Reality is something that Best Picture winner Birdman plays with quite a lot in its two-hour runtime. Is the Birdman that actor Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) sees a real entity, or is it one of his own imagination? As grounded as the film seems at times — at least, by Hollywood standards — it plays with the idea of multiple versions of the truth. (Warning: Spoilers for the ending of Birdman ahead.) One curious case is that of the theater critic Tabitha Dickinson, played by Lindsey Duncan. Tabitha tells Riggan that she will never give his film a good review simply by virtue that she believes him to be a hack Hollywood actor. But later, after Riggan shoots himself on stage, it is revealed that Tabitha has given his play a wonderful review. Is that review real, or is it another illusion by the (possibly dead) Riggan?
We may never know the answer to that question, but we can answer ourselves this: Are there any theater critics quite as cut-throat as Tabitha is in the Birdman film? Would a real critic ever shun an actor simply because he used to dress up like a bird in a superhero movie? While it does not seem that the screenwriters intended to base Tabitha on any "real" theater critic out there, the character does seem to be a bit of an extended metaphor for the frustrations that many real-life theater critics face today. The Atlantic published an article titled "What Birdman Says About the State of Theater and Criticism" and it speaks to Tabitha's own frustrations. As author Kevin O'Keeffe writes:
Broadway producers are still looking primarily at movie adaptations and revivals because, simply put, they make money... So when Riggan, a washed-up former superhero movie star, shows up at the historic St. James Theatre with a mediocre adaptation of Raymond Carver's What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, it's too much for Tabitha to bear... He's got none of the credentials for this, but he's taking up space that in her mind should be used for "true" Broadway talent. The sad fact is that even if there was new work in that space, it would probably fail commercially. But Tabitha can't rage against a broken system. So she rages against Riggan instead.
Here's the scene in which O'Keeffe is speaking of:
Tabitha may not be a "real" person, but as with all the characters in Birdman, she represents a very real pervasive idea about what real art is and should be. She is a character that many critics can identify with and her views on what makes certain entertainment not at all worthwhile consistently butt heads with Riggan's own point of view. She's an interesting character to place in this film, and though she may not be based on a real critic, her ideas are certainly based on a certain theory of criticism.