The unspoken reality Bradley Cooper gets so right in A Star Is Born.

Note: This article contains spoilers for A Star Is Born. 

One of the most moving scenes in A Star Is Born takes place inside a rehabilitation facility.

Bradley Cooper’s character Jackson is seeking treatment for addiction after a mortifying moment on a national stage that leaves the audience – both the fictional one, and the real one – stunned.

Now sober, Jackson is visited by his wife Ally (Lady Gaga), and they talk about the little things, like her work, his new-found interest in swimming, and their dog.

But in the room with them, there’s a feeling that won’t go away. It’s too scary to confront directly, but everything else is trivial in comparison. It looms heavily between them, until finally, Jackson moves in the direction of acknowledging it.

Just weeks prior, his character followed Ally on stage at the Grammy’s while she won the award for Best New Artist, and entirely intoxicated, started urinating in his pants. It was public, it was shocking, and it was humiliating.

When he goes to apologise to Ally, the rugged, charismatic, masculine character breaks down, unable to speak through his tears. His breathing changes, his demeanour changes, and he splutters, “I embarrassed you.”

A few breaths later, he manages to get out the words, “…your dad,” referring to the way Ally’s father chastised him after the incident.

Ally holds him, telling him that she doesn’t care. But as much as Ally’s opinion means to him, it’s clear that her comfort doesn’t have the power to change how he feels about the incident and how he feels about himself: Pure, unbridled shame.


There is perhaps no emotional experience as painful and as dangerous as shame.

Shame, as opposed to guilt, involves complete self-condemnation and feelings of disgrace. When we’re ashamed, we don’t believe we’ve done something bad, we believe we are bad.

It’s an emotion that plays a crucial role in a number of mental disorders, because it’s characterised by the desire to hide and escape. According to researcher Brené Brown, “shame is highly, highly correlated with addiction, depression, violence, aggression, bullying, suicide, [and] eating disorders”.

It’s a particularly painful experience “of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection”.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen shame believably portrayed on screen.

But anyone who’s known a person with a severe mental disorder, whether it’s alcoholism or an eating disorder, knows the danger of shame. It can be the feeling that holds us back from moving on, because we’re so plagued by how we’ve hurt and affected the people around us. Shame is exceedingly difficult to confront, because it’s so uncomfortable.

Having worked with people with eating disorders, I know it was the feelings of shame that stuck around long after the symptoms were gone.

The memories of stealing food, or breaking into locked cupboards, or lying to the people you love. Gambling, or addiction, or psychosis can bring with it the same type of experiences – the loss, the betrayal, and the flashbacks of being the type of person you don’t ever want to be again.

That’s what Bradley Cooper’s character got so right in A Star Is Born. The portrayal of humiliation, and the logistical and psychological impact of that humiliation, is groundbreaking.

And shame – the lived experience of it as well as the concept itself – is most dangerous when it sits silently in the dark. By bringing it to the screen, within a flawed but widely adored character, perhaps Cooper has said something that’s long gone unspoken.

Shame slowly loses its power when it’s shared.

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