The Bottom Line: "When you've found that special thing You're flying without wings" ~ Wayne Hector / Steve Mac
In 1984, two relatively unknown actors took on a strange and in depth project, the making of Birdy. Except for flashback scenes, the only time we see the face of one of the actors it is swaddled in bandages. Despite that, his distinctive voice tells you who he is as he goes through the movie. The other actor is always fully visible in countenance but for a good deal of the movie he remains mute.
These two actors, around the age of 19, were Nicolas Cage as the bandaged one; Matthew Modine as the mute one. The movie was directed by Alan Parker and he won two awards for the piece - Cannes Film Festival Grand Prize and Warsaw International Film Festival Audience Award. It was adapted from a novel by William Wharton by Sandy Kroopf and Jack Behr.
Birdy is somewhat difficult to describe. In the movie it is centered around the Vietnam War, the novel was written about WWII but apparently they decided to update the times. Although it is centered around the war, it spends little time showing the battles, for this is more about the results of the war on the participants.
Birdy, Matthew Modine, is a quirky fellow in the movie. Almost fey in appearance and demeanor, he was obsessed with birds and their lifestyle, especially their ability to fly. He is never addressed by any other name than Birdy, even by his family. For reasons that are known to only the young, Nicolas Cage becomes his nearest and dearest friend. You couldnt find two people at more odds with each other.
Cage was the consummate ladies man; Modine thought their breasts were rather like cows but in a strange place. Cage was like, well, Cage in all his movies. Edgy, full of energy and life. Birdy was solitary and would prefer to sit on the sidelines and watch life pass him by.
Then Vietnam reared its ugly head and the boys did what boys did back then, they went to war. We come into the movie after both boys return from the war with their broken bodies and minds. Cage wrapped up like some weird invisible man or Frankenstein creature; Modine huddled in the corner of his room, mute, being hand-fed, showing all the signs and symptoms of having turned into one of his wonderful birds.
This is a movie that is filled with joy, pain, fellowship, friendship, love, hate, desire, and the intensity of true emotional love between friends. The portrayals by Cage and Modine are exemplary in their brash rawness. Modine is so driven to understand and explain the feelings he has about birds and their habits; their ability to fly and explore; you completely understand the depth of his despair when all this is taken from him. On the other hand, Cage is so dedicated to his friend and the bond they share, he is willing to forsake everything to maintain that connection, even his own freedom.
It is a movie that is sparse but plentiful and completely difficult to explain. It is so pumped full of emotional baggage that you would have to watch it to understand the completeness it portrays. I would absolutely recommend this movie.