerability.


Lesley is a woman who is characterized by her no-nonsense attitude. She's had a past relationship where she was abused and that has left her conflicted about what love is. She's strong-willed and unwavering in her pursuit of success. However, she's also vulnerable and emotional, particularly when it comes to the idea of achieving her dreams. As an actor, she's professional and dedicated to her craft.


Laura is a complex character who is seductive, captivating and intrigued by the concept of love and its complexities. She is Riggan's ex-wife and later his girlfriend, revealing her pregnancy which adds a mix of emotions and confusion to the story. She is introspective, supportive, understanding, a source of frustration, and is also revealed to not be pregnant, further complicating her relationship with Riggan. She is a supportive friend and actress, a calm presence in his life and adds to the conflict and tension in the story.


Jake is a driven and determined producer who values success above all else. He is resourceful and will stop at nothing to ensure the success of his productions. He is also fiercely loyal to his oldest friend, Riggan, and will do anything to help him overcome the challenges he faces.

Mike Shiner

Mike Shiner is a famous actor known for his inappropriate and reckless behaviour. He is arrogant, self-centered, and often disregards the consequences of his actions. He thrives on chaos and attention, and is unpredictable in his behaviour. Despite his flaws, he is incredibly talented and confident in his abilities. He challenges Riggan's approach to the play and causes conflict within the production.


Riggan is a troubled and emotionally vulnerable character who is grappling with his past trauma and the consequences of his actions. He is driven by a desire for love and validation, but his actions often lead to self-destruction. He is haunted by his past and carries deep emotional scars from it. Riggan is torn between his desire for success and his need for personal redemption, and his struggles with his identity and fears of failure are reflected in the voice of his alter ego, Birdman.


Sylvia is a strong, practical, and caring woman who is deeply invested in the well-being of her family and loved ones. She has a no-nonsense attitude and is not afraid to speak her mind, especially when it comes to Riggan's erratic behavior. Despite their rocky history, Sylvia still cares for Riggan and wants to see him succeed, but is frustrated by his choices and the impact they have on their daughter.

