[Hypothetical Fables from Past Futures Pt. 4]
By Gregory JM Kasunich
In the Future every human being, man, woman and child, knows when they will die.
The technology had been a long time coming and, like most technology, evolved through a series of incremental innovations, becoming smaller, faster, and more socially accepted with every incarnation and update. Now, every new bouncing baby boy or girl is fitted with their very own, state-of-the-art, ineloquently named: Lifeline Predictive Bio-monitoring Unit. In most developed countries, this has become a legal requirement, similar to the public welfare and safety policies surrounding the legal implementation of seat belts, fluoridated water, and carbon monoxide detractors. The near ubiquitous nature of the unit is a result of law and common decency in an effort to reduce unhealthy lifestyles and suicides and increase lifespan and productivity.
The system consists of three parts: A thin film of silicon infused with flexible circuits grafted to the skin just behind the ear lobe that collects data points on UV radiation exposure, quality of sleep, stress levels, brain chemical ratios, and so on. A pellet, lodged next to the pancreas gathers information on enzyme releases, metabolic rates, internal organ function, and endless metrics related to diet and exercise. A wrist display attached to a powerful microcomputer processes the input from the sensors and comes with a customizable band that is available in several trendy colors and styles. Although the data can be sorted and filtered in any combination and rendered in beautiful, interactive, animated charts, most ignore the bulk of useful information collected on their bodies and instead focus on one, single, metric: the estimated elastic lifespan expectancy timeline, or as it has come to be known colloquially, “The Death Clock”.
Although the background computations handled by the processors are inscrutable, the concept of the Death Clock is seductively simple. Using the information on lifestyle and genetic makeup, barring unpredictable accidents and cellular anomalies, the computer calculates an estimated date and time of expiration. At first, this number was wildly inaccurate and was seen as little more than a digital bagatelle. Sundry complaints were lodged early on with users reporting that they had out outlived their clock by several years, while others, expecting a long and healthy life, where disappointed when met with an abrupt and unexpected stroke or heart attack or kindly failure. Then, of course, the requisite thought pieces appeared online with opinions on everything from privacy to reincarnation. Comedians mined the lack of precision for cheap amusement. A few people were inspired to finally take that vacation. Mostly, the clock was an afterthought, a half-baked beta feature tacked on to the ever trendy bio-monitoring gizmos that were becoming an increasingly common fashion accessory. Eventually, after years of user feedback, refinements, medical breakthroughs, and the formulation of an algorithm that in-andof-itself was a miracle of math and quantum computing, the clock went from a disregarded piece of cruft to an instrument that was so precise, so accurate, that it was able to zero in to a moment within minutes, sometimes seconds, of one’s demise.
There is one very important aspect to the Death Clock to understand. It does not simply spit out one, immutable, date and time of expected expiration. No, instead, the point of death is constantly shifting, adding and dropping days, years, minutes, and seconds like a capricious stock market ticker. In this way the Death Clock is more weathervane than timepiece. As changes occur to lifestyle and health, the clock adjusts to give the most accurate estimation as to when it is time to shuffle off this mortal coil. Perhaps a man turns forty and decides to resume that jogging routine, his time grows. Or perhaps a woman in Tacoma takes up smoking, the number pitches down sharply, slicing decades off the clock. An aging clerk in Munich quits that seething pool of cortisol and regret he calls a job, his number stretches over newly minted years. A pale teenage girl stands in the sun for too long, the number shrinks like a midday shadow. Every meal, every party, every sexual encounter, every vitamin, every sit up, snort of cocaine, meditation session, intramural sport, infection, illness and recovery all affect the clock. It is this mode of operation, this specific aspect of the functionality of the clock that has had an interesting effect on society. It turns out after a few generations of living and dying by the clock, people began to alter their lifestyle based on the clock and soon society divided up into a number of discernible groups with distinct and predictable traits. Sociologist have identified a few.
