A Star Is Born is an old tragedy about a seasoned musician mentoring and falling in love with a struggling artist only to be overshadowed by her. Bradley Cooper’s interpretation of his character Jackson Maine and his tragedy goes beyond jealousy and insecurity and this is what gives emotional depth and freshness to this old tragedy. Given Cooper’s own personal history with addiction, he understands how addiction slows down daily cognitive functioning. There is also an effort to understand childhood trauma and how it becomes a part of an individual’s identity. Cooper’s understanding of the loneliness of a neglected child turning to a bottle of alcohol and a lover to fill his emotional void is novel.
The film begins with Jackson performing rock for a live stadium-packed audience hooting for him. He is both, singing and playing the guitar but he is too drenched in alcohol to be able to feel the music he is playing. The film then cuts to him getting back to his car. The second he is in his car, the screen becomes dark, in contrast to the bright lights of the stadium. There is no background sound. These contrasting scenes are symbolic of the loneliness in Jackson’s life and how his stardom has only made it worse. When he first hears Ally (Lady Gaga) sing, he is mesmerised and emotional. When she begins her singing, he looks at her like a child looking at the stars. When she comes closer, he starts blushing. When she ends her performance, he has tears in his eyes. Her heavenly voice and the way she performs make him feel alive. He sees a part of himself in Ally that he can never be again. While he is used to people feeling entitled to invade his personal space or taking his photograph without his permission, she gets angry when it happens. A struggling artist herself, who has been praised for her talent but rejected for her looks, Ally is not in awe of his stardom rather she sees him as a human being. When Jackson’s alcoholism takes him down, she provides him support – physical and mental.
Ally is confident about her talent. Having been rejected again and again because people thought her nose was too big, it is her looks that make her insecure. When Jackson asks her about her show, she seems confident and open but when he asks her about her fake eyebrows, she becomes shy and hesitant. When he takes off those fake eyebrows, she is embarrassed of herself and covers her face but Jackson insists on looking at her. It is the first time she feels admired and comfortable in her own skin. The fact that Jackson admires both, her talent and her looks, encourages her to sing her own songs, which she otherwise felt uncomfortable sharing. Jackson’s desire to keep looking at her, his gentlemanly nature and his confidence in her is what makes Ally fall in love with him.
Jackson takes Ally to all his concerts. He opens up to her about his childhood experiences of growing up with an alcoholic father and not wanting to go back home. Instead of looking for a bottle, he is always looking for her. Looking at her gives him a sense of purpose. Listening to her makes him feel alive. Jamming with her makes him reconnect with his art. Talking to her makes him reflect on his unresolved childhood trauma. Holding her makes him feel less lonely. It is as if he is still addicted but now it is not so much to the alcohol but to a person. Therefore, when a talent manager contacts Ally, one knows this is the beginning of the end. They no longer perform together because Ally’s new manager requires her to do solo shows where she must also dance and look stunning in order to create an image of a pop star. As Ally treads on her new musical career and starts becoming a new person, Jackson begins to disconnect with her. Feeling lost and lonely in her absence, he goes back to his old addiction – alcohol.
In one scene, an old friend tells Jackson that he likes where he is in his life and is done looking for something more. This scene makes one realise that Jackson, too, is at the stage where he has seen it all – money, fame, acceptance and admiration. Therefore, he no longer feels motivated. His long-term addiction has taken a toll on his mental health and daily cognitive functioning. The impact of excess alcohol on his brain chemicals has made it difficult for him to continue enjoying music or seek new learnings. Ally, on the other hand, has been waiting all her life for validation and admiration. The look in her eyes when she gets out of the car, walks through the corridor while the audience cheers and reaches backstage to see Jackson perform live is symbolic of her ambition. It is the first time she sees him as a star and aspires to experience that euphoria of stardom herself. She is at her creative best, passionate about her music, seeking new opportunities and learnings. Taking a pause is the last thing on her mind.
Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born is hopelessly romantic when Jackson and Ally find solace in each other’s company and bond as artists. Love helps them overcome insecurities and childhood trauma. It turns painfully tragic when Jackson’s new addiction takes over both their lives. It’s tragic when he asks her to join him for a performance but she has something else lined up for her. It’s tragic when he calls her ugly because he cannot recognise the Ally he fell in love with – the one without the fake eyebrows and the red hair colour. It’s tragic when he pees his pants on the same stage she is receiving an award. It’s tragic when she leaves her award-winning ceremony to clean up his mess. It’s tragic when he is told that his addiction is holding her back. It’s tragic when one realises that love, perhaps, cannot conquer all.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.