How Mental Illness is Portrayed in A Star is Born

The 2018 film adaptation of A Star Is Born, directed and co-written by Bradley Cooper, addresses the topics of suicide and substance abuse.

The film follows the love story of singers Jackson Maine and Ally. In the movie, Maine persuades Ally to pursue singing and songwriting while he struggles with substance abuse and depression. As Ally begins to succeed in her singing career, the pair struggle with their relationship.

From the opening scene, the audience witnesses Maine’s drug abuse. Eventually, Maine relapses into his drug addiction and commits suicide.

When GDS High School Counselor Amy Killy spoke about the movie, she contended its depiction of mental illness (or any such depiction) was inherently problematic.

“[Mental illness] shouldn’t be glossed over,” Killy said. “What’s hard is that every situation is so different. I think it’s important for there to be different representations of people’s experiences.”

Maine struggles with alcoholism and drug addiction from the very beginning of the movie, and his struggle with abuse is the focal point of his character.

When speaking about the causes of alcoholism, Killy explained that alcoholism is often totally hereditary. Maine’s story turns out to confirm this idea: the movie reveals that his father also struggled with alcoholism.

In Maine’s last scene with Ally, he appears to be content. He has just left a rehabilitation center and looks healthy and in love with Ally. However, although it might seem to the viewer that this act is a sign of healing, it should have been a red flag.

Additionally, Killy noted that fluctuation in character and emotion and downs is a signal of dealing with mental health issues.

Throughout the movie, Maine flips between being supportive of Ally and being toxic towards her as she reaches success in her career. According to Killy, his volatile mood would suggest he certainly deals with mental health issues.

Killy also emphasized the importance of showing how substance abuse and depression impact a character’s support system in a movie.

“To not show the reality of how it impacts family and other people isn’t all that helpful,” she commented.

Acting teacher Jim Mahady felt that the actors portrayed their characters’ roles successfully.

“Bradley Cooper did a pretty good job of playing somebody who is an alcoholic,” he said. “Lady Gaga was really good too at reacting to his disease.”

Mahady also said he knew someone with a story who committed suicide with a very similar story to Maine’s. Mahady’s friend had been a performer and was in a Broadway show before he was fired. His friend then went home, took pills, drank and committed suicide. The man’s father had committed suicide before he was born, and his mother committed suicide when he was seventeen.

“I don’t think [suicide] is in your genes, but you can learn it’s an option,” Mahady commented.

Maine’s friends and family had no idea that he was having suicidal thoughts, a situation similar to Mahady’s real-life experience where there also were no warning signs.

By Lizzie Rosenman ’22 and Kira Grossfield ’22