The Methuselites: The Methuselites approach the inevitable march into the sunset not as a foregone conclusion but rather as a challenge. Although they know that in the end Death will come to collect the debt all life owes from the moment of conception, they refuse to go quietly into that good night. Many Methuselites have a predilection for competition. They have an inane desire to achieve, to excel in the face of absurd, and seemingly unassailable odds. Within each Methuselite, there is a need to press up against the boundaries of the universe and leave an impression, proof of their existence. Several athletes become Methuselites, training their bodies to prevail in the face of the unrelenting, life-long, challenge of existence. Ex-Military, disciplined and driven, turn their attention to defeating the enemy of time. Wealthy iconoclasts, captains of industry, use their wealth to employ other to keep them floating above the unknowable depths of the great beyond, shielding them from any danger that might diminish their remaining time, the one commodity they cannot purchase or create. The Methuselites have lashed themselves to the prowl of time and have made outliving and outlasting all others their singular ambition in life. There even exists a record book containing the names of those who have lived the longest as well as a gold and emerald cup held by the most senior human of the lot. The unfortunate reality of living this way is that, most report, in the very final defeating moments, that it is not much fun. All the time spent staying alive, they had forgotten to truly live, to dance, to drink, to fall and rise again, to love others deeply, to sacrifice for a friend, to sleep in on a rain filled morning, to stay out way too late, to allow spontaneity and joy to seep into their tightly wound routines. They lingered the longest, filled with a sense of regret and victory as they watched others around them perish. But not them, not them, not them, until it was their turn, and then as they finally relent and take the first and last step across the great divide, they recognized the small glint of victory in the eyes of young Methuselites attending their bedside.
The Attenuates: The Death Clock has also been used as a barometer in ascertaining ones value in matters of vocation and heart. Applicants seeking a profession that requires specialized training are, legally, required to reveal the current readout of their clock during interviews. The justification being that a company cannot possibly be asked to invest time and money in a person who will not provide a decent return on investment. Those with a disappointing amount of time remaining are given simple, menial, jobs like scrubbing the perennially reappearing profanity laden graffito from the concrete facades of downtown high-rises or extremely dangerous jobs like installing seasonal decorations outside the top-floor balconies of said high rises. The Death Clock has also become an important instrument on the dating scene. One of the most attractive qualities in a mate is a huge set of digits on the readout display. That and of course wealth. Those lacking the longevity to see a relationship though to full term, but still desire love and physical intimacy, are relegated to certain clubs and online dating forums where causal hookups are permissible and generously available. So for those seeking to have it all, a decent job, a stable family, and a loving and committed partner, a significant amount of adolescence and formative years must be invested into building a good looking clock. Unfortunately, the strain and expectation of maintaining such an attractive timepiece causes many to become Attenuates later in life. The Attenuates numbers begin to decline once they have obtained the family, the job, and the life they wanted. They settle into a happy and fulfilling routine spending less time checking their clock and worrying about finding love or a decent job. They take pleasure in their frequent and filling meals. They exercise less, and in some instances begin to seek escape and release in clock-draining drugs and alcohol. Of course their numbers deteriorate, but they don’t seem to care, taking consolation in their achievements. When their diminished numbers are noticed, at work or at home, threats are made, arguments are had, and ultimatums are issued. For some, there just is no turning back, no way to reach down and find the motivation or change. For others, too much damage has been done to return to form. In this very common situation, Attenuates hire skilled forgers to generate a fraudulent display clock to falsify the numbers and allow The Attenuates to continue with the routine to which they have become accustomed. The ruse is rather advanced and generally avoids detection entirely. It is only when, after a light game of catch, a man unexpectedly falls to the ground clutching his chest in agony and dies, or, a seemingly healthy woman slips into a diabetic coma shortly after a round of sampling gelato that the sham is exposed. When questioned about their deception, most claim they just couldn’t chew and swallow the enormous bite of life the had bitten off when they young and hungry and wanted it all. But then they smile and do find solace in those all too fleeting, very-good years.
