“I just wanted to take another look at ya.”
Seeing someone’s true self is important in A Star Is Born, but being able to look at one’s self is even more important. In Bradley Cooper’s film, each character is shown to have flaws. However, the film offers a solution to the problems these flaws create; introspection.
A Star Is Born is about Jack, a declining blues musician who discovers a singer. That singer is Ally, an incredibly gifted artist. We see Jack help Ally achieve her goals of becoming a famous musician. We see Jack become inspired by Ally’s passion and talent, and a waning star begins to write new material. Along with the budding romance plot, we see Jack cope with childhood trauma and career struggles which have led to substance abuse.
Throughout the film, we see mirrors follow Jack and Ally. At a drag show, in hotels, in homes, windows are used as mirrors, and we see visual allusions that mirror an event in Jack’s past, and a glimpse into his future. This visual motif demonstrates the need for each character to look at themselves. At one point in the film, Jack enters a bathroom. Ally has just been nominated for a Grammy, and she’s relaxing in the bathtub. Jack looks in the mirror, and sees her. He’s too focused on the flaws he perceives, and doesn’t take a moment to see the drunk man who’s about to berate his wife. This won’t be the last time he’ll ruin a moment because of his inability to look inward.
We hear Jack sing, “Maybe it’s time to let the old ways die” several times in the film. Jack’s lyrics reflect where his character is in this story. These lyrics aren’t even necessarily referring to his substance abuse; they could be about his music. Maybe it’s time to stop being a frontman. Maybe it’s time to support your wife musically, rather than she support you. Maybe it’s time to stop music completely because you’re losing your hearing. By focusing on Ally, Cooper arguably demonstrates that Jack could just be using Ally to get back on top. Later in the film, during a performance of “Pretty Woman” at the Grammy’s (clever song choice given Ally’s story), the focus of the camera is on Jack who is only the guitarist. Jack’s moment in the spotlight had been taken from him, and a younger, hipper singer took the lead. Jack pops pills, chugs whiskey, and we watch a long close-up of Jack wailing the lead guitar; this grandstanding foreshadows the following scene.
Ally has reached the pinnacle of music; winning a Grammy! We watch Jack embarrass Ally by drunkenly following her up to the stage, sitting on the stairs in a stupor, yelling during her speech, and, ultimately, urinating on himself in a moment only matched by Hereditary in it’s brutality. If only Jack could look at himself. If only he could stop taking digs at Ally and instead take more moments to be proud of her accomplishments, whether he agrees with the methods or not. Jack cannot handle her success, no matter how badly he pretends he can. Jack feels entitled to her success because he helped to get her there.
This isn’t to say Ally is without flaws, though. Ally sees herself through the eyes of others in the film, rather than the way Jack sees her. The best parts of A Star Is Born show the budding relationship between Jack and Ally. Jack is truly in love with her in these scenes. He asks why she wears fake eyebrows and painted hair, foreshadowing her persona later in the film. She says music executives think her nose is wrong, but Jack thinks it’s beautiful. We also see red and blue lighting on Ally (Jack being in red) consistently. This is a visual portrayal of her inner conflict, demonstrating her lack of balance between love and career, which is another issue with the character that she could see if she weren’t focused on what others thought. This inability to love herself and work on the couple’s marital issues could be solved with introspection. Ally should have realized her talent and inner beauty, and written sincere music with her husband; the way she should always remember them.
The final shot of Jack is gut-wrenching. Following a tracking shot of his boots walking to the garage, we see a belt unfurl. Jack is about to hang himself, like he attempted to do as a kid. The garage door slams shut on Jack, a barrier between us and the character. We’ve had our last look at him. This tragedy has reached its apex, and Ally’s emotional reaction is as hard to watch as Jack’s last steps. Ally then sings the song she began early in the film, which had been completed by Jack. This is cut together with a scene of Jack singing it to her. A large portion of Ally’s performance is shot in profile, proudly displaying the nose Jack loved so much.
This tragic tale is cautionary; it’s about mental health and the need to take care of oneself. It’s about having a positive self-image. Cooper brilliantly portrays these character’s flaws, and offers a visual solution. A Star Is Born demonstrates the need to be introspective in life to achieve happiness.
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