Analysis of Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Summary "Birdman" is a film about Riggan Thomson, a 55-year-old actor, who is attempting to reclaim his fame and prove his worth as both an actor and a director by producing a Broadway play. The film takes us through the chaotic and emotional journey of Riggan as he deals with his personal and professional life, including his relationship with his daughter, Sam, his co-stars, and the critics. The story is filled with dramatic moments, including Riggan's mental breakdowns, hallucinations, and ultimate suicide attempt, as he confronts his inner demons and struggles to find meaning and acceptance in his life.

Screenplay Story Analysis

Story Critique The story has a strong theme of identity crisis and the struggle to maintain artistic integrity. However, the plot feels scattered and lacks focus, with many subplots and characters that don't fully develop. Some of the scenes also drag on too long and could benefit from tighter editing.
Suggestions: To improve the screenplay, the writer could focus on developing a more cohesive plot that centers around Riggan's struggle to regain his artistic reputation. Some of the subplots could be cut or combined to better serve the central theme. There could also be more emphasis on character development, particularly with Riggan's daughter and his relationship with his ex-wife. Finally, the pacing could be improved by tightening up some of the scenes and cutting unnecessary dialogue.

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

Characters in the screenplay, and their arcs:


Sam is a young, sharp, and inquisitive woman who has a sarcastic edge. She works as Riggan's assistant and is a recovering addict who seeks human connection. She's a free spirit who is witty and confident on the outside but hides her insecurities behind her 'fuck up routine'. Her relationship with her father is complicated, as she disapproved of his actions at first but later sought validation and attention from him. She appears to be seeking her place in the world and fiercely defends her individuality and independence.


Riggan is a washed-up actor seeking artistic validation and struggling with his sense of self-worth. He is emotionally fragile and grapples with the pressures of financing the play and being a father. He is passionate about his vision but also selfish and reckless, causing conflict with those around him. He is caring towards his co-stars, but also has his own insecurities and doubts. He struggles with his mental and emotional state and seeks validation for his work. He is haunted by his past and battles with his sense of identity and reputation throughout the movie.


Lesley is a complex and multi-faceted character who undergoes a personal journey throughout the film. She is a strong and attractive woman who has experienced abuse in her past. She is a dedicated actress with a passion for her craft and a deep sense of empathy for those around her. She is highly emotional and vulnerable, but also capable of great strength and resilience. She struggles with her self-worth and a complicated relationship, but ultimately finds redemption and power through her own personal transformation.


Jake is a multifaceted character who serves as Riggan's producer and friend throughout the movie. He is practical and tries to bring financial stability to the play, but he also struggles with Riggan's erratic behavior. Jake is willing to compromise on artistic vision, but he also genuinely cares about Riggan's success. He appears upbeat and optimistic, but there are subtle hints that he is neglecting his personal life. These conflicts and contradictions make Jake a complex and relatable character.


Mike is a talented, unconventional, and troubled actor with a history of substance abuse and self-destructive tendencies. He is infatuated with the idea of meaningful art, yet nihilistic about the industry and self-promotion. He comes across as arrogant, disrespectful, and lacking in empathy, but also vulnerable and charismatic. He is a source of conflict and chaos throughout the story, challenging Riggan's abilities and priorities, antagonizing Lesley, and having an affair with Sam in secret.