The Orpheuns: Most people spend a good deal of their lives avoiding death. This is not the intention of The Orpheuns. The Orpheuns seek out a high in the face of death. They look for Death in the corners of their homes, in frayed wired and sharp utensils. They search for it on the edge of cliffs, in cocktails of homemade narcotics, and on the rails of the subway. Whereas others attempt to curate a reasonable collection of decades, The Orpheuns derive their rush from watching their numbers plummet, careen towards zero, then at the last possible moment, joyfully wrenching themselves back onto the plateau of existence just out reach from the reapers boney grasp. Since the Orpheuns know they will die, they taunt the ferryman and find elation in riding the line between the warm light of life and the eternal night. What could be more exhilarating that staring into the visage of death and denying him, peaking for a moment into the prohibited oblivion without falling into the abyss? Of course, when one pushes into the abyss, the abyss pushes back, and many Orpheuns have met an anachronistically untimely death in the pursuit of their high. They miscalculate when to throttle back and end up incinerated, squashed, dismembered, deceased. All too often, Orpheuns witness their compatriots in carelessness suddenly depart and swear off their reckless behavior, only to find hours later with a purloined set of defibrillator paddles or a Percocet Pimm’s Cup attempting to scratch the incessant itch. For The Orpheuns the larger the number on their clock the more they feel trapped by the tyranny of possibility. With time comes expectation, disappointment, decision and responsibility. With life comes grief and hardship and compromise and boredom. By living in the moment, pressed against the now and the hereafter, The Orpheuns fill their days with excitement and elation, avoiding the useless business of societies expectations and regulations. What The Orpheuns failed to discover is that in their attempt to feel something, anything, and avoid the true stuff of life, they miss out on the joy of ice cold water in mid-July, the smell of their newborn in their arms, the soaring tones of a Stradivarius, the serenity of an undisturbed hammock. They have traded away a lifetime of joys, a sum greater than its parts, for temporary and fleeting moment of manufactured enlightenment. That being said, they do seem to enjoy it.
The Purgers: As with any technology there will be those who distrust it, who will level accusations of surreptitious government espionage, of insidious societal undermining, of unknown serpentine corporate interests, and want no part of it. These are The Purgers. It would be fair to say that although not unified by cause they do agree on outcome; the eradication of technology from the body. Some cite religious reasons, believing that their god or their selected coterie of deities never intended for humans to enhance their given vessels with technology. Commentators have questioned weather or not it was hypocritical to get tattoos, piercings, and cosmetic surgery, to which the religious detractors often reference some selected scripture or psalm to justify their contradictory behavior. Some are burdened by anxiety. The precognitive knowledge of their own death is enough to cripple individuals of a certain constitution. Still others feel they never were given opportunity to opt out as an infant and do not want to be saddled with the decisions of their parents. This type of revelation usually comes about around the time they leave for university. People have objected to the The Estimated Elastic Lifespan Expectancy Timeline on the grounds of woman’s rights, human rights, information overload, techno-slavery, fear of cancer, fear of surveillance, genetic injustice, denial, and many, many others. Ultimately, The Purgers all come to the same conclusion: the Death Clock and all of it’s components must be purged from the body and destroyed. Several illegal clinics have cropped up, housed inconspicuously inside false storefronts, abandoned shipping centers, and a myriad of other brick, steel, and mortar hosts where they can operate unmolested by the government. These clinics vary in cleanliness and quality and many are fly by night operations taking advantage of those without the means of legal repercussion. The better ones often end up getting uncovered and shut down for attracting too much positive word of mouth. Some Purgers attempt back yard procedures, dubbed Autotechnodectomy on themselves. These amateur internet-taught surgeons generally end up doing more harm than good to themselves and are ostracized for their crude and highly visible scarring. But, for the most part, barring any unfortunate infections or mishaps during the procedures, Purgers go on to lead fairly normal lives. They do tend to end up in the hospitals a bit more often, they do perish unexpectedly, and they do admit that if they had just known about this cyst or that blood disease they might have enjoyed a little bit more time in the body they suffered to reclaim.