Character Arc Critique Suggestions
Riggan Thomson Riggan's character arc begins with his frustration and desperation to save his production, which he hopes will be his ticket to relevance and respect in the industry. However, as the chaos and conflicts mount, he becomes increasingly damaged and disillusioned. His interactions with Mike, who represents everything he hates about the industry, force him to confront his own insecurities and flaws. He ultimately reaches a breaking point and attempts suicide, but survives and reevaluates his priorities. He realizes that his relationship with his daughter is more important than his career, and he reconnects with her in a genuine way. He comes to terms with his past mistakes and learns to accept himself for who he is, separate from his alter-ego. The character arc for Riggan is strong and well-developed, but it relies heavily on his relationship with his alter-ego and his interactions with Mike. This can make the ending feel slightly contrived and forced, as his suicide attempt seems a bit extreme and out of character. It might be more effective to give more weight to his relationship with his daughter throughout the movie, so that his realization in the end feels more earned and organic.
One suggestion would be to have more scenes between Riggan and his daughter that show their strained relationship and the progress they make in repairing it. This could also highlight the contrast between his personal life and his professional life, which would make his decision to prioritize his daughter over his career more impactful. Another suggestion would be to introduce more subtle hints about Riggan's inner turmoil throughout the movie, so that his suicide attempt feels like a natural culmination of his character arc rather than a sudden turn.
Sam Throughout the movie, Sam goes from being detached and unfazed by the chaos around her to being more emotionally invested in her own desires and relationships. She confronts Mike about his behavior and begins to forge her own path in the theater world. Sam also reconciles with her father and begins to find a sense of purpose in her own life. While Sam's arc does show growth and development, it seems somewhat disconnected from the main plot of the movie. She is often relegated to a supporting role and her own struggles are not fully explored or fleshed out.
To improve Sam's arc, it would be beneficial to give her more agency and a stronger connection to the main plot. The movie could delve deeper into her struggles with addiction and her complicated relationship with her father. Additionally, the moments where she is present could be expanded to show her perspective and add more depth to her character.
Ralph Ralph's character arc involves facing his demons and coming to terms with his past. He starts off as a troubled actor who is struggling with his personal life. As the movie progresses, he takes on the role of a producer and a lawyer, which forces him to confront his issues head-on. His interactions with Riggan become more meaningful and help him gain a sense of closure. Ralph's character arc is well-developed and adds depth to the story. However, the transitions between his different roles could have been smoother. At times, it feels like he is a completely different character in each scene. Also, the audience could benefit from more backstory on his dysfunctional love life.
To improve Ralph's character arc, it would be helpful to provide more context on his past and explore his relationships further. Additionally, having more continuity between his different roles could make his development feel more natural.
Lesley Lesley starts off as a character who is focused on success and protecting her chances at making it on Broadway. She confronts Mike numerous times throughout the production, determined to protect the integrity of the play. However, as the story progresses, she becomes more emotionally vulnerable, struggling with insecurities and fears of not reaching her dreams. This culminates in a moment of strength as she confronts Mike one final time, showing both emotion and determination. The character arc for Lesley is well-constructed, showing her growth and development throughout the film. However, it could benefit from more specificity in terms of how she specifically changes as a person. Additionally, it would be interesting to see more depth in terms of her character beyond her interactions with Mike. While those moments are important for her arc, they shouldn't define her as a character entirely.
To improve Lesley's arc, it might be helpful to give her more personal interactions outside of her dealings with Mike. This could help to deepen her character and make her more relatable to audiences. Additionally, it could be helpful to show more moments of her vulnerability throughout the film, rather than just in the ending scenes. This could help to round out her character and make her arc more impactful.
Laura Laura's character arc is one of personal growth and acceptance. She begins as a mysterious and alluring character who is grappling with her past choices and the revelation of her pregnancy. As the story progresses, she becomes more introspective and supportive of Riggan, trying to help him navigate his struggles with the negative media attention and his own personal demons. However, she also contributes to the escalating tension and conflict in the story, further infuriating Riggan with her actions. In the end, Laura must come to terms with her own emotions and accept the consequences of her choices, ultimately finding peace and resolution. The character arc is well-structured and engaging, but it could benefit from more development in certain areas. For example, there could be more exploration of Laura's internal conflicts and motivations throughout the story, rather than just as plot points. Additionally, her character could be more fully fleshed out to better understand her role in the story beyond her relationship with Riggan.
To improve the character arc, the story could explore Laura's background and personal journey in more depth, perhaps through flashbacks or conversations with other characters. Additionally, her relationship with Riggan could be balanced with other relationships and interactions to give more complexity to her character and her role in the story. Overall, the arc is compelling, but could be enhanced with more attention to character development.
Jake Throughout the course of the movie, Jake starts off as someone who is solely focused on the success of the play. As he becomes more involved in Riggan's personal life and struggles, he starts to become more empathetic towards those around him. This is exemplified in his actions towards Mike, an actor in the play who is struggling with addiction. By the end of the movie, Jake has shown growth as a person, valuing his relationships with people more than just financial success. The character arc is well done, but it could have been more nuanced in its execution. There were moments where Jake's transformation felt a little rushed and could have used more time to develop. Additionally, the character could have been more flawed to make the transformation more impactful.
One way to improve the character arc would be to delve deeper into Jake's flaws and have him confront them throughout the movie. This would make his transformation more impactful and meaningful. Additionally, giving him more scenes where he's interacting with other characters aside from Riggan would help give the audience a better understanding of who he is as a person.
Mike Shiner Mike's character arc begins with his confident and confrontational attitude towards Riggan. However, as the play progresses, his behaviour becomes increasingly erratic and destructive, causing chaos and frustration among the other characters. He eventually reaches a breaking point when he gets drunk and humiliates himself on stage, leading to his firing from the play. This experience causes him to reflect on his actions and leads him to make amends with some of the people he has wronged. By the end of the movie, he has come to a place of humility and introspection, showing growth and maturity in his character. While Mike's arc does show some growth and development in his character, it feels somewhat rushed and underdeveloped. His transformation from an arrogant actor to a humble and introspective one seems too quick and abrupt. It would have been more effective if his transformation had been more gradual, with more moments of introspection and self-reflection.
To improve Mike's character arc, the movie could have shown more moments of inner conflict and self-reflection. This could have included a scene where he is forced to confront the consequences of his behaviour, or a moment of self-awareness where he realizes the impact his actions have on others. This would have made his transformation more believable and the movie would have been more impactful.
Riggan Throughout the movie, Riggan goes through a profound character arc as he navigates his way through his inner demons. He starts off as a former movie star trying to prove himself through a Broadway production. But as he faces the challenges of his production, his past catches up with him and he is forced to confront his fears of irrelevance and self-destruction. His journey is one of self-discovery and redemption, culminating in a powerful scene where he faces his demons and rises above them. In the end, Riggan finds clarity and a sense of purpose, as he realizes that his true power lies in his humanity, not his celebrity. The arc for Riggan is well-defined, but could benefit from more nuanced development. While his struggles are portrayed in a convincing manner, there could be more emphasis on his relationships with the other characters to build on his transformation. Additionally, the arc feels somewhat formulaic and predictable, lacking in unexpected twists and turns that might have made it more exciting to watch.
To improve Riggan's arc, the writer could explore his relationship with his daughter, Sam, more deeply. This could add a layer of complexity to his character and make his journey feel more personal. Additionally, the writer could create more ambiguity around his transformation. Perhaps there could be moments where Riggan questions whether he is really on the right path, or moments where he fails and has to pick himself up again. These moments of doubt and failure could make his transformation feel more earned and satisfying.
Sylvia Over the course of the movie, Sylvia starts out as Riggan's ex-wife but continues to support him through his struggles. By the end of the movie, she has become his girlfriend and is even more invested in his well-being. Through her interactions with Riggan, Sylvia learns to be more patient and understanding, and to prioritize her own needs in addition to those of her loved ones. While Sylvia is a strong and well-defined character, her arc feels somewhat minimal and predictable. Her relationship with Riggan progresses steadily throughout the movie, but there are few surprises or major twists to keep things interesting.
One way to improve Sylvia's character arc would be to explore her relationship with her daughter more deeply. In the movie, her concerns for Sam generally revolve around Riggan's behavior, but it would be interesting to see Sylvia grapple with other parental challenges and dilemmas. Additionally, creating more conflict within her relationships with Riggan could heighten the tension and provide more opportunities for character development.
Theme Theme Details Themee Explanation
Identity and Self-WorthThe screenplay explores Riggan's struggle with his identity and self-worth as an actor. He is constantly seeking validation and recognition, which leads him to make drastic decisions and question his own value.This theme is evident throughout the screenplay as Riggan's actions and conversations revolve around his need for love, validation, and success in his career.
Artistic Integrity vs. Commercial SuccessThe conflict between Riggan and Jake highlights the tension between artistic integrity and commercial success. Riggan wants to postpone the preview to ensure a quality production, while Jake is concerned about the financial implications and the need for a successful show.This theme is explored through Riggan's desire to create a meaningful piece of art and his struggle with compromising his artistic vision for the sake of commercial success.
Relationships and ConnectionThe screenplay delves into various relationships and the importance of human connection. Riggan's strained relationship with his daughter, his interactions with the other characters, and his search for love and validation all highlight the theme of relationships and connection.This theme is evident in the conflicts, conversations, and emotional moments between characters. It explores the impact of relationships on one's sense of self and the need for human connection.
Insecurity and Self-DoubtRiggan's constant insecurities and self-doubt are central to the screenplay. He questions his talent, his choices, and his worth as an actor, leading to drastic actions and a struggle to find confidence.This theme is explored through Riggan's internal monologues, conversations with other characters, and his alter ego, Birdman. It delves into the impact of insecurity and self-doubt on one's actions and sense of self.
The Illusion of Fame and SuccessThe screenplay challenges the notion of fame and success, highlighting the emptiness and illusion that can come with it. Riggan's pursuit of fame and validation is contrasted with the reality of his personal struggles and the fleeting nature of fame.This theme is evident in Riggan's interactions with other characters, his internal struggles, and the consequences of his actions. It explores the idea that fame and success may not bring true happiness or fulfillment.

