Birdman: a Typological Feast

Birdman Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) won top honors at this year’s Academy Awards. While I think a few of this year’s movies were outstanding, Birdman so clearly stood out in its ambition, pacing and technical audacity that its being named Best Picture of 2014 seemed inevitable to me. And as a trainer who loves using movies to support my Type (MBTI) training, Birdman is a psychological feast.

While all of Birdman’s characters are well written and compelling, the character of Riggan (played by Michael Keaton) gave me the most delightful and rich Type puzzle I’ve had in a long time. The character is an actor late in mid-life—and almost twenty years away from his hey-day as an action movie star (he used to be “Birdman,” a popular movie superhero). As the movie opens, the character is only days away from his Broadway debut in a drama he has written and is directing. It is a bold artistic and literary stroke, and one he is not at all sure he is able to competently make.

Type Dynamics | Leadership Coaching & Development

Birdman Or (the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Much of the movie is Riggan’s struggle with himself and his own inner voice that represents his inner potential and uniqueness. Levitation, telekinesis, the ability to fly—Riggan’s inner world allows for all of these powers, but only when he is in his inner world do these abilities manifest. I have rarely seen a better representation of introverted iNtuition.

The puzzle comes in the question of what role this function (introverted iNtuition) plays in Riggan’s Type. One option is that Riggan is an INTJ, and this inner voice–his inner Birdman–represents his dominant function. It plays such a central role in Riggan’s life (at least within this story) that seeing it as his dominant is not hard to do. However, the more compelling option is that Riggan is a highly stressed out ESTP, and these engagements with introverted iNtuition (his Birdman) are his inferior function.

Riggan as an ESTP would explain a lot:

  • Type Dynamics | Leadership Coaching & DevelopmentESTPs at Riggan’s age engage with their inferior functions (introverted iNtuition) with increasing frequency.
  • ESTPs under stress are often pushed to their inferior function (introverted iNtuition).
  • Riggan used to be an action film star, a stereotypical SP role.
  • Our inferior functions often present themselves to us through the lens and under the spell of our dominant and auxiliary functions. Our inferior functions are, remember, in service to our dominant. It makes sense, therefore, that Riggan’s inferior function (introverted iNtuition) shows up looking and sounding like a hard-edged, action-questing provocateur.

While Type gems abound in this wonderful movie, its primary treat is allowing us to see what I believe to be an ESTP in mid-life crisis and growth. Part allegory, part fantasy, Birdman is a story of one man’s struggle to grow, to find his uniqueness and to integrate his Type. While MBTI is not in a single line of dialogue, it is all over the screen. Birdman is a typological feast.



Type Dynamics | Leadership Coaching & DevelopmentOKA’s newest Type class, Using Type with Coaching and Development, is a two-day, experiential workshop that dives into Type dynamics and development to explore the Type dynamics of each Type. What is your dominant function—and how about your inferior? How do you—for yourself or as a coach—develop more or better Sensing or Thinking? What is the Shadow, and what role does it play in your overall development? Come join us at OKA for this great new Type application course (designed and delivered by Hile Rutledge).



OKA is a training and consulting company specializing in leadership and team development located in Fairfax, Virginia, near Washington, DC.

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