Human stumbling: A star is born
Seeing ‘A Star Has Born’, the movie, with Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga, has continued to stay with me since last week. I was moved to tears at the end of the film and it includes so many gut-wrenching themes.
I do not wish to gloss over any of the themes, though it is hard to write about the depth of the issues in the movie in a short blog.
When looking a little more deeply; Jackson is a troubled man, with a troubled past. The movie calls on us to connect with Jackson in ways that perhaps he couldn’t connect with himself, or with others. We are also called to try to have empathy with him – not judge him – despite his lack of self-care and his ability to hurt others.
I have previously written about the signature song in an article for Luminosity, November 2018 edition and another psychotherapist has written about Jackson’s narcissism of the story of narcissus and echo. This blog, by the other psychotherapist, appears to skim over the deeper concerns, human needs and wants of the main characters.
Jackson’s deep-seated, traumatic past, where he lacks parents in his life, relegates himself to a place of the unknown and complete isolation. In the movie, he spoke of the relationship with his father, as problematic and abusive. Jackson is existentially isolated, alone and lacks meaning with no real home or place he feels comfortable. It is when Ally comes along that he feels like he’s home – when he is at home with her.
I see, in Jackson, a man locked in his past – and using his art to make sense – in order to create a better future for himself and all of his loyal fans. We see Jimmy Barnes speak of similar demons in his books Working Class Boy and Working Class Man.
We often appreciate the art, or artistry, of painters, musicians, actors and artists, not realising the artist’s gift and how much that may have taken from them – of a so-called ‘normal’ life – in order to offer their gift to the world. I have spoken about this previously, about the artist’s struggle, in another blog.
Themes of embarrassment and palpable shame are the undercurrent in A Star Is Born’s character Jackson’s ‘iceberg of consciousness‘ that becomes a volcano that erupts at different points in the story.
It is unhelpful to skim over Jackson’s deeper issues to determine him a narcissist – as then the main message has been lost from the movie. If we were able to connect with Jackson – as a fellow human in trouble – we need to see the human fallibility, despite the diagnosis and allow the human frailties, insecurities, impurities and imperfections to come through.
Ultimately, it’s important to consider ‘how do we treat the ones we love and care about’? ‘Are they just a ‘mental illness’, or someone in our lives that we have care, love and are concerned about’? With the ‘mental health’ crisis that we have – are we not diagnosing too frequently and missing the connection points?
Jackson gives as much as he can to Ally – though there is no excuse for his terrible behaviour at certain points in the film. He is clearly struggling and virtually nobody offers him support.
Ally is caught in a web that addiction circles may call co-dependency, or ‘developmental immaturity‘, whereby the enabling of his addiction by Ally, allows him to continue his addictions unchecked, until it is pretty much too late.
He makes some inroads to his recovery and attends a rehabilitation facility and is supported by Ally to do so. Alanis Morissette and Pia Mellody speak about the developmental immaturity (previously known as co-dependence) that comes along with addiction in this podcast. As Morissette and Mellody discuss, if there is enough trauma in childhood, developmental immaturity ensues, as it is a “disorder of immaturity, caused by childhood trauma”.
Jackson’s trauma from childhood, along with Ally’s history of failed relationships comes crashing together to bring together two people who were both destined, yet incompatible to be together. In a relational sense, their attachment styles were not aligned and previous trauma from Jackson – where he has never recovered – puts him at increased sensitivity and risk of serious life-threatening and serious self-harm possibilities.
If we are to square off against the mental illness and ‘mental health crisis’ – we need to consider not labelling our fellow humans – no matter who they are – as they are real people with real problems, and labelling does not help humans recover. Labels help keep us existentially stuck. No matter if they are correct in their diagnosis, or not.
Of course, there may be a need for a name for a diagnosis, though if we focus on a specific condition too frequently – we become it, and then we risk losing the real message that we all are seeking connection and need people close to us. According to Maslow, it is a human need for us all to have people around us for support. This is one of the main messages from this movie. We all have a need to be close to others. Jackson had only a select few people close to him, despite the thousands of fans.
In summary, the movie is all about how shallow we have all become.
We could help by putting any diagnosis to the side and just level with the person – whether they are friend, family, colleague or client, and have discussions with them as a human being with needs. We all have problems in our lives and it’s how we choose to attend to these issues that can make the difference to their outcome. Let’s help our fellow humans with meeting their needs.
Jackson, in this case, faltered and experienced gaslighting from Ally’s manager, and it was at this point that he was at a vulnerable place in his life – due to the recent recovery attempt (Brown, 2010). It is in Thomson’s 2012 book; ‘Seer: The Man Who Sees Tomorrow‘ where addiction is covered and discussed from a first-hand account of how messy alcohol recovery is.
Often times, the alcoholic, or addict, like Jackson – in A Star is Born – don’t realise how bad it truly is, until it’s too late. It consumes the person so much that they are nothing of their former self. We can do better – and it’s to assist people in their darkest hour. Jackson needed that – like many do.
Finally, “empathy is the antidote to shame…. (shame) needs secrecy, silence and judgement…” and if you put empathy in “shame can’t survive” (Brown, 2012). We see in this movie that, as Brown suggests, “vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change”.
It’s important to admit we all need help at different points in our lives – and this is the antidote to shame (Brown, 2012).
If you, or someone you care about, is affected by drugs or alcohol – and you’re in crisis… you can call or contact one of the following services:
Family Drug Support Ph: 1300 368 186
ADIS (Alcohol and Drug Information Service) Ph: 1800 250 015
Alcoholics Anonymous Australian website: https://aa.org.au
Narcotics Anonymous Australia website: https://www.na.org.au
For more personalised and ongoing more longer-term support, consider seeking ongoing psychotherapy or counselling.