or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
NOTE: This spoiler was submitted by Mike
What appears to be booster rockets from a space shuttle shoots through the sky.
Everything from here until the final scene is designed to look like one continuous shot.
Interior: St. James Theatre
Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) is sitting cross legged floating a few feet about the ground in his dressing room. The voice of Birdman, seemingly coming from a Birdman movie poster, taunts him. The voice tells him he’s a has been and should never have quit making Birdman movies. He hates it in this small, dirty dressing room that “smells like balls”. Riggan is a washed up actor trying his hand at live theatre after walking away from a superhero franchise playing Birdman. Riggan gets a video call from his assistant/daughter Sam (Emma Stone). She’s at a flower shop and they don’t have the kind of flowers her dad wants. He just wants the kind that smells good. He hates roses. Over the PA, Riggan is called to stage for rehearsal.
On his way to the stage, Riggan’s manager, best friend and play producer Jake (Zach Galifianakis) voices concern about Riggan starring in, writing and directing a play based on Raymond Carter’s “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”. Apparently, one of the actors Ralph (Jeremy Shamos) isn’t very good. Riggan goes to the stage where the other actors are already waiting in a kitchen scene. There are Lesley (Naomi Watts), Ralph and Laura (Andrea Riseborough). During the scene, Riggan looks up to the lighting grid and then one of the lights falls right on Ralph’s head, knocking him out of consciousness and the play.
They need to find a replacement. Lesley suggests famous theatre actor Mike (Edward Norton) who she “shares a vagina with”. Riggan goes back to his dressing room and Jake tells him to prepare for an afternoon of interviews. The interviewers are more interested in gossip and Riggan’s lapsed career than they are in talking about the play. Later that night, Riggan goes back to the stage to meet with Mike.
Mike is a very intense method actor. He breaks down each line of dialogue with Riggan and agrees to do the play. Sam takes Riggan to costuming there he strips naked in front of her. Lesley comes in, doesn’t realize Sam is behind a rack of clothes and tells Mike to put on clothes because he shouldn’t be naked in front of Riggan’s drug addict degenerate loser daughter. Sam reveals herself and leaves. Lesley is embarrassed and yells at Mike.
Laura tells Riggan that they’re pregnant and he fakes (poorly) being happy. She catches it and leaves in a huff. Jake tells Riggan that Mike is way over their budget, but Riggan says he’ll pay for him himself. Jake is also helping the production avoid a lawsuit from Ralph by threatening to tell the press about odd porn Ralph is into.
The play starts its preview performances. Mike decides to drink real gin on stage. The stage manager tells Riggan just as he’s about to enter, so he ends up casually switching the real gin with prop gin. During Riggan’s monologue, Mike realizes his gin was swapped out and he breaks the scene, in front of the packed house to yell at Riggan for not committing to the performance and the characters.
Riggan calls for the curtain to drop and he and Mike get into an argument. Riggan tells Mike that his heart went into this production and he doesn’t need him fucking it up. Mike tells Riggan that he’s just a movie star and has no right to be on Broadway in the first place. Riggan tells Jake that he wants Mike fired, but Jake points out that since Mike was brought on, presell tickets have gone through the roof. Mike can’t leave.
Riggan’s ex-wife Sylvia (Amy Ryan) was in the audience. She goes to Riggan’s dressing room to see how he’s doing. He tells her that he refinanced their Malibu home to help pay for the play. She’s upset because that was supposed to be Sam’s home one day.
Riggan tells Mike he wants to talk to him outside. Riggan tells Mike that he has a lot riding on this play and he feels that Mike resents him because he’s popular. Mike tells him that “popularity is the slutty little cousin of prestige”.
They go to a nearby bar and Riggan tells Mike that the reason this play is so important to him is because when he was much younger he did a play and afterwards Raymond Carter sent him a complimentary note on a napkin. Mike points out that it’s on a bar napkin and he was drunk at the time. It doesn’t mean anything. He also tells him that previews are a chance to get to know the work and the only show that matters is opening night and the only opinion that matters is at the end of the bar. It’s theatre critic Tabitha (Lindsay Duncan). Her review will make or break a play. On Broadway, no one cares about a washed up movie start like Riggan Thomson. On cue, a family asks Mike if he’ll take their picture with Riggan because they’re huge fans.
On his way out Mike stops to taunt Tabitha. She asks if he’s worried she’ll give him a bad review. He says he knows she will as soon as he gives her a bad performance. Mike also tells Tabitha that he feels that Riggan is legit.
During the second play preview things go better than they get to the finale where Riggan’s character catches Mike’s character in a hotel bed with Lesley’s character. Unfortunately, as they’re about to do the scene Mike tells Lesley that he’s erect and tells her they should have sex for real on stage in front of everyone. He starts to try to have sex with her as the scene begins. Riggan’s character bursts on stage and points a gun at them. Mike jumps out of bed and reveals to everyone a massive erection. Riggan continues with the scene and delivers his final monologue as the audience laughs at Mike’s penis. He tells them that he realizes he’s nothing now and then he shoots himself in the head. Everyone cheers and the play is finished. Everyone bows and it’s a success.