The Glancers: Then there are the Glancers; a somewhat marginalized group of people who elect to focus their energy on quality, rather than quantity, of time. So named for their tendency to lazily glance at their clocks with an infuriating indifference. They are viewed as a feckless and voluntarily ignorant bunch, interested more in allowing their attention to dwell on the salty-sweet fragrance of a late dawn marine layer than the annoying reality of reduced visibility impeding the rest of the world’s morning commute. While others pull their weight, toiling to serve the community at large and build a better future, The Glancers remain intentionally myopic. Their vision shortened to the immediate present. They float through society, avoiding politics, competition, and arguments, achieving nothing of significance, refusing to wear any of the various shades of need and desire that consume the more driven elements of modern life. When they are sick, they seek medical council. When struck with hunger, they eat. When amorous, they make love. They meet their needs but do not exceed them. In times of suffering and joy it is common to witness them checking their wrist more frequently. When hurting, perhaps they are hoping the number will mercifully drop. In times of joy, their faces betray their astonishment and despair at how little time remains. There is a resignation about these people, an acceptance of what cannot be stopped and a quiet celebration of what remains. Their names cannot be found in history books. Their faces will never be rendered in marble or steel. Their stories are only told to each other. Their lives small and simple and mostly serene. They have been accused of missing out, and in many, many, the accusations ring true, The Glancers do miss out. They never feel the pride and election of crossing the finish line first, or winning the heart and hand of someone out of their league. They never retire home, full of sweet soreness after a long day worked at a hard-won vocation. They never get the rush or thrill of testing the limits of life. They never know the freedom of being devoid of technology or information.
For all the things The Glancers miss out on, they do gain one thing; a special kind of peace, a happiness derived not from what is missed but from what is gained by making friends with persistent specter of death. A calm and fulfillment only felt after inviting him in for tea, calling Death your friend, and allowing him to sweeten the bitter root of life.
By Gregory JM Kasunich
Today I learned a word:
Neurasthenia – now arcane and obsolete
And yet I found it resonant,
(A root?) (A seed?) deep inside of me
It’s definition- ill defined,
It’s practice- out of time,
An embarrassment on the books.
(like blood letting or phrenology)
But I was drawn to it vagueness
Its lassitude, its weightiness
To plumb and mine that consternation
deep inside of me–
So I wonder if in our haste
to refine and define with precision and grace
all such abnormalities, we have laid to waste those
unfounded insights from physicians of long gone centuries
perhaps- (back then) before the DSM, there was a word
[Hypothetical Fables from Past Futures Pt. 3]
Gregory J.M. Kasunich
In the future, it has been discovered that the planet Earth, the planet on which humanity ascended from whatever evolutionary predecessors and remained persistently tethered (aside from brief and expensive sojourns beyond the protective membrane of the atmosphere to neighboring planets and moons), in what was once perceived to be the vast and expanding singular universe, is nothing more or less than a simple, mere, organ; a functioning, living viscus in a vast, celestial, four dimensional (and rather incomprehensible) creature. A series of connected tissues, as it were, functioning together to serve, in some yet unknown and perhaps unknowable way, a Being (A creature that would in time become christened by scientists and theologists as The Celestial Host, or more colloquially, The Being) constructed from the fabric of space and time in very much the same way the cells and tissues and organelles comprise our very own human bodies.
The discovery, as discoveries of this magnitude often do, came on slowly and was the result, not of direct study, but rather an almost throw-away notion proposed by the then young Dr. Stanley Johannes Stemrike. A suggestion that was at the same time both a hypothetical assertion proffered as an attention seeking thought experiment to his fellow matriculates (a stunt often pulled by publication seeking students) and also as the semi-serious solution to a long standing unsolved universal model, a model that was, as it came to be discovered, only partially explained by the completion of The Standard Model of Particle Physics. Of course, as these things go, he was initially, and some still say rightfully so, largely ignored and ridiculed in equal parts from the armchair intelligentsia as well as the more venerable names of educational/research establishments in science and medicine and cosmology and philosophy. Soon the theory was turned over and thoroughly tumbled by the collected thoughts, opinions, and contributions of The Internet as well as academia. So, like a stone pummeled by the relentless deluge of a water fall, the thoughts and ideas surrounding the original assumption were polished into a noticeable and unavoidable splendor. The evidence was compiled and finally, after decades and decades, the idea was once again offered up as scientific explanation. Within the century, after the development of necessary technologies including but not limited to fourth dimensional probes, instruments of Planck length, near light travel, and so on, it was concluded, beyond even the darkest shadow of a doubt, that the Earth was in fact an organ. An organ in The Celestial Host and weather or not it was the raison d’être humanity would have wanted, it was nonetheless, a true purpose, the true purpose of existence. The elusive question of the Meaning of Life had been answered.
