Even if you didn’t get to watch the Oscars recently, you probably heard about the fantastic duet between Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper. They performed “Shallow” (which ended up winning the Oscar for Best Original Song), which is from the fourth iteration of A Star is Born.
In the film, a rock musician, Jackson Maine (Cooper), hears a heart-wrenching rendition of “La Vie en Rose” performed at a local dive bar. Ally (Gaga) is the performer who struggles to get her career off the ground until Maine discovers her. The duo goes on to fall in love and weave their musical styles together to create songs like “Shallow.” All throughout, Maine struggles with addiction fueled by many issues, including his battle with tinnitus.
Tinnitus in A Star is Born
Cooper’s depiction of the rock star sheds light on something many people experience. The film begins at a point where Maine is already a huge musician, presumably with a long history of loud music and sold-out concerts. His manager (also brother) begs him to start wearing in-ear monitors that can block out some sound to protect his hearing. Maine refuses on the basis that it makes him a weaker performer when he can’t hear everything. The prolonged noise exposure comes at a cost – Maine hears ringing when he leaves the stage.
Tinnitus and musicians
Noise-induced hearing loss and tinnitus are common among musicians, and the National Center for Biotechnology Information concluded that about 38% of rockers from their study experienced tinnitus. Maine turns to alcohol and prescription drugs to fight off the ringing in his ears, and it becomes clear that depression and other mental struggles plague him. The American Tinnitus Association warns that tinnitus can be linked to other conditions, 2 of which are depression and anxiety. They state that 48-78% of tinnitus sufferers also experience other mental health issues.
As we watch Maine grapple with his tinnitus, depression, and addiction, it becomes painfully obvious he needs help. Cooper cast his own real-life ear doctor, Dr. William Slattery, in the role of Maine’s hearing doctor to ensure all the information in the portrayal was accurate. If treated properly, tinnitus can be improved, and in many instances hearing aids are a great tool to cut down ringing.
Tinnitus in the film industry
Unfortunately, while the stigma surrounding hearing loss has decreased in society, there are still few movies featuring characters with hearing loss. Recently, Baby Driver focused on a young man who needed to listen to music at all times to drown out the ringing in his ears. Other movies or television shows highlighting characters with hearing loss include Mr. Holland’s Opus, Switched at Birth, Children of a Lesser God, and The Miracle Worker. Given the high number of Americans with hearing loss, there are surprisingly few characters representing the ailment. Movies like A Star is Born help bring normalcy to the issue and show how real the struggle can be to manage on your own.
By: Diana Michel
Sources: NCBI, ATA, The Cut