Lesley is upset. Riggan goes to her dressing room and tells her that she’s brave and wonderful. Laura is there and afterwards tells Lesley that she’s hurt that in all the time she’s been with Riggan, he’s never said anything nearly that nice to her. Laura and Lesley end up kissing.
Riggan is still angry at Mike. Mike tells Riggan to get a better gun because the prop gun has a red tip and he doesn’t find it realistic enough to intimidate him. Mike goes to the roof to smoke and runs into Sam. They play truth or dare. She comes on to him, but he reveals that getting the erection on stage was the first erection he’s had in a long time. He doesn’t thing he could perform even if he wanted to. She asks what he would like to do to her if he could. He says he’d like to pop out her eyes and see the city through her young naïve eyes. She gets mad and leaves.
The next day the newspaper runs a piece about the play. There’s a front page interview with Mike where he takes ownership of the story about Raymond Carter seeing him perform and sending back the note. There’s a tiny blurb deeper in the paper mentioning Riggan. Riggan trashes his hotel room and the Birdman poster using mental telepathy. Riggan is pissed and goes to Mike’s dressing room where he finds Mike tanning. He drags Mike into a cafeteria area and they fight.
They do the play, Riggan sees Mike and Sam canoodling. He decides to go outside for a cigarette before he has to do his final scene. Unfortunately he locks himself out of the theatre and he bathroom gets stuck in the door. So he has to walk around to the front, through all the people on Broadway, dressed only in his underwear. He reenters the theatre and takes the stage from the back of the house and walks through the audience in his underwear pointing his finger like a gun. A crew member hands him a prop gun and they finish the scene.
After the show, Riggan goes to the bar again and runs into Tabitha. He takes a drink over to her and starts to tell her the story of the Raymond Carter napkin. She says she doesn’t care. She’s going to bury his play tomorrow because she has no respect for movie stars who want to pretend to be real actors. He tells her he is an actor and she corrects him by telling him that he’s just a celebrity.
Riggan gets drunk and passes out on the street. The next morning he wakes up and starts walking down the street with conviction. The voice of Birdman has now taken form as the Birdman character walking with Riggan. It tells him that he doesn’t need this play. He should go back to Hollywood and make another Birdman movie. Everyone would love it and he’d make a fortune. Riggan imagine the city street turning into a scene of a big blockbuster action movie with explosions and giant robots. He goes back to reality and goes up to the roof of a building. A man comes out and asks him to come away from the ledge. Riggan does. The man asks if he’s okay. Riggan says he is, and then he turns, runs and jumps off the building. He flies through the city like a superhero and goes back to the St. James Theatre and goes inside.
Outside now there’s a cab and the driver is mad that Riggan didn’t pay him.
Riggan runs into Sam, tells her she’s doing a great job and asks her how life is treating her. They have a heart to heart talk. She puts dashes on toilet paper and explains that they taught her that in rehab. Each dash represents 1000 years. One sheet is the span that humans have been on earth. The rest of the roll represents how long the planet existed. It puts it all in perspective. He tells her that this play is his chance to finally do something that’s important. She tells him that he doesn’t understand. This isn’t important. He’s not important. None of this is important. They’re a dash on a sheet of toilet paper.
Laura tells Riggan that he doesn’t have to worry because she’s not really pregnant. Sam and Mike end up having sex in the rafters above the stage.
It’s opening night of the play. Riggan’s dressing room is full of flowers. None of them are the kind he likes. Sylvia goes back stage and they have a heart to heart talk. She wishes him luck. Riggan reveals to her that on the night she caught him cheating on her, he went out to the ocean to try to drown himself, but kept getting zapped by jellyfish, so he dragged himself back to the shore. She remembers that and said that at the time he told her he got sunburned. He says he has to do this play tonight because it’s a chance for him to finally do something right.
After she leaves, Riggan pulls a real gun out and goes to the stage. He delivers his big monologue about how he realizes he’s nothing and then he shoots himself in the head for real. The audience is in shock and then everyone, except Tabitha gives it a standing ovation.
The “rockets” fly through the air again.
Jellyfish lay on a beach.
Now we’re in Riggan’s hospital room. Jake tells Riggan that the play was a success and he’s opened a new era of theatre called Ultra-Realism. It’s suspected that Riggan’ didn’t know the gun was real and one of the reviews reads “Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance”. Riggan’s face is bandages and covers the same area that the Birdman mask covered. Sam brings him the flowers he likes. Apparently he somehow only managed to shoot his nose. She leaves to get a vase. He goes into the bathroom and takes off his bandage and looks at himself in the mirror. He goes back into his room and sees birds flying out the window. He opens it up and stands on the ledge. Sam returns. Riggan is gone. Sam looks out the open window to the ground, but he’s not there. She looks up into the sky and smiles.