In the public presentations of this information, information which as one might expect is still hotly debated and contested by the vast majority of humanity, the most relatable method for understanding how this planet functions is through the apt analogy of our own bodies. Of course these presentations were not performed by Dr. Stemrike, who had at this point had been deceased for the better part of two centuries. No, audiences were generally elucidated by any number of scientists, philosophers, preachers, and self proclaimed life coaches who had taken up the cause. What follows is the distillation of a number of these talks collected and generalized for expressed didactic purposes of conveying the ideas though metaphor:
“The human body, our bodies, are at the very basic level, carbon. Carbon that has been pushed and pulled and bullied and arranged by any number of predictable and universal forces in order to assemble the complex network of human life. Now, the same exact principles that are at play in our bodies are also at play on a macro a micro level as well. The governing forces, chemical reactions, proteins, electrons, protons, neurons and so on are the same from elephant to amoeba. In this way we can first begin to understand that size is indeed relative. What may seem small to us mere humans, may be universally massive to a microscopic critter. In the same way, we, as creatures of a certain size, may be rather imperceptibly small to a being of such size and significance and multidimensionality as The Celestial Host. Although the creature of which we, and our planet, are a part of is quite, quite, large, the same principles apply to The Being as to our bodies. For example, the veins and arteries that carry cells and nutrients and pathogens and viruses and so on are the same as the rivers and streams and roads and footpaths and highways of our world, all carrying organisms of varying complexity to and fro. The rock and soil and moss and grass: the epidermis, the atmosphere: the protective membrane surrounding the fragile tissue of the organ. Air and water are the plasma in which all living creatures are dissolved. Words and mating calls and speeches and professions of love, all just signals sent between cells.
If one was to examine a human cell, one would find a series of smaller organs, or organelles, within that cell. In this way, each human, is like a cell in the body of The Celestial Host. Whereas our cells contain endoplasmic reticulum, (rough and smooth) lysosomes, mitochondria and so on, we have lungs and livers, and hearts. Our cells have a nucleus, we have a brain. If we are cells, our organs are the organelles. And just like cells in our bodies, there are many different kinds, some harmful and some helpful. For example the vast majority of creatures on planet earth are like red blood cells, going here and there, eating, changing food to energy, creating waste that breaks down back into the matter that is the earth. We carry air and liquid from place to place. We reproduce creating copies upon copies upon copies of ourselves, just like cells. For most of us, for a long time, our impact has been minimal, forgettable, and brief. Servicing without knowing (the same way our cells don’t “know” they are servicing us, but rather are programed from the moment of their creation to do what they are created to do), and eventually, inevitably, dying and becoming, just like our own excrement, part of the organ, part of the Earth, a resource to be recycled and reborn.
“There are of course other types of people with analogous human cells. Thinkers, philosophers, teachers, and certain engineers and politicians. These are the neural cells. These cells (people) are responsible for solving issues of communication and transportation, they pass on information. The historians: keepers of memory. These cells together create projects (thoughts) and execute them to either great service to the Earth or to great destruction. These cells ultimately work to disseminate information and develop new ways for survival and efficiency. At times these cells govern large bodies of people in order to keep them organized and safe and operational.
“Another type: Doctors, hospice workers, caregivers, surgeons, acupuncturists, massage therapists, mental health professionals. Even some police officers, fire fighters, paramedics, FEMA workers, UNICEF fund raisers, garbage collectors, plumbers, environmentalists, and gardeners all work in a similar way to white blood cells, scrubbing and cleaning the organ of disease, of harmful factions of humanity. Removing sickness, repairing cells, and arterial waterways, planting new trees, staving off the crusty scab of pavement, removing tumors of flesh and steel. Plants themselves act as a giant liver, cleaning the air so that metal can be oxidized and broken down and digested by the earth.
There are of course pathogens and cancers. Murders and rapists, slumlords and abusers, methadonians and chemists creating compounds of death and addiction. Slave owners. Human trafficers. Torturers. Developers that scar the land, slash down forests, frack the stone hills, and pile temporary homes of planned obsolescence upon the earth like a slowly spreading psoriasis. All the factors that now have become the rote declarations of those attempting to save the organ are in fact in a very real way, brining the eradication of our species closer and closer to reality.
