What? The current remake of A Star Is Born? With Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga, known to be supporters of progressive causes? The movie whose songs and director are soliciting Oscar rumors? The movie that has grossed $169M so far? The movie that everyone loves, and finds that both Bradley and Gaga have soulful singing chops? That A Star Is Born? Why?
As you may know, the Cooper character Jackson Maine is a country rock star with serious addiction issues, all of which come to a head at one of the key moments of the movie, during an award show. Throughout the movie, he experiences periods of sobriety, and then as the pressure mounts through both high and low moments, he succumbs to his addictions again, with tragic results.
While there is a line of acknowledgment “It’s not your fault, it’s the disease,” and he is not overtly stigmatized in the movie, what is so hard to watch is the well-meaning but uneducated approaches he receives from those closest to him – his wife, played by Gaga, his older brother, played by Sam Elliott, his manager. While they feel saddened by his addiction, while they try to support him, while they do (how?) somehow get him into treatment, what is portrayed is very sad indeed. In the end, they couldn’t be the allies he needed.
Which is not say that serious users are not responsible to help themselves; they are. And this is not to blame the fictional relatives, they are not portraying bad people. But, what could have been done differently? In our work with addiction recovery, we learn:
- Relatives who believe their family member is at serious risk can file to try to mandate them into treatment. This is a Section 35 in Massachusetts.
- Family interventions and reinforcement of healthy behaviors is critical
- Surrounding the user with those who are in recovery, who understand the disease, is critical
- The Cooper character was shown in many scenes using drugs/alcohol alone. What was the plan for keeping him engaged with others? Isolation is the killer.
Many other “redos” could be offered. However, the most heartbreaking part of the movie, from a recovery standpoint, was his treatment plan. The movie implies he was in treatment for 2-3 months, and then just returned home where nothing had changed. Totally not sufficient for someone with this use history and traumatic childhood.
In the world we need, he would have been in treatment and a series of step-down programs for at least 2 years, including at least a year in a recovery house. He would need to attend meetings, develop a mind/body discipline, and seek therapy. He would have put his musical career on hold, and let go of the pressures and stress of performance. His family, manager and team would have supported this 100%. And if this had happened, the outcome could have been very, very different.
So, it’s just a movie right? Yes, but the addiction aspect of the storyline disempowers the viewer, and leaves us feeling helpless. We now, in 2018, have multiple pathways to recovery. We have an enhanced awareness of how addiction works in the brain, and how to motivate users to change. What we don’t have (yet) is a treatment-recovery system that funds the millions who need it and can’t afford it. Unlike Jackson Maine, who could have funded a full recovery. I hope this is the storyline of the next remake of “A Star Is Born.” Maybe it is time to let the old ways die.