“NOBODY WANTS TO BE IN A CAGE”

(a review of the film, BIRDY [1984], by Timothy J. Verret)

I remember seeing this film when I was a teenager (I think 1984 was the year I graduated from high school, but I have blocked that out). I remember how this film haunted me, hence the desire to watch it recently. It’s interesting that a film can stay with you for so long even when at first viewing, it really didn’t have the meaning it now holds.

BIRDY is about cages. It’s really just a side note that the character of Birdy comes back from the Vietnam War believing he is a bird. Forget that he’s a bird unless you choose to believe that all birds are free. For this character is NOT free. Was he ever? Have any of us ever been free?

Birdy and his lifelong friend, Al, shared a fascination with birds and with war as teenagers. They thought war would be a John Wayne thing, but anyone coming back from Vietnam War will tell you it wasn’t anything like John Wayne. It was about guts and violence and trauma and loss. And it was about returning home from this war only to be put into another war….a caged war.

Al suffered from head and face trauma, but Birdy’s injuries were internal. Birdy came back a bird and was institutionalized for being a bird, because God knows we can’t let human beings who think they are birds be free, right? The doctors and nurses didn’t think Birdy should be free, so they locked him up. It was only his friend, Al, who could just maybe turn him back into his lifelong human friend, Birdy….but not as a bird.

We don’t need Vietnam Wars to know about trauma. Trauma is about cages. It’s about being caged up and NOT being free. It is about physiological and psychological warfare. It’s not an external war we are fighting but an internal one. It’s when the mind, body and spirit can no longer contain the boundaries of sanity; it’s when the mind, body, and spirit all collectively state, “WE HAVE HAD ENOUGH! STOP!!!! SWITCH TO A BIRD!”

Sometimes I think as a traumatized individual that I could snap my fingers just like that and become a bird. Or a dog. Or a pig. Or maybe, just maybe, I could snap my fingers just like that and become a real human being, one with pain, one with trauma, one with found and lost love and, yes, maybe even one with joy and the right to fly and be free. Snap my fingers just like that!

Nicholas Cage plays Al (ironic enough since I am talking about “cages”). I have never been a fan of Cage (although I understand he is an Enneagram 4 like myself). Cage does an admirable job here, but it’s really Matthew Modine as Birdy who soars! The physicality of Modine as a bird is jaw-dropping! Don’t take your eyes off of him for too long because if you do, when you return your gaze, he will have feathers. Modine IS a bird in this film, and he is mesmerizing!

Director Alan Parker is a favorite director of mine, having directed the stellar orginal FAME and another haunting film, MIDNIGHT EXPRESS (some might recall he directed EVITA with Madonna). Parker creates beautiful and intense images on film. He can easily be called a technical director if he didn’t put so much damn heart and soul into his film’s characters. Here, Parker takes a novel named BIRDY and gives the film from the same name as much depth and humanity as any good novel can. The best directors are those who are poets of films.

One particular scene in BIRDY that had me pause and reflect was from the picture above, when Al seemed to be making some headway with Birdy but was interrupted by a well-intentioned nurse. The following exchange of dialogue takes place:

AL (to the NURSE): Why’d you have to come in here?

NURSE: It’s part of my job!

AL: Well, he’s part of my #$%damned life!!!!

Wow! Can’t we all relate to that? That lifelong friend that we would part the Red Sea for if we could just get them to feel, to feel everything so that they don’t have to turn their backs on us, pretend we’re not there, but rather join us on a more deeper and more meaningful journey than ever before, simply because they are “part of my #$%damned life!”

If you want to know if Birdy stayed a bird or turned back into a human, please see this film to find out. I will leave you with this: Does it matter whether Birdy stayed a bird or turned back into a human? The reason I ask is because we all just gotta be who we all just gotta be.

BIRDY is well worth the flight!

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