“It has been shown The Celestial Host has taken some measures to ensure the continuing functionality of our planet. Fires, floods, genocides, earthquakes, eruptions of ash and magma, comets and meteoroids, tsunamis, anything that has reduced the population of the planet significantly is less a natural disaster than a planetary colonic (floods), a dose of acetaminophen (fires), of universal scratch of an itch (earthquakes), or a cosmic chemo treatment (nuclear war). Yes, as with any medicine, its administration comes at a cost. Many good and healthy cells (humans) may be killed off in the process, but the intention is always for the greater good. To stave off long term injury to the organ. To continue functionality and survival.
“At this point, most begin to understand the analogy, however loose it may seem at times it is still the best analogy we have, and therefore further exploration of the topic can be undertaken on a personal level or through attendance at further seminars delving deeper into the subject of The Corporeal Nature of The Universe. But if the audience will allow a small aside, a moment of warning usually reserved for endless debates by talking head pundants, it bears stating that all the current research, the analysis of trends, tides, frequency of natural and “man made” disasters, rate of population growth and the rate in which we are expending natural resources, the temperature of the planet (organ), the extinctions of species, the accumulation of non-compostable produces collecting like an artificial contentment in the sea, the murder rate, the methane levels produces by factory farms, has all lead the greatest minds to the conclusion, not the assumption mind you, but the conclusion that our organ (planet) is in an aggressively malignant state. It cannot and will not sustain. Universally speaking, it seems that whatever larger purpose our planet served, it now, and for some time now, has been doing more harm than good to The Celestial Host. It stands to reason that sometime in the murky and unknowable future, the likelihood that our planet will be biopsied, found to be beyond reparable state, and excised from The Celestial Host in some kind of Earth-ectomy is imminent. Perhaps we have always been some vestigial rock, some potentially tumorous mass just waiting to cause enough pain to be given proper medical attention and removed from existence as mysteriously as we had arrived. So, as the intention of this presentation is not to leave you all in a state of doomsday panic or existential crisis, all that can be said it this. Know that you had a purpose, that you served in someway or another a much high power. Know that your comings and goings, the love you shared, the children you bore, the thoughts you wrote down and mused over on late nights with friends, the kindness you showed, the flowers your cultivated, the pet you kept, the things you learned, the time you had all was meaningful, and hopefully, in some way or another extended to life of this planet even a moment longer so that one last kiss could be given, one last sunrise witnessed, or one last moment of awe experienced. It was because of you, because of us we will not go lonely into the night, but together ride the vessel of our world into the quiet depths on the unknown.”
By Gregory J. M. Kasunich
[Please note, the following article is a look at the final scene of BIRDMAN, it will contain SPOILERS.]
Shortly after the credits rolled and the lights came up and the combination exhilaration/exhaustion wore off on Alejandro González Iñárritu’s BIRDMAN, the question everyone seemed to be asking themselves, and each other was, “What is the deal with Emma Stones final gaze upwards into the heavens after Riggan, her father, the once titular Birdman, jumps through the window?”
Yesterday, David Chen, of the fantastic site Slashfilm, posted an article called Let’s Talk About the Ending of ‘Birdman’ where he examines the final scene of the film. The article contains a nice lead up and exploration of the scene. Since he does a great job of setting up the scene and making his case, I won’t repeat what he wrote. That being said, with regards to the final moments of the picture, he had this to say:
“Thus, I posit that the very last shot of the film is Innaritu’s way of joining the metaphorical/imagined with the real. Riggan still can’t fly, nor does he actually jump out a window in that last scene. The movie is just conveying that for the first time, Sam is seeing her father the way he sees himself.”
It’s a great article and it worth a read, but after seeing the film [full disclosure: unlike Scott Tobias of The Dissolve, I loved it] I’ve had some time to think about it, the ending in particular and I figured I would weigh in here with my interpretation of the final, and seemingly divisive, scene of BIRDMAN.
Since so much has already been written about this picture I’ll cut to the case: I believe that Riggan’s life, and career, ends abruptly on stage after he fires a bullet (from an almost literal Chekhov’s gun) into his skull. Therefore, what this means is that the final scene, as Riggan astonishingly, miraculously, unbelievably awakes in a hospital bed, actually takes place in a heaven-like afterlife where Riggan finally achieves a soupçon of all that yearned for in the penultimate days of his tortured existence.
