Just finished watching La La Land for the first time. It’s taken me quite a while. I heard some of the hype, but the thumbnail and trailer just didn’t seem all that interesting to me. Of course I’ve watched a lot of YouTube reviews about it, and heard all about the cinematic beauty and narrative magic of it. I even started watching it once but lost interest. I decided to put it on while I worked on some marketing plans, for background music, but never thought I would actually get sucked in. The filmography is breathtaking, using colour and movement to capture the eye and heart. There was a mix of original and well-known songs, which I found made the music more relatable.
To me the characters felt relatable and normal. Both a little nerdy, both passionate about their art. Their struggles were real. Relationship indecision, career disappointment, heartbreaking decisions. Emma Stone is gorgeous in a natural, beautiful way, and although Ryan Gosling is also drop-dead handsome, the character of Sebastian is very down-to-earth. The movie drops in just the right amount of humour and awkwardness to make it feel like it could be real. Even the magical realism and the fact that it is, in fact, a world where it’s generally acceptable to break into songs that everyone just knows, felt like it could really happen. It wasn’t 100% polished and perfect.
What hit me the most was the goodbye. Nothing hurts worse than a breakup, especially if you do still love the other person. They declared that they would always love each other, and this is evident even when they meet again, years later, after their lives have gone in completely different directions and Mia is with someone else and even has a child. The art of letting go for the sake of the other person so that they can have their dream.
Of course, I wonder if Mia really does love her husband as deeply as she loved Sebastian. She had left him once before, of course, so it feels like she might have settled for him out of convenience, or maybe to try and fill the hole that Sebastian had left. For a brief moment I did think that she was leaving her husband for Sebastian, but I’m glad that it was just a dream, especially for the sake of the little girl.
The ending scene nearly tore my heart out. I think everyone who has ever gone through a breakup has moments of wondering what things would have been like if they had stayed with the other person. Of course, the depiction in the movie was extremely idealized and romanticized, but isn’t that how we think when we wonder what could have been? We believe that somehow everyone could have gotten what they wanted and been truly happy, forever and ever. We probably don’t fantasize much about the strife and heartache and fighting that would be inevitable. Maybe we fantasize how such conflicts could have been resolved, but can we really know? Would both truly be happy?
As the fantasy scene drew to a close, I could feel my heart crying because I knew that their shared moment of dreaming and longing was coming to an end. I could feel for both of them. But in the end, the nod of acceptance and well-wishing summed it all up. After all those years, they didn’t speak a word to each other, but they were able to let each other go, once again. Relationships are much more complicated than simply loving someone. Love is not enough, and without commitment to sacrifice, even the feelings of love will go away over time.
But what is right to sacrifice when it comes to love, and what should be held sacred, and defended above all else? Media like this often portray someone’s identity as tied to their “dream,” which is usually some sort of career aspiration. This dream is seen as more important even than being with the person you love. Did they really love each other that much, if they weren’t willing to make it work? Put somethings on hold for each other, find alternate ways of making their dreams come true? Probably, which is why it’s likely a good thing that they decided to let each other go. We weren’t given enough information to know whether Mia is truly satisfied in her marriage, but at least we know that Mia and Sebastian wouldn’t have been happy together long term. This is what makes the movie so believable. Letting go can be painful, but holding on to something that isn’t right can be worse.