“This is a story about trauma. It doesn’t matter if you drink, don’t drink, have a capital P problem, little p problem or no problem at all with alcohol. That’s not really what this is about.”
First, let me just say, I like Bradley Cooper. He’s hot, he’s a talented actor, director and he quit drinking 13-years ago which makes me and many in the global alcohol-free community love him even more.
I also like Lady Gaga, I think she’s incredibly talented. Her singing and acting in A Star Is Born, is Oscar-worthy, as is Bradley Cooper’s.
So this isn’t about these two brilliant actors and their work. This is about questioning whether or not we’re watching a beautiful love story that ended tragically or if we’re watching a story about trauma that can be quite traumatizing to watch?
I believe it’s the later and I believe there’s a big difference.
Early in the movie, there is a late night scene in a parking lot, that according to director Bradley Cooper, this is the anchor for the rest of the film. Cooper’s character, Jackson Maine, tells Ally, played by Lady Gaga that his mom died when he was young and then shares a bit about the difficult relationship he had with his father, who was a heavy drinker, emotionally absent and died when Jackson was an early teen.
Ally responds by singing this to him, “Tell me something boy, aren’t you tired of trying to fill that void?”
This scene is important for two reasons:
1. Ally, along with the movie audience has now been with Jackson when he was drunk and walked into a bar, he continued to drink with Ally and it’s obvious that he is a heavy drinker. But why?
Gabor Mate M.D. an expert on addiction and trauma says we shouldn’t be asking “Why the addiction, we should be asking why the pain?”
Well, Jackson just told us, in that parking lot scene why he’s in pain. We need to stop turning a deaf ear to this. Jackson listed 4 out of the 10 ACEs (adverse childhood experiences) and if Ally asked him more questions he probably would have revealed more.
ACEs are incredibly common regardless of your gender, socio-economic, geographic or educational background.
The ACE study found that most people (64%) have at least one ACE. Having an ACE score of 4 nearly doubles the risk of heart disease and cancer. It increases the likelihood of becoming an alcoholic by 700 percent and the risk of attempted suicide by 1200 percent.
2. Ally now has important, valuable insight into Jackson’s heart and soul (because he himself offered up his trauma story to her) which means this is NOT the foundation or time with which to create a romantic, sexual relationship.
I know. We want the collective fairy tale. The “beauty” saves the “beast” the girl gets the “bad boy” to fall in love with her and only her and ride off into the redemptive sunset, it can be exhilaratingly addictive, but it’s also confusing and painful. Which is exactly where this movie ends up!
However, it did depict the reality of how unresolved, unacknowledged trauma comes out. The scene where Jackson stumbles onto the Grammy stage created a visceral, nauseating feeling in my chest. Not because he has a “disease” of “alcoholism” where he couldn’t control his alcohol intake and everyone gets to shake their head and think, poor guy, thank God the rest of us aren’t that bad. But because none of us are immune to this. We all have something that has emotionally cut, traumatized us, yet when we don’t have anyone who can really be there to support us, see us, soothe us during that time it comes out sideways, often years later with too much alcohol, addictive love relationships, food etc. Our “scene” may never look like Jackson’s public scene on the Grammy stage, but it can feel that way in the private corners of our own lives.
Cut to the next scene, Jackson goes to a treatment center and once again shares a bit more of his trauma story. This time he reveals how he tried to hang himself from a ceiling fan when he was young, but the fan fell from the ceiling and aborted his attempt. The fan remained in the middle of the living room for days as his father stepped over it and around it and never acknowledged it was there. When Jackson told this story to his therapist in treatment, the therapist laughed.
This movie is about the white elephant (of trauma) that’s in the room, our rooms. Yet we often step around it, sing around it or laugh around it. The end result of how this all plays out in the movie is hard, and dare I say, traumatizing to watch. Bradley Cooper, the director, co-writer and lead actor in the movie says it himself.
During this 20-minute interview, he/they never once mention addiction or alcohol. But when the interviewer asked Cooper at the 5: 40 minute mark “what is this movie about?” the first descriptive word out of Cooper’s mouth is TRAUMA!
See this movie for what it is — a traumatizing view of trauma. But don’t confuse trauma with romance. In order for collective healing to happen, we need to see and separate the two!