A Star is Born (2018)
–Review by Guest Reviewer Vern Hyndman
A Star is Born is a semiotic feast prepared on a mirrored table.
Declining star Jack (Bradley Cooper) meets uber-talented struggling artist Ally (Lady Gaga) by chance; she’s the first real person he’s met in a long time. A moment on his shared stage launches Ally’s rise to stardom, and the tensions within the film tell the Creation Story in a new and culturally resonant way.
For those of us who bought the short arc of the creation story, Eve is tempted and invites Adam into sin. Adam and Eve migrate from an interdependent relationship with God as a reflection of the Trinity, to “the knowledge of good and evil” dependence on knowledge. But there is a longer arc to the story of Adam and Eve that changes the roles significantly. Adam’s responsibility was to care for and create in the garden, and the presence of evil in the garden signified Adam’s failure. Before Eve was fashioned from the bones of Adam, Adam had failed. The trajectory of Adam’s failure is underscored by his blame-shifting “the woman you gave me.” Eve is still standing in the truth, albeit broken, when she correctly states “The serpent deceived me.” From the beginning, Eve has called Adam back to his humanity, and grounded Adam in all that matters in life.
A Star is Born is the redemption of the soul of a man who has already been eaten by the machine, by a woman who is more immune to the machine. Jack’s abusive childhood and his raw talent engage the malignant narcissism that drives the music business, resulting stratospheric stardom, followed by a long, slow decline. Jack anesthetizes himself with pills and alcohol, numbing the reality that the world that objectified him has never really loved him. Jack is a man with everything who cannot appreciate anything. The end is near for Jack, and in an alcoholic haze, Ally is a dazzling apparition.
There is a beautiful semiotic moment when Jack clips a guitar string tailing and fashions an engagement ring for Ally. Music is Jack’s identity, and in offering a guitar-string ring, Jack is offering the truth of his life.
Ally’s life is real, and the film’s tension revolves around Ally’s invitation to Jack of real intimate life, set against a backdrop of the fame and celebrity. Jesus, the second Adam, is tempted in the desert by satan, and each temptation is designed to entice the Christ to abandon his humanity. “all the Kingdoms of the world, if you’ll just worship me.” Where Adam failed, Jesus prevails. Where Adam failed, Jack failed, and all that a man could ever want is Jacks’ for the bargain price of worship. Jack worships himself, and leads stadiums of people to do the same.
The temptation of Ally is similar to the temptation of Jack, and to the temptation of Jesus. Rez Gavron (Rafi Gavron) is the smooth tongued agent who offers the world, but will shape whomever takes the deal into a distorted reflection for mass appeal. Ally successfully resists the bait that Gavron offers. Gavron lands a Saturday Night Live guest appearance for Ally, and Ally sells out for the performance. Between dancers and a soul-less song, there is no message, and beyond raw talent the performance is vapid. Ally is inoculated by the experience, and sets a true course for her career that defies objectification.
I have been interested to read the reviews and comments of people who have seen the movie. The song “Why Would You Do That” in the movie was a sell-out, a denial of talent and message in favor of a popular performance, yet following the film the song is experiencing significant popularity. If the writers were trying to mock culture, they scored a direct hit. Comments by the public include an overall satisfaction with the movie, notwithstanding gnawing discomfort while watching. The strength of this movie is that under the radar, the movie critiques our own addictions, our own narcissism, our own mixed motives. The discomfort we feel while watching is the same discomfort that one feels after our therapist is open and honest about our condition. My wife Shelley described her discomfort, “The movie treats fame like sausage, it’s great until you know how it’s made.”
Bradley Cooper both directs and stars in this movie. Cooper and Gaga deliver stellar performances that are Oscar-worthy.
Vern Hyndman is a Jesus follower, and the husband to Shelley and father to four amazing young adults. As a doctoral student studying under Dr. Leonard Sweet, Vern’s current endeavors are centered around reestablishing the romance of following Jesus in the hearts of leaders.