Alan Parker’s Birdy (1984) A Tale of Friendship, War and Being Different

What took me so long to watch this astonishing movie? For odd reasons it is hardly on any war movie list, not even in Russell’s book on Vietnam movies although he included Forrest Gump. Maybe because Birdy is so much more than just a Vietnam vet movie?  I don’t know. I urge anyone who likes movies that are not ordinary to watch Birdy. Birdy has a lot to offer. A beautiful story, a powerful anti-war statement, a tale on friendship, an exploration of madness, a character sturdy of a non-conformist and two famous actors, Nicolas Cage and Matthew Modine at their very best. I truly liked every minute of it.

Birdy is based on the novel by William Wharton. It tells the story of two friends Al and Birdy who meet each other when they are still children. In flashbacks we see their teenage years in Philly and how, despite being total opposites, they become best friends. Birdy is an outsider. He hardly talks to anyone but he opens up to Al. Birdy is more interested in birds and flying than in other things, unlike Al who wants to meet girls and have fun.

They have all sorts of adventures together, from raising carrier pigeons to rescuing stray dogs and some aborted attempts at flying.

But this is the past. The present is quite a different one. Both young men did enlist when the war started. While Al comes back injured and scarred for life, Birdy is said to have gone missing for a month. When they find him he is catatonic. He is brought to a mental asylum where he mostly sits on the floor in bird-like positions. He has to be fed and hardly moves.

The psychiatrist sends for Al hoping he will get through to his friend and they will be able to heal together. Even though his scars seems to be more on the outside, it is obvious, Al is not less psychologically wounded.

The story is told in flashbacks. Step by step Al struggles to reach Birdy. He fights for his friend, their friendship and his own survival.

Of course we wonder during the movie if Birdy became that way because he was already a bit crazy to start with but Al, a seemingly healthy young man, does also come back “crazy” and we soon realize this label is by far too narrow.

Birdy reminded me a bit of Big Fish. This gentle tale of two wounded soldiers would appeal to many people who never watch war movies as well as to those who do. The score has been written by Peter Gabriel which was one of the reasons the movie was quite successful when it came out. 5/5

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13 thoughts on “Alan Parker’s Birdy (1984) A Tale of Friendship, War and Being Different

  1. warmoviebuff says:

    I am ashamed to say I had never heard of this movie. I read where it was too unconventional for American audiences so it probably did not stay in the theaters long. It got the Special Grand Jury Prize at Cannes so it is apparently better known in Europe. I will put it on my watch list, thanks. It gets an 88% on Rotten Tomatoes and 4 stars in my Brassey’s Guide to War Films.

    • I know that this was a big “hit” in Europe. And it is still widely known. I wasn’t aware that is was this overlooked in the US. I wasn’t sure what to expect but must say I was surprised. Especially about those two actors. Why did I never realize that Matthew Modine and Nicolas Cage were in this? They are both fabulous.

  2. warmoviebuff says:

    It has the good Modine and the good Cage. There is a one out of four chance of that happening. I like both of them, but sometimes (especially Cage) they overact or make bad choices for roles.

  3. warmoviebuff says:

    What are your thoughts of the casting? I would have guessed that the roles would have been reversed if I had to guess who played who.

    • I can see why you would have thought it could be reversed but I think it was much better that way. Cage in bird-like position would have been a bit laughable I am afraid. No, it’s a great choice. Both characters.

  4. […] Midnight Clear is based on a novel by William Wharton (the same author who wrote Birdy). The most striking feature of the movie are powerful images. There is an instance where the group […]

  5. warmoviebuff says:

    Finally watched and your review is spot on. An excellent little “forgotten gem” (at least here in America). It has some indelible scenes like the dog-catching episode and the wonderful bird’s eye view of Birdy imagining himself flying through the neighborhood to the accompaniment of Gabriel’s evocative music.

    • It was praised a lot when it came out but I think it has sunk into oblivion in Europe as well by now. Sad actually. There are movies that are not half as good and they are still watched by many. Maybe there will be a revival one day.

  6. […] Birdy (USA, 1984). Post-Vietnam. This is unusual in many ways. Outstanding acting, a story that is far from ordinary and a way to treat post-traumatic stress syndrome like we haven’t seen it often before. (see my post Alan Parker’s Birdy: A Tale of Frienship, War and Being Different) […]

  7. Sarah O'Driscoll says:

    Reminds me of Fudge 44

  8. […] as the unworldly, gentle Kitten is really astonishing. To a certain extent Kitten reminded me of Birdy. Like Birdy the movie Breakfast on Pluto is also a really touching tale of friendship and a call […]

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