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Love in the Deep End: A Star is Born

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I recently watched a film that touched me deeply. I’m working through a list of movies whose soundtracks have been used in figure skating programs. Sometimes, no matter how many times you see a program, if you haven’t seen the movie, you are still a little lost. Such was the case with US ice dance team Hubbell and Donohue and their free dance set to the soundtrack from A Star is Born.

I didn’t watch the film because it was clean or wholesome (it wasn’t), or because I’m a Lady Gaga fan (I’m definitely not), or because I’m a Bradley Cooper fan (although I am). I watched it because the story that Hubbell and Donohue put out in their free dance was deep and heartrending, and I needed to understand why.

If you haven’t seen the film here’s the nutshell version of the story:

Jack, an alcoholic, drug-addict country star who is losing his hearing, wanders into a random bar after one of his concerts. He meets a girl, Ally, who is performing on stage, and sees she has a lot of talent. They hang out afterward, where she sings him a few lines of a song she has written. They part ways, but then he sends his driver back for her – begging her to come to his next show. She finally obliges.

She ends up in the wings watching his performance when he basically drags her on stage and forces her to sing an arrangement he made for her song. They are overcome with emotion as together they belt out a stunning duet. Their performance goes viral online and, overnight, she is thrust into stardom.

They continue a whirlwind tour where she continues to rise and they fall deeper into love. Ally is approached by an agent and begins her own career. Meanwhile, Jack spirals deeper into addiction and depression as he is overshadowed by her fame and success. More of his story comes to light – the death of his father, a poor relationship with his brother, a life of depression, and even a suicide attempt at the age of 13.

About mid-way through the film, he passes out in front of a friend’s house after a show in Memphis. She’s so worried because she hasn’t heard from him; she tracks him down and finds him, telling him emphatically she won’t come find him again.

Yet the next morning, as they are sitting there at breakfast, he slips a ring made out of guitar wire onto her finger and asks her to marry him. They run off to the courthouse that day to tie the knot. However, their marriage seems doomed from the start.

The tension between her fame and fortune and his battle with drugs, alcohol, depression, and hearing loss continues to mount until it culminates at the Grammy Awards. As she is on stage to accept her award for best new artist, he stumbles onto the stage drunk and makes a complete fool of both of them. She tries to graciously cover for him, saying “I started out singing with this beautiful man, and I’ll sing with him for life, right baby?”

Jack ends up wetting his pants on stage. She covers him with her gown while he is ushered off stage. She directs them to the showers…the men try to keep her away but she screams, “It’s my job!” She ends up climbing into the shower with him (her gown still on) and helping him sober up.

From there, Jack ends up in rehab. Ally continues to tour, but visits him shortly before his discharge. She tells him that she’s waiting for him to come home. He breaks down crying telling her how sorry he is that he embarrassed her. She says, “I’m not embarrassed of you.” He tells her he needs to stick with her when he gets home.

She talks to her agent about making arrangements so her husband can come with her on her European tour so she can care for him. Her agent tells her that this is “not an option.” She tells him that if Jack can’t come with her, she wants to cancel the tour.

Jack comes home, clean and sober, repentant for all the ways he has harmed her and her career. As they cuddle on their bed, Ally lies to him and tells him that she’s not going to Europe after all because her agent wants her to stay and record a second album (when, in reality, it’s that she doesn’t want to leave him). For all his problems, Jack is smart enough to realize the truth and is faced with the reality that he’s keeping her from her dreams and success.

Ally tells him that she has one last concert, so that she can end her tour with a bang. She invites him to join her on stage so they can sing their duet one last time. He agrees to meet her there. She is seen “praying” with her tour members before the concert saying, “Please look over…my husband Jackson…we are so excited for him to be here with us.” Instead, Ally ends up singing their duet on stage alone, ending by saying, “Give it up for my husband Jackson!” …while Jack pops more pills and hangs himself in their garage.

The movie ends with Ally giving a final concert after Jack’s death, during which she sings a love song that Jack wrote for her and sang to her after he got out of rehab.

“Hello. I’m Ally Main. Thank you for being here tonight to honor my husband. He wrote a song for me. I’d like to sing it for him tonight. With your help, maybe I can.”

Wish I could, I could’ve said goodbye
I would’ve said what I wanted to
Maybe even cried for you
If I knew it would be the last time
I would’ve broke my heart in two
Tryin’ to save a part of you

Sweet story, huh? Days later I can’t get the story or the music out of my head. I guess because it’s kind of rare to see a modern movie so focused on a deep love and faithfulness in marriage in spite of unworthiness.

Ally had every reason to leave Jack…over and over again. He chose his addiction over her and gave up in his fight for his mental health time and time again.

But even through all of that she stayed by him. She claimed him publicly. She kept his last name. She honored him. She chose him. Over and over, she chose him.

In spite of this not being a clean, Godly, or wholesome film…the beauty of that choice is not lost on me. 

The recurrent “theme” song of the movie – Jack and Ally’s duet – and one of the songs that Hubbell and Donohue skate to is an intense rock ballad called “Shallow.”

Tell me something, boy
Aren’t you tired tryin’ to fill that void?
Or do you need more?
Ain’t it hard keeping it so hardcore?

