Damien Chazelle’s award-winning romantic musical La La Land was breathtaking, refreshing, and sensational. The movie uses fantastic choreography from Mandy Moore (known for her work on So You Think You Can Dance), beautiful music from Justin Hurwitz, and a dreamy 50’s style not only to create something magical and moving, but to argue that people should sacrifice whatever it takes to fulfill their dreams.
While the movie persuades its audience by manipulating audience emotions through classic strategies of cinematography and musical theater, the movie adds something important to our culture’s conversation about pursuing dreams and living a fulfilling life. Specifically, the movie shows that, no matter what one’s goals are, we’ll need to sacrifice some things that we may desperately want in order to achieve our goals and have a fulfilling life.
Not Your Typical Romance
La La Land argues that in order to turn a dream into reality sacrifice is a requirement by appealing to the emotion of the film. It crushed our hearts by building up a high level of love and intimacy using figurative language, then emphasized the sacrifice by ripping it all away at the end of the film.
The cinematic figurative language used in the film sparks emotion that persuades the audience to accept La La Land’s claim. With the emotion and intimacy of Mia and Sebastian’s relationship built so strong, it hurt much worse when they had to sacrifice each other in order to reach their goals. Intimacy was created through the camera work and lighting; when Mia or Sebastian would enter into a personal moment, all the light surrounding them would dim as the camera zoomed closer into their face, making it seem as if they were the only person in the world- though they actually stood in a crowded room. Their moments became special, private moments that the audience got to peek in on, and because of these scenes Mia and Sebastian not only strengthened their bond with each other, but also with the audience. The bond was so great that when Mia and Sebastian chose to sacrifice each other to follow their dreams, the pain from the separation hurt much worse than it could have.
Another sort of figurative language used by Chazelle was metaphors. A perfect example is the moment Mia and Sebastian shared their first kiss in the planetarium. Just before their lips were pressed together, Sebastian stepped back, and pushed Mia up into the air (which seems strange at first, but I guess that’s what you need to expect in a musical), regardless of the surprise it was a highlight moment of them film. Sebastian and Mia waltzed together among the stars, the number was beautiful and awfully romantic. It wasn’t until Mia and Sebastian reached the ground after their waltz and finally shared their kiss that the audience realized what they had just witnessed was a metaphor. Anyone can remember the first kiss they shared with the person they love, it feels as if you are dancing in the stars. Therefore Chazelle strengthened the chemistry between the characters and the audience, this time using comparisons, yet again strengthening the audience's disappointment when Mia and Sebastian did not end up together.
Chazelle’s ideas combined with the cinematic language and strategies used in production were efficient when it came to persuasion. La La Land made its argument with beautiful execution. After getting a series of emotional punches I think the audience can say they get the point, as hard as it is we must sacrifice things that we want dearly in order to reach our version of our own happily ever after.
What Does a Dream Really Take?
Dana Rus in “Imagery vs Reality in the Perception of American Exceptionalism” tells the why- why a person’s reality turns out the way it does in the end. She points out that dreams are created off of perspective. No dream is the same because every person is different- based on the American Dream Rus states that,
“the reality of America is selective, optional, fantastic: there is an America for each of us”.
In America we value individuality, and Rus shares that this uniqueness is what directs a person through the course of their life. She emphasizes that someone’s destiny is determined by their choices, and the situations they enter themselves into. So even though the definition of a fulfilling life is different for each of us, the need to sacrifice for a fulfilling life stands as the one constant. Having choices doesn’t mean you get the opportunity experience every option, it means you must sacrifice one option for another. In dream chasing we must make decisions directed towards how we want our lives to turn out.
In La La Land, Mia places herself in the middle of Hollywood, working in a coffee shop serving celebrities, and when she is not making mochas she is auditioning for any role that will take her. Sebastian at middle age refuses to work anywhere else but with a piano- between restaurants and gigs he is always playing jazz. As much as Mia and Sebastian dreamed of being together, they sacrificed that life together in order to further their careers, so while their time together became more scarce, affecting their ability to have a fulfilling relationship, but improving their ability to accomplish their dreams: Mia’s of becoming a successful actress and Sebastian’s of owning a jazz club. But the principle here is clear: they had to choose; they had to sacrifice — and so rather than fulfilling their dream of being together, they sacrificed that dream for advancement in their career.