First, let’s look at the cinematic language employed by Alejandro González Iñárritu to hint at this conclusion at least in terms of editorial and photographic continuity. Prior to Riggan’s self inflicted gunshot wound the film is presented in one, seemingly continuous, take planting the audience firmly in Riggan’s headspace and subjective perspective. This is Riggan’s story, which is reinforced by the fact that, although the camera does wander away from Riggan, from time to time, in order to train its unrelenting eye on other members of the ensamble, it is the narration and hallucinogenic/telepathic manifestations only inside of Riggan’s head to which the audience is granted narrative access. The camera never cuts away from this continuous take, that is, until Riggan fires the gun and drops to the stage, only then does the film waver and cut, multiple times, to a fever dream of images, and ultimately to a tilt skyward towards the light.
A bit on the nose? Maybe, maybe not. Speaking of noses, when Riggan does awake in the impossible hospital his face is now covered in gauze which strikingly resembles the cowl of his alter ego Birdman. He is informed, by what may be his only friend and exasperated lawyer, Jake, that he survived the ordeal due to the fact that when Riggan fired the gun he had missed his head and instead just blasted off his nose, and that this, in fact, is a good thing.
During the film he twice expresses concern over being overshadowed on the front page of the newspaper. First after lamenting the fact that if he had perished during a flight he shared with George Clooney, it would have been Clooney’s face on the front page not his. And again, after he is upstaged by Edward Norton, it is Norton’s face printed on the front page of the paper, not Riggan’s regardless of the fact that it was Riggan’s idea, investment, etc. But now, in the hospital room, Jake shows him the newspaper, its font page plastered with Riggan. The newpaper itself containing even more incredible news. The review that was promised to end his career, and perhaps another reason he killed himself, never materializes, instead he receives an incredible review validating his choices, applauding his bravery on stage, not his cowardly exit from life. There’s more. His ex-wife, whom he still loves, is there by his bedside. Earlier we see him regretting cheating on her so much so that he attempts suicide, another hint that Riggan is all to ready to kill himself when he can’t emotionally handle the consequences of his choices. Also, let’s not forget to mention the play is a hit, the television spits images of people from all over praying for him and lighting candles, his celebrity restored, his money troubles over, all stacked together it sounds absurd, and it is, unless you look at it as if this is a version of Riggan’s nirvana.
In his final moments, alone in the room, he pulls of the bandages and looks at his new face while Birdman, in full spandex, watches from the toilet. This suggests that perhaps, even though Birdman will always be a part of him, a part of his legacy and identity, that in death Riggan is able to remove the mask, to assume a new face, a new identity, and demote Birdman, the public version of him anyway, to the crapper. Riggan then leaves the bathroom, steps through the window of his hospital room (a metaphor for purgatory if there ever was one) and leaps.
Which brings us to Sam, his daughter, who enters the room, goes to the window, first looks down, then up as a strange smile creeps across her face. Earlier, Sam blasts Riggan with one of the more scathing speeches in the film. She runs her father straight through with a barrage of pellets seething with every emotion she has felt for her father; anger, disgust, exasperation, and honesty. But now, she arrives with flowers that are anything but the not-so-passively-aggressively delivered roses (a flower which Riggan hates) she gives him earlier in the film, only this time he smell them (due to the nose he shot off to spite his aging face.) They share a tender moment, things are now better than they have ever been in the past. After Sam comes back into the room and looks out the window I believe she does see her father, unbound by his earthy burdens, free to fly as he always imagined he could.
In this way Riggan goes out completely on his own terms. Yes, maybe this was not the ideal ending to his story, but it surely is one fitting of his character.
by Gregory J. M. Kasunich
He said he liked me, and that was enough.
He said he loved me, and that was enough.
He said he’d die for me, and that was enough.
He was dying, but not for me. He said it was normal to die.
He said everyone does it sooner or later. He failed to make me laugh.
I always laugh at his jokes, but not this time.