I’m falling
In all the good times I find myself
Longin’ for change
And in the bad times I fear myself

I’m off the deep end, watch as I dive in
I’ll never meet the ground
Crash through the surface, where they can’t hurt us
We’re far from the shallow now

And I guess what I took away from this film was the beauty of sacrificial love in a deep end marriage.

My “deep end” isn’t the same as Ally and Jack’s. That’s not at all what I’m saying. But I see parallels because loving someone with anxiety, trauma, memory loss, and mood issues is hard.

I’m also blessed to know some other couples who have what I consider to be “deep end” marriages. And I want to speak to them and to this.

A year ago, I wasn't sure my marriage would survive another year in the deep end. But it did. We're still in the deep end. But we are treading together. 

Love in the deep end means sometimes you have to tread water. Not forward. Not backward. Just there. Day after day of the same fight because it’s the only way to survive.

Love in the deep end means sometimes you have to stop fighting, lie on your back, breathe, and pray the depth of your love will keep you afloat when you are too tired to fight for it.

Love in the deep end means diving into the cold, dark, depths over and over and over – a dive of faith.

Love in the deep end means loving alone when others don’t understand and can’t understand because they are in the shallow and life is different over there.

Love in the deep end means standing by your husband of decades while he has a meltdown in Target because his traumatic brain injury causes him to behave like a child sometimes.

Love in the deep end means standing by your husband through your twenties when he can’t get out of bed due to debilitating lyme disease. Loving with open hands that say, “God gives, and God takes away,” when – after a time of wellness and wholeness – the disease rages again and no one knows why.

Love in the deep end means being misunderstood even by people you respect who just don’t get it.

Today is Christmas Eve and all should be merry and bright, but today I know there are couples in the deep end who are just treading water who need to read this message:

You can love in the deep end.

You can give in the deep end.

You can survive in the deep end.

It’s not going to look like a Hallmark or Lifetime movie. It’s not going to look like the marriages of your friends and family members. It’s not even going to be something that most people can understand.

A year ago, I wasn’t sure my marriage would survive another year in the deep end. But it did. It took some (more) counseling, some medication changes, a lot of prayer, a lot of support from family, and a lot of choosing each other day after day. We’re still in the deep end. But we are treading water together.

A year ago, I wasn't sure my marriage would survive another year in the deep end. But it did. We're still in the deep end. But we are treading together. 

Several years ago, when my marriage was going through a particularly dark time, I wrote a series of blog posts after attending a blogging conference which brought me to my knees in regard to my marriage:

What I find so fascinating is that this godless film reminded me of a truth that Ann Voskamp brought to life when speaking at that conference. I ended up re-listening to it again this morning. I was in awe of the way this has all come back to me, full-circle.

‘All stars are these hot balls of glowing plasma, held together by gravity. And the gravity of a star is very intense. Stars are continuously crushing themselves inward, and the gravitational friction of this breaking themselves inward – this causes their interiors to heat up. The intense pressure from breaking themselves at the core of a star allow nuclear fusion reactions to take place. This reaction releases an enormous amount of energy, of light, and so you have a star.’

How scientists believe a star is made… stars are continuously breaking themselves, and the gravitational friction of this breaking makes them bright…A star is born when it breaks itself and gives itself away. 

A star is born every single time you break your mask of having it all together. A star is born when you break other people’s images of you. A star is born when you point out your own sins and be a sign pointing to Jesus.  A star is born in the breaking and the giving yourself away…by breaking any platform, by breaking any pedestals, with unwavering transparency and startling honesty and daring vulnerability and wildly courageous truth-telling. 

If a star is born when it breaks itself, what about the very brightest stars? 

‘The brightest stars are supernovas. When such a star dies, contracts based on iron in an instant send out this massive shock wave. This is a supernova explosion, appearing in our skies many times brighter than the surrounding stars.’

When we first open and think we are dying…when we first open and die to self, and die to masks, and die to comfort, and die to ease, we’re actually turning into a supernova. 

The brightest stars let themselves be broken into beautiful…broken into dying to self. Supernova.

…You have got to use the life you’ve been given to give others life.

A star is born when it breaks itself and gives itself away.

Once again the truth of these words wash over me, and I see that this is what was happening in “A Star Is Born.”

I’m probably the only person who saw the movie this way: A deep and broken love…a star is born. Not the star of a woman thrust into fame, but the star of sacrificial love that burned bright because a woman gave herself away by loving in the deep end.

I want to love like that.  

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  • MJ

    I, too, saw the movie the way you saw it – it’s a message about sacrificial and committed love. As an older newlywed who read at least 10 books on (Christian) marriage and books on relationships and differences between men and women, I thought I had a decent concept of marriage, until I didn’t. My unrealistic and false expectations of marriage shattered a couple of days after the wedding (not in a bad way but still a harsh realization) and I am still learning about what it means to love my husband and serve God in the context of marriage (I am sure I’ll be forever learning :)). Thank you for your courage to be so honest and real about your marriage. Your “breaking inward” to become a star is definitely enlightening my heart! The beautiful mess of marriage you share is so encouraging to say the least.

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