Screenwriting Resources on Themes


Site Description
Studio Binder Movie Themes: Examples of Common Themes for Screenwriters
Coverfly Improving your Screenplay's theme
John August Writing from Theme

YouTube Videos

Title Description
Story, Plot, Genre, Theme - Screenwriting Basics Screenwriting basics - beginner video
What is theme Discussion on ways to layer theme into a screenplay.
Thematic Mistakes You're Making in Your Script Common Theme mistakes and Philosophical Conflicts
Goals and Philosophical Conflict
internal Goals The protagonist's internal goals evolved throughout the script, reflecting his deeper need for validation, success, and connection with others.
External Goals The protagonist's external goals evolved throughout the script, reflecting the immediate circumstances and challenges he faced as an actor in a theater production.
Philosophical Conflict The overarching philosophical conflict in the screenplay revolves around the tension between artistic integrity and commercial success, as well as the protagonist's struggle with self-acceptance and the search for meaning and purpose in life.

Character Development Contribution: The protagonist's evolving internal and external goals contribute to his character development by challenging his beliefs, values, and worldview. Through these conflicts, he is forced to confront his insecurities, fears, and desires for validation, success, and connection.

Narrative Structure Contribution: The protagonist's evolving goals and conflicts contribute to the narrative structure of the screenplay by creating tension, driving the plot forward, and shaping the protagonist's journey. They provide the framework for the protagonist's actions, decisions, and interactions with other characters.

Thematic Depth Contribution: The protagonist's evolving goals and conflicts contribute to the thematic depth of the screenplay by exploring themes of identity, self-worth, love, authenticity, success, and the pursuit of artistic integrity. They raise philosophical questions about the nature of art, the role of validation, and the search for meaning and purpose in life.

Screenwriting Resources on Goals and Philosophical Conflict


Site Description
Creative Screenwriting How Important Is A Character’s Goal?
Studio Binder What is Conflict in a Story? A Quick Reminder of the Purpose of Conflict

YouTube Videos

Title Description
How I Build a Story's Philosophical Conflict How do you build philosophical conflict into your story? Where do you start? And how do you develop it into your characters and their external actions. Today I’m going to break this all down and make it fully clear in this episode.
Endings: The Good, the Bad, and the Insanely Great By Michael Arndt: I put this lecture together in 2006, when I started work at Pixar on Toy Story 3. It looks at how to write an "insanely great" ending, using Star Wars, The Graduate, and Little Miss Sunshine as examples. 90 minutes
Tips for Writing Effective Character Goals By Jessica Brody (Save the Cat!): Writing character goals is one of the most important jobs of any novelist. But are your character's goals...mushy?