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Philly boys Al and Birdy became friends in high school despite the extreme difference in their personalities, Al being the popular and athletic extrovert, Birdy the antisocial "weird" introvert. Al gave Birdy his nickname because of his fascination - obsession really - with birds, especially with flight. Al and Birdy have just completed their service of duty in the Vietnam War and have returned to the States. Al sustained some serious physical injuries, which required major reconstructive surgery to his face. Birdy, however, returned from Vietnam seemingly emotionally scarred. He was missing in action for one month. He has not spoken since he was found. Despite his own medical issues, Al travels to the institution where Birdy is being kept to see if he can assist in getting Birdy out of his near comatose state. Having always had issues with authority, Al is less than forthright with the doctors about Birdy's mental state prior to the war. As Al tries whatever he can to help Birdy ...Written by
(I was flipping through the channels one quiet evening at home when I stumbled across this picture, "Birdy.")
To some, the character Birdy (Matthew Modine) has an unnatural and (quite) unhealthy obsession with birds. Well, he spends most of his time with birds, has dreams of flying away from his real-world troubles, and his only friend is a neighborhood tough named Al (Nicolas Cage). So because of his obsession with birds, Birdy has to be crazy, right? So is Al even crazier for befriending him well, isn't he?
It is these questions and many more that make up the central theme of Alan Parker's superb 1984 drama "Birdy" (adapted from William Wharton's novel), a film about two crazy guys whose friendship is ultimately tested by each other's mental sicknesses. Both of their lives take drastic turns before and after they have done tours in Vietnam, and ultimately wind up in opposite ends of the psyche ward of a state mental hospital, with Al, who's been left virtually unrecognizable by his facial bandages and Birdy, who's stuck in a catatonic state as a result of an accident out on the killing fields.
It is also the feelings of isolation between the two that brings them together, as flashbacks during their stay help to emphasize their emotions. Birdy, feeling like he is the only one that understands his bird "dream," may in actuality be the only "sane" character in the whole film. Al, who is injured from a shell explosion, questions who he is because he's not even sure who it really is underneath the bandages on his face. And it is liberation, whether it be physical or mental, that is expressed greatly by the film's ending, and Birdy's eventual coming to grips with his own current predicament.
Director Parker has always made it a point of capturing human suffering on celluloid, and this has been the main subject in a number of his films, including "Midnight Express" (1978) and "Angel Heart" (1987). Here, his subject matter is fairly lighter than those films, since the audience is spared the really intense mental anguish that accompanied "Express" and the graphic carnage of "Angel."
There's a kind of deep spiritual undercurrent flowing through "Birdy," which is most apparent by the lead character's fascination with his quarry birds. To him, birds represent freedom, a kind of freedom that can only be obtained by literally taking to the skies, and soaring high above all his problems (fans of Terry Gilliam's political satire "Brazil" should take notice here). This of course leads to the film's profound ending on the mental hospital's rooftop, where Al and Birdy must make a desperate choice choose freedom, or choose confinement of the body, or of the psyche.
I won't reveal any more than those close details but you'll have to see what happens for yourself. It really caught me off guard and in a lesser movie might seem tacky, but the way Parker and the actors handle just makes the on-screen action that much more moving. But you can be sure of this: Birdy flies. And "Birdy" does fly into underrated classic movie status because of its performers and director Alan Parker's direction.
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