After the unveiling of a statue to fellow lost rock god Chris Cornell in Seattle last week and following a summer of the #ItsOkayToNotBeOkay movement, momentum is finally picking up in a field that has been silenced for too long. Bradley’s Cooper latest reincarnation of a classic tale, A Star is Born,is a harrowing testimony not only to the nature of the music industry, but to the often-neglected subject of men’s mental health.
Bradley Cooper gives an outstanding depiction of a country rock singer in decline. Fuelled by alcohol, childhood trauma and an increasing drug habit, Cooper’s Jackson Maine staggers through his own story with enough charm and self-deprecation to make both Gaga’s Ally and audiences all over to fall in love with him.
And they have, truly, fallen for him. Twitter has exploded with smitten ladies (and gentlemen) celebrating the sexiness and rock‘n’roll chic of Maine. How someone can see glamour or sex appeal in such a clearly broken man in desperate need of help is beyond me. And this is perhaps the perpetuation of the problem. Sadness is sexy. And if it’s not sexy its weak, or feminine.It is not an issue faced by ‘real’ men.
Which is strange, because every week in the UK 84 men take their own life. In 2015, 75% of suicides committed were male. It remains the highest cause of death in men in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland under the age of 45. Men don’t cry, they reach for a gun.
We talk about the problematic depictions of women in the media, and rightly so. But conversationsneed to start about the way we portray men. The idea that strong-and-silent is alluring is not only ridiculous, but downright dangerous. In a society where men are most at danger from themselves, we need to start talking about why we naturally assume that “manning up” will cure depression. As Jackson sings, “in the bad times I fear myself.”
Research by Samaritans referencesa “gold standard” of masculinity which men often compare themselves to, and the anxiety of not meeting these expectations drives a lot of men’s mental health issues. Middle-aged men are the most vulnerable, being the demographic most at risk of suicide. This is the precarious generation Jackson Maine belongs to and comes to embody in his deterioration.
Maine’s breaking point is the tragic climax of the film, but hislong path into self-destruction is in no way diminished by its inevitability. His tragic arc is weighted by his inability to change; highlighted next to Ally’s rise to stardom. Jackson’s lonely death in his garage by his own hand is certain from the moment he is cornered by Ally’s manager. The already mentally vulnerable Jackson has his worst fears (and the fears of all those who contemplate ending their own life) confirmed: he is told he is a burden.
This is arguably the most powerful moment of the film, even more sothan its upsetting consequences. It unapologetically highlights the susceptibility of those with mental health issues to suicide, showing just how easy it can be to push someone past the point of no return. The tale is tragic, yet hopefully the impact will be positive as men’s mental health issues are thrown intothe spotlight. Mental illness has taken real rock legends from us, such as Kurt Cobain, Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington, and only by talking about these issues out in the open can we hope to overcome the epidemic of male suicide.
We need to continue this fight for all the brave men we have lost, and all the men we can still save.