Character Arc Critique Suggestions
Sam Throughout the movie, Sam goes through a transformation that starts with her resentful attitude towards her father's actions. As she continues to work with him and reconnect, she begins to see things from his perspective and feels proud and admiring of him. She also develops a romantic relationship with Mike, which challenges her to be more introspective about her actions and encourages her to take risks. Ultimately, she finds a sense of belonging and purpose through her work and relationships, becoming more confident and fulfilled. The character arc for Sam is compelling and well-executed, with realistic and consistent behavior throughout the film. However, some of the transitions from one stage to the next could be more clearly defined and supported by specific events or interactions. Additionally, although her relationship with Mike adds complexity to her character, it also distracts from her primary arc of finding her place in the world and seeking her father's approval.
To improve Sam's character arc, consider adding more specific and impactful events that lead to her transformation, such as a critical conversation with her father or a breakthrough moment in her acting career. Additionally, focus more on her personal growth and professional aspirations rather than her relationship with Mike, which could be scaled back or reevaluated to better serve the story.
Riggan Riggan transitions from an ambitious but jaded actor to a man who confronts his personal demons and ultimately decides to end his life. He desperately wants artistic validation and is grappling with the pressures of the theater and being a father. He is constantly battling with his own ego and insecurities. His explosive outbursts and volatile behavior make him an unreliable protagonist. However, he tries to comfort Lesley and show her that she is valued, indicating a softer side. In the end, he faces his deep-seated flaws and decides to end his life, a reflection of the toll that artistic ambition and a need for recognition can take on one's psyche. While Riggan's arc is emotionally powerful, it could benefit from more depth and subtlety. The constant focus on his inner turmoil and struggles can become repetitive and tedious. Additionally, his suicide could be seen as romanticizing mental illness and giving up on seeking help. Addressing these issues could make the character arc more well-rounded and responsible.
Consider exploring Riggan's relationship with his daughter more - their reconciliation feels rushed and underdeveloped. Expand on the pressures of financing the play and the conflict it causes within his relationships. Additionally, show Riggan actively seeking help for his mental health struggles, rather than ultimately relying on suicide as a solution. This can give a more nuanced exploration of mental illness and the importance of seeking help.
Lesley Lesley begins the film as a stressed-out Broadway actress, struggling to make it in a highly competitive industry. She has a difficult relationship with her boyfriend Mike, who is unreliable and abusive. As she becomes more involved in the play, Lesley begins to discover her own strength and resilience, taking on a leadership role as the producer and supporting those around her. She confronts Mike about his behavior and ultimately ends their relationship, marking a major turning point in her personal journey. As the play begins to fall apart, Lesley delivers a powerful monologue on love and loss, showcasing her vulnerability and depth as a character. She plays a crucial role in preventing Riggan from harming himself, demonstrating her bravery and commitment to her fellow actors. By the end of the film, Lesley has found a sense of peace and purpose in her life and has discovered her true worth as an artist and a person. The character arc for Lesley is well-developed and engaging, but could benefit from more complexity and nuance. While she experiences a significant personal transformation, her journey could be more fully explored and fleshed out. Additionally, some of her motivations and actions could be more clearly defined to better understand her character's choices.
To improve the character arc for Lesley, it could be helpful to delve more deeply into her past traumas and the impact they have had on her sense of self-worth. Additionally, her relationships with other characters could be further developed to enhance her motivations and choices. Finally, incorporating more humor and levity into her character could help balance out the heavier emotional moments and showcase her versatility as an actress.
Jake Throughout the movie, Jake serves as a sounding board for Riggan's issues and tries to keep the play running smoothly despite mounting obstacles. Jake initially values financial success over artistic vision, but he eventually becomes more invested in Riggan's success and starts to understand the importance of authenticity. He also confronts the issues in his personal life and comes to the realization that his constant focus on work has caused him to neglect the people he cares about. Jake ultimately learns to strike a balance between his professional and personal commitments, and he becomes a more well-rounded and fulfilled person as a result. The character arc for Jake is compelling and well-executed, but there could be more emphasis on his personal struggles and relationships. While he serves as a valuable foil to Riggan and provides a necessary perspective on the business side of theater, his personal life feels somewhat underdeveloped. Additionally, some of Jake's actions and motivations could be made clearer to the audience to enhance their understanding of his character.
One suggestion would be to include more scenes that focus on Jake's relationships with the other characters, particularly his family and romantic interests. This would flesh out his personal life and make his eventual realization about the importance of balance more impactful. Additionally, the script could provide more insight into Jake's motivations and feelings towards Riggan and the play, as this would help the audience understand why he changes his perspective over the course of the movie.
Mike Mike starts off as a talented and provocative but difficult and unpredictable actor who questions Riggan's abilities and causes chaos during the play's preview. As the story progresses, his character becomes more complex and revealed to be struggling with his own identity and trying to justify his behavior as a method actor. He becomes increasingly involved with Sam, leading to tensions and consequences. Towards the end of the movie, he acts as a voice of reason and discourages Riggan from taking his life, showing some growth and compassion. The character arc of Mike is somewhat disjointed and inconsistent, with his motivations and actions sometimes feeling unclear or arbitrary. While the portrayal of a troubled actor with both talent and self-destructive tendencies is intriguing, the character often comes across as more obnoxious than sympathetic. Additionally, some of the plot points involving his affair with Sam and his role in Riggan's final act seem contrived or underdeveloped.
To improve the character arc of Mike, it would be helpful to flesh out his backstory and motivations more fully, and to make the conflicts and relationships between him and other characters more organic and nuanced. Some of the scenes involving his behavior could be toned down or made more nuanced, while others could be given more depth or resonance. The resolution of his character arc could also be made more satisfying and convincing, perhaps by emphasizing his growth and learning from his mistakes.
Theme Theme Details Themee Explanation
Artistic Vision vs Commercial SuccessRiggan is struggling to balance his artistic vision with the need for commercial success in his new play. This conflict is evident through his clashes with Jake, his use of drugs, and his desire to go viral on the internet.This theme explores the tension between producing art for its own sake and creating work that will appeal to a larger audience or generate profit. It raises the question of whether the two can coexist or if they are mutually exclusive.
Mental Health and Self-DoubtThroughout the screenplay, Riggan grapples with his mental health, struggling with self-doubt, and considering suicide. His breakdowns and erratic behavior are a reflection of his fragile emotional state.This theme explores the effects of mental health on creative individuals and the challenge of coping with feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt. It highlights the delicate balancing act between achieving career success and maintaining mental wellness.
Family Discord and ReconciliationRiggan's relationship with his daughter, Sam, is a central focus of the screenplay. They are distant and estranged, but their shared experiences during the play's production bring them closer together.This theme explores the complexities of family relationships, including the struggle to connect with distant family members and the ability to forgive past wrongs. It emphasizes the role that shared experiences and a willingness to communicate play in reconciliation.
Sexuality and Power DynamicsThe play's production is marked by several instances of inappropriate sexual behavior, often characterized by power imbalances between the actors and crew.This theme explores the complex dynamics of power and sexuality in professional and personal relationships. It highlights the challenges of navigating sexual boundaries and the potential for abuse when power imbalances are present.
The Pursuit of Fame and LegacyThroughout the screenplay, Riggan is fixated on his pursuit of fame and legacy, as evidenced by his use of social media and his desire to leave a lasting imprint on the theater world.This theme explores the motivations behind the pursuit of fame and the desire to leave a lasting legacy. It raises the question of whether fame and legacy are worth sacrificing personal well-being and relationships for.

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