Amongst the miles of tubing surrounding him, running through him, filling and draining him I sat, unmoving and silent. Silent so I could hear the hiss and beep of the machines that kept his lungs moving inside his fragile chest. The machines: more alive than him. I sit so still, so very still and train my eyes to hold back, to stop from leaking their salty drops onto his cloudy cellophane skin, so pale it’s almost transparent.
He coughs and it rattles every bone like the bean shakers we used to make in school. Two paper plates and some hard beans stapled inside. We would make music together, late nights on the porch when the sky was an endless pool of ink, and the stars swam in nothingness. He would sing to me and I would sake the bean shaker and we would laugh until the sun scattered the stars from the sky and we awoke to find morning dew in our hair. We still make music. The heart monitors the metronome. The tubes, guitar strings. And he is the bean shaker.
It’s fast. One day, two weeks, three months, four years and your married. Studio apartment, two-bedroom apartment, a condo, a house and you have made a home. More than brick and mortar and carpet and pipes, it’s a home and it smells like your mothers cookies baking in the oven. And it smells like the pine tree in you grandfathers garden. The one he would take you under and tell you you were the queen of England, and this was your palace made of wood and bark and innocuous needles safe enough to touch. And it smells like him, like musk and man. And it smells like home. It is home. He works at nights and silently slinks in at four-thirty in the morning and I stay awake just to smell him. To touch him with soft hands and kiss him, inebriated on sleep and moving on instinct, I could see his smile with my eyes closed. I would wake up and he would still be lost in sleep and I would sit on the bed, unmoving, as not to shorten his slumber. Like a child he slept then, swimming in peaceful lucidity, and I watched losing myself in his tranquility and matching my breaths to his. And when he woke, breakfast would be there, right there where he liked to sit and eat, and everything would be covered in maple syrup, just the way he liked it and we were happy.
And the nurse says five more minutes. And the tin can intercom pages another doctor to the E.R. or O.R. And his eyes flutter open and then closed. And I know he is using all the strength he has to hold open his lids for just one more… one more… one more moment. I want to shout at him. Just tell him to stop, to fucking stop this dying shit. Tell him to come back home and I’ll make meatloaf like I promised that one night. The night you told me you missed you mother and I spent all day learning the recipe. I want to tell him to save his strength, to rest, but I can, the words lodge themselves in my throat, they cling to my uvula and dribble back down my trachea. I can’t because I know the moment those lids close might be the moment I never see his deep chocolate eyes again.
And gone, before the morning sun would finish rising. He would work so hard. I could see it in his hands and in his face. Once soft and radiant, now a little harder and a little duller. Each day, little by little, until his skin was textured like soft leather. You’re going to make yourself sick, I would say and he would scoff and tense his muscles, his strong arms, to prove his invincibility. The arms that used to hold me up. The arms that could hold the weight of the world, the weight of the universe and more, now crippled and useless, atrophied arms sprouting out of his emaciated torso like saplings covered in gossamer sheets. So withered and thin I turn off the oscillating bedside fan as to prevent the swaying gusts from unhinging his insubstantial arms. And he never complained. Tired and sore. Beat and battered. Aching and exhausted. Never a complaint. He would come to bed and smile, and when I asked why, he would say, because I love you, and that’s enough.
Two jobs to buy me the house, the house on Great Lakes Drive. The yellow one, like the sun, like flowers, so bright it leaked yellow beyond the shingles and into the neighborhood. The one you smile at because you know someone happy lives inside. Two jobs and two mortgages and two parents-in-law. He had everything to hate, but it wasn’t in him. Even then, looking at the house that would be our home, my heart swelled and though I never believed in God, I thanked him anyway. It was those years that made it worth it, it was only five years, but it would never be enough. An eternity would never be enough. After the stars burned themselves out, and the skies spilt themselves back into nothingness, I could still lay with him. But not now, the doctor said two months, maybe. Maybe. Maybe.
The years of good keep me here, watching him waste away to nothing. The years of hope and joy and love hold me to his bedside as he become less and less of the man I knew and more and more a corpse. And I would stay here forever and watch him die for everything he had been, for everything he had given. I sold the house, to pay the medical bills. I started working to feed the unborn child he does not even know is growing inside of me. I cry more tears than I knew I had, and some nights in the small apartment I run out of tears and dry sobs keep me conscious. And that is enough.