When Jackson Maine Crushed An Oxy With His Cowboy Boot
The tortured hero of “A Star is Born” is about as extra as masculinity gets.
The explicit, unsubtle beauty of Bradley Cooper’s 2018 directorial debut is apparent from one of its first frames, when Ally (Lady Gaga) strolls through a darkened alley after chucking the day’s trash from her dead-end job, singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” to herself as a giant red title card fills the screen: “A Star is Born.” A Star is Born is, simply put, a Big Movie: a tear-jerking, meme-generating blockbuster telling the oldest of Hollywood stories in the same ALL! CAPS! that spell out Ally’s arrival to fame by way of a massive Los Angeles billboard.
The most extra movie of the year demands an accordingly extra male protagonist, and A Star is Born finds just that in Bradley Cooper’s portrayal of Jackson Maine, a washed-up former Americana/rock god whose signature country-boy-gone-to-seed look (think Stetson cowboy hat, deep tan, deeper voice) was inspired by Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder. As he moves further from the white-hot nucleus of fame that Ally comes to occupy, Jackson leans more and more heavily on drugs and alcohol to get him by, culminating in the year’s most extra moment in film: in the midst of a bender about halfway through the film, and about to perform at a pharmaceutical convention, a shirtless Jackson takes off his cowboy boot and uses it to smash an Oxycontin, which he then snorts.
To be clear, the film’s portrayal of drug addiction and alcoholism is not inherently extra; it’s actually a fairly realistic, sensitive look at a struggling man doing his best to be a good (or at least okay) partner, while slowly breaking down. This scene, however? The textbook definition of extra. Let me repeat; Jackson! uses! his! cowboy! boot! to! smash! an! Oxycontin! Was there no less symbolic object available in the green room? A paperweight, perhaps? A tray of mediocre catered food?
The move is, nonetheless, perfectly in keeping with Jackson’s character; Cooper’s portrayal of the character is a larger-than-life iteration of a certain, old-school brand of masculinity, complete with a wardrobe straight out of the Marlboro Man’s closet and a—let’s just say it—hilariously deep voice that borders, at times, on unintelligibility.
The idea for the Oxycontin/boot scene came from Cooper’s deeply committed preparation for the role, which included dream workshops and rituals for the character that he created by “tapping into his subconscious." The Observer named the scene one of its favorite moments from the film “that aren’t Bradley Cooper or Lady Gaga,” and it’s true that the sight of Cooper-as-Maine in full breakdown mode, feeding his addiction in the most balls-out, unapologetically fucked-up way possible, is satisfying for the briefest of seconds, until it just gets sad. What can I say? Jackson Maine is a man who doesn’t mind getting his boots dirty.