Last weekend, Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s Birdman won Best Picture, Director, Screenplay, and Cinematography at the 87th Academy Awards.
Birdman, which was a weird and gratifying film, falls into a genre that is close to my own heart, and what defines a number of my stories. I’m speaking, of course, of Magical Realism. With Birdman’s big win I felt that this might be a good time for me to speak briefly on the genre.
Magical Realism is taking fantastical elements and portraying them as commonplace in the ‘regular’ world. This is not the same as a story where a character enters a separate, fantasy universe, such as the Chronicles of Narnia or Peter Pan.
In those cases, the character is leaving the rational world and leaps into a strange land filled with mystery, or rather the unknown. Magical Realism, on the other hand, takes the same wondrous components and makes them out to be everyday occurrences in the real world. The metaphysical becomes physical.
Imagine Aslan the Lion around every Wednesday for coffee.
Perhaps you’ve seen Pan’s Labyrinth, Big Fish, or Amélie? These flicks are examples of the genre, the latter two being in my top films. Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Hayao Miyazaki are two famous names you might recognize whose films contain, surprise, surprise, Magical Realism.
Birdman presented Magical Realism as an imaginative element brought out into the real world. The film, though it followed a number of themes and players (for the most part), is a visual account of the outlandish mind of Riggan Thomson, represented by this Birdman character. These sequences were a daydream extended into real life.
I like to tell stories about the mundane world with an added sprinkle of the spice of the fantastical, thus my devotion to the genre. Storytelling can be an extension of our own experiences; the worlds that I build are the same that you and I live in, with the same history, the same events, but off-kilter.
This genre allows me to portray my message, whatever it may be, in a way that opens it to a broader gallery of people. Perhaps what I love most about this genre is one of the ingredients that makeup the core of it: acceptance.
It represents accepting the bizarre and otherworldly into mundane lives, and in doing so, juxtaposes humanity and individualism as a whole. That supernatural beast we see is nothing more than a reflection, a divine mirror image, of ourselves. We escape our lives. We let loose.
Remember, we are all different and the same. We are all bizarre and human.
And that’s where the magic of storytelling comes from.