A star is born. From nothing, a cold and empty lacking, there comes a sudden light. A sudden warmth, a life so bright it’s blinding. Where there was nothing, something now is. And it’s beautiful. A star born from nothing.
But a star isn’t born from nothing, is it? In that dark and lonely space, there was something before that star. There was something that had enough pressure, enough energy, enough force and momentum to create that star, tearing it into existence. Pouring itself into this fiery crucible, this presence forges a being strong enough to give life and warmth and light to others whose lives are so distant, the gap between them could never be bridged. A being strong enough to do all this—to sustain others and itself—all alone.
For when a star is born, something dies.
It’s hard to see the shattered pieces for all the light.
It’s hard to see what happens to Jackson “Jack” Maine (Bradley Cooper) when we’re too busy watching the birth of Ally (Lady Gaga). Jack is a successful musician. He’s talented and fun and romantic. Sure, maybe he drinks too much—and maybe he chases his pills with liquor—but he’s a world-famous musician. Pretty par for the course. And it’s fun to watch this burgeoning relationship between Jack and Ally. We know that she’s amazingly talented, and we’re just enjoying the ride until we get to the end—the happy feeling we look forward to as we anticipate watching her finally go on stage with him, and watching her career finally begin to take off.
And the movie sounds good too. The soundtrack for this movie is phenomenal, and we want to sing along with Jack and Ally, even though we don’t know the words.
A Star Is Born is well acted. It’s not the first time this movie has been made, or even the second, but it feels brand new. Cooper and Gaga are in top form, and it’s easy to lose these stars in their characters. Jack and Ally are begging to be rooted for. They say all the things you only hear in the movies, and they do all the things people only dream of. He finds her, a diamond in the rough, and everything clicks. She finally gets her big break, the shot she’s deserved but never received. They fall deeply and quickly in love, and it makes sense because these are two beautiful and talented people who are fated to be together. It’s not hard to believe.
The film is a smooth and perfect mirror, reflecting our joy and happiness, our anticipation of what’s next, right back on screen. But cracks appear, as they always do. The pristine surface, a thin veneer, is too fragile and new to withstand the pressure of a star’s formation. Ally’s career skyrockets, but she has to make the tiny concessions that every artist has to make. To Jack, this is nothing but dishonesty. A waste of her one chance to speak the truth and to have people really listen. Of course, this is nothing in the face of Jack’s worsening alcoholism and addiction. To see this icon slip further and further into the depths of disuse, disease, and neglect is terrifying. We watch something good and pure rot from the inside out.
But what’s not to enjoy about A Star Is Born? It’s well-acted, well-shot, well-edited. It looks good and it sounds good. There are silver linings appearing past the oncoming storm. If Jack and Ally, and we, can just weather the next lash of rain or gale of wind, everything will be okay. Jack isn’t jealous of Ally’s success. He’s happy for her. He’s not envious of her because of his shrinking fame—he’s losing his hearing, and he can’t do this forever. Perhaps this is just an even exchange. One star for another. Nothing gained but, thankfully, nothing lost.
So the melancholia that worms into every crack of this film is so foreign it’s nearly invisible, to start. But there it is, seeping into every facet and flaw, every groove or imperfection. It finds a channel and slowly widens it until it’s the only thing visible anymore. A Star Is Born is a perfect and upsetting film. It’s like living in the good old days with the knowledge that bad times are ahead.
When a star is born, it takes the place of something. And that something has to die. But you don’t see the signs of destruction until the light of the new star begins to fade.
Featured Image by Warner Bros. Pictures