In “Reinventing the American Dream”, author Christopher Jencks, however, has a pessimistic view on dreams (he is NOT included with the “fools who dream”). Jencks sees dreams from a political and realistic point of view, stating that Americans really are foolish to believe that people deserve to accomplish any sort of dream just because they believe in it. He believes that Americans need to step down off their pedestals and realize that nobody deserves anything; dreams are illusions, therefore we must reinvent what our dreams are. Now Jenck’s actually has a point, we can’t just go and sacrifice random things and expect because we did something hard we are a step closer to our dreams; we can dream but we can’t be foolish. We must reinvent our dreams into realistic, accomplish-able goals. Sebastian, for example, began his dream chasing by refusing any kind of work unless he got to play the piano his way. He was close to broke and unwillingly to change his lifestyle for the better, because he didn’t necessarily like the work he would have to do. Mia helped him to finally realize he needed to work and plan for what he wanted; he signed with a gig (that he would have never joined before), and actually earned what it took to open his club. Before Sebastian could accomplish his “fulfilling life”, he had set goals and take steps that made his ideal happy ending a realistic destination.
Finding Your Fulfilled Life
Over time people can create new dreams or let old dreams fade. In the film’s hit song “City of Stars” Sebastian sang about meeting Mia;
“Is this the start of something wonderful and new? Or one more dream that I cannot make true?”
Mia and Sebastian were passionate about each other which created a new dream for each of them, a dream of spending life together At the end of the movie, Mia leaves Sebastian’s club and turns to look at him- they hold each other’s gaze for a moment then both offer a genuine smile as the movie fades into “The End”, leaving the whole audience with broken hearts and room for interpretation; did Mia and Sebastian really achieve the dream they wanted? They had sacrificed the dream of each other for the their dream careers. Many think they made the wrong choice, but they answer is still yes, they did really achieve the dream they wanted. Yes they did lose a level of happiness by not being together, but pursuing their jobs was their choice, and they were happy with the path they followed.
We still wonder, how happy could Mia and Sebastian been in the end if they stayed together? Through a montage at the end of the film Chazelle leaves the audience in tears; he shows what the life of Mia and Sebastian could have been if they stayed together- and when I say their life, I mean their home, children, style, and special moments that they never get to experience because of the choices they made. Though the goal of Mia and Sebastian’s original dreams were not reached in their potential life together, they live in the suburbs with a son, happily in love. It is a life that looks extremely average but is extraordinary because they live it together. Unfortunately for the audience, that happiness of a life together had to be sacrificed for happiness in a career for Mia and Sebastian.
Both of the potential endings for Mia and Sebastian were very different, but they had one thing in common: they were happy endings. While some may argue that Mia and Sebastian lost chances at full happiness in choosing their career over each other, others will argue that fulfillment in life is found from success, and Mia and Sebastian were successful because they did whatever it takes for their career. Neither are necessarily wrong, the bottom line is no matter what choices are made in life sacrifice IS necessary. For Mia and Sebastian it was either a fulfilled relationship or a fulfilled career, and in order to make fulfillment in one they sacrificed the other. Though La La Land focuses on sacrificing for a career, they successfully argue that whatever life you are trying to fulfill (for family, job or self), sacrifice must be an obstacle in the path you take. Because Mia and Sebastian sacrificed they won advancement in their career and a broken heart, but found fulfillment in the life they chose to live.
La La Land reaches out to the dreamers- all men women, and children- and inspires them that the stupid, impossible dream in the back of their mind is possible. A dream takes good choices, a dream takes sacrifice, a dream takes hard work, and though it’s not easy your life can be pointed in the direction you want it to be going. We learn from La La Land that our life is how we make it, but no matter what choices we make we have to sacrifice things we may really want to advance ourselves towards our fulfilled life. We can’t forget to be realistic, making goals and hard work is a key to finding success, and through Mia and Sebastian’s story we see the truth in that. Whether you want to pursue a career or focus on a family, your life belongs to you. So dream big, and make choices that direct you the way you want to be going, then you never know what you can accomplish.