After sleeping on my thoughts about A Star Is Born, I’m still struggling with my reaction. I truly enjoyed the film, but it also sits really uneasy with me, terrifyingly so. And I think that clench in my stomach stems from Rez’s actions at the end. I have struggled with my own suicidality and the dark thoughts that all I do is hurt the people I love. Those thoughts are disconnected from reality—even as they spiral in my head I know that they are fundamentally irrational. But that knowledge does nothing to lessen their power or shake my belief in them.
If, in my worst moments, someone close to a loved one told me that I was hurting them, that my loved one would never tell me, but they would be better off without me…I’m not sure what I would do. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t self harm, but I’d probably need to go to an inpatient psych ward to be safe. Watching Rez do that to Jack—a man who had just begun to face his trauma—shredded me. At that moment, Rez became a moral monster: he is so ruthlessly selfish that he’s willing to emotionally eviscerate a mentally fragile man. And it’s horrifying that he will remain in Ally’s life—content in the knowledge that his vile actions will push her to greater fame. What might he do to her in the future? She is just an object, a tool for his own advancement. For Ally to keep such a ogre in her life is terrifying. And the film disappears him after the final scene with Jack—my mind wandered to worse and worse scenarios.
The film uses this horror as an emotional gut punch, to ratchet up the tension and sadness for both Ally and the audience. It feels cheap; using addiction and trauma as a tool and not seriously engaging Jack’s experience of treatment. The film offers us hope that he can heal then makes a character irredeemably evil to engender a tragic ending.
The film had the opportunity to tell a much more complicated story, one without a villain, one that eschewed Hollywood myths. And it had a really easy template to do so: Lady Gaga’s own musical evolution. Unlike Ally, Lady Gaga made deliberate choices about her artistic path: her pop music is her voice, her vision. As far as I can tell, her persona is not simply a method to become famous1, it is also a fulfilling aesthetic choice. There was no Rez Gavron telling her what to do; there’s the Haus of Gaga that she put together.
Think about a movie where Ally followed this path; where she discovered her voice in the world of pop, both in the music and the artifice. If Rez was not a domineering asshole, but rather an artistic collaborator who believed in her vision. Now Jack must confront a much more complicated world: can he accept that his love’s voice is so different from his own, that her vision of art and truth conflicts with his? Would he be jealous of Ally’s work with this Rez?2 In the actual film, the only person she collaborates with is Jack and we don’t see her create any of her pop songs or acts. How much more difficult would Ally’s choice be if it were between music and art that she loves as much as she loves her husband. That would tear her apart in the final act and could lead to a more tragic, more honest, and less violent end.
One of Hollywood’s most cherished myths is “Love Always Finds A Way”. Even after Jack kills himself, his love is transmitted through the final song he wrote for Ally. But the truth is that sometimes love is not enough—two people can love each other with all their hearts and their relationship can still fall apart. There’s a version of this film where Jack’s and Ally’s lives and art drift apart, where his addictions and trauma rupture their marriage beyond repair. Even in the film we have, there is a big reason to fear for them before Rez’s moral bankruptcy: when Ally visits Jack in rehab, he says he’s doing the work all for her. And that is simply not sustainable in the long run—he has to face his trauma and choose to live for himself. This disconnect, this tragedy could be enough for them to part. Given the history of their relationship and marriage, Jack may not be able to heal within it. If Ally and Jack lost each other for both their healths, for both their lives, the film would have taken a much harder but more honest truth. Ally’s heart would still break3; she could still sing the same song at the end. But that ending would feel inevitable, stemming from both their journeys and characters—not from the happenstance of a monstrous producer signing her.
- Though it is partially that. ↩
- Importantly, Ally’s and Rez’s must be non-romantic, non-sexual. It should be a connection over music—that would be a true threat to Jack because he fell in love with Ally as an artist and their relationship begins with musical collaboration. ↩
- It would actually break more, knowing that their love was not enough, that they had to let each other go for both of their sakes. That despite their true and strong connection, other aspects of themselves made them not healthy for each other. That their relationship was for a time, that it was worthwhile and good, but now that time is over. ↩
- “A Star Is Born” is Too Easy 🎥
- Of Filibusters & Magical Thinking