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La La Land: A Parable for Following Your Dreams BY: RIva Kelly

The award-winning film La La Land (2016) takes the viewer on a ride of what the reality of chasing dreams is like contrasted with a view of a what chasing dreams would look like in a perfect world. Damien Chazelle’s, “La La Land” is a musical which tells the story of two people in Los Angeles, California who find love because they both are so passionate about their dreams. Mia (Emma Stone) an aspiring actress who works in a coffee shop and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a jazz musician and enthusiast, are both struggling to make it in LA. Mia has moved from her small town in Nevada to LA to follow her dream of becoming a well renowned actress. Sebastian has a dream to preserve jazz by opening his own traditional jazz club at one of the most famous jazz clubs in LA, that has recently been turned into a “tapas-bar-cum-salsa-dance-club.” They keep bumping into each other at the parties Mia hates but must attend to schmooze to people in the business and where Sebastian also must play music he hates just to make some money. Once they acknowledge each other’s presence and start conversing they realize how attracted to each other they are since they are both so passionate about turning their dream into a reality.

Mia is first introduced to the viewer when she is in her car, stuck in LA traffic and rehearsing lines in her rearview mirror for an audition she has after work. She is rudely interrupted by a loud obnoxious car horn blown by who the viewer knows as Sebastian. The camera first follows Mia to where she works. She works at a coffee shop on the Warner Brother’s lot where a bunch of different movies are shot. Famous actresses come into the shop all the time to which she notices her boss always gives them free coffee. She is constantly seen day dreaming about making it big and being the one receiving free coffee instead of brewing it. She goes to an audition where it is clear they don’t take her seriously and she is clearly tired of not being taken seriously. Mia lives with three other roommates who forced her to go out with them to network with important people in the business. She has no desire to do so but she goes anyways because she knows it could help her achieve her dream. At the end of the night her car is gone because she unknowingly parked in a tow away zone. She walks home and comes across a restaurant where she hears someone playing the piano and a melody she finds beautiful. She walks in and is mesmerized by the pianist who happens to be Sebastian. The camera zooms in to Mia’s mesmerized face and takes the audience back to the scene where she was stuck in traffic and he was beeping at her.

From the same starting point, as before, LA traffic, this time the camera follows Sebastian and introduces the viewer to his life. He is on his way to his small, shabby apartment where is sister happens to be, pestering him to get his life together. His bills are all past due and he is making no money chasing this jazz dream. He then must go to his gig at a restaurant/nightclub where the manager says he is not allowed under any circumstance to play any music he wants too. Sebastian is stuck playing Christmas jingles he does not enjoy playing because to him, that is not real music since it isn’t jazz. Sebastian is seen getting fed up with playing jingle bells, and interrupts the tune to play a beautiful melody. Upon playing the camera circles around him until Mia is caught in the shot behind him. The viewer watches Sebastian get shut down by his boss for not sticking to the list of songs he was supposed to play. The camera follows annoyed Sebastian and switches to Mia’s point of view as he is walking towards her to leave. She tries to compliment his playing but he body bumps past her to which the camera focuses on Mia’s embarrassed reaction.

Mia and Sebastian run into each other again in the Spring at party while she is mingling and he is playing a gig. From this point on Mia and Sebastian become well acquainted with each other. In another scene, he is seen visiting her at work in which after she gets off they walk through all the movie sets and she tells him about herself. Sebastian can see how passionate Mia is about acting, so he suggests she stops settling for annoying auditions where they don’t take her seriously and direct her own one woman show. Although Mia does not enjoy jazz, when Sebastian tells her about himself, she is drawn to how driven and set on his dream of preserving jazz. Mia and Sebastian make plans to see one of his favorite movies that she has never seen for “learning purposes” since Mia has a boyfriend.

One important scene that shows the force Sebastian and Mia have on each other is where she is prepared to see the movie with him, but her boyfriend comes to her house. She forgot about the plans she made to have dinner with her boyfriend and his brother. The scene shows Mia sitting at a table with her boyfriend, his brother and other “proper” and successful people. The camera is focused on Mia and as her eyes move upwards, the camera flashes to what Mia is looking at, the clock. The camera focuses on how unhappy Mia is sitting at this dinner, and builds up the anticipation the viewer as well as Mia feels on whether she will leave and meet Sebastian or not. She finally decides to get up and apologize for leaving unexpectedly. From a bird’s eye view, the camera focuses on Mia running through the middle of the empty street, on a beautiful night with an aesthetically pleasing dark blue sky. In this moment, the viewer can feel the happiness Mia feels. I think this scene truly captures the emotions associated with something new, especially the early stages of a new relationship in which everything feels as beautiful as a calm night where the sky is the perfect blue.

The film La La Land is extremely aesthetically pleasing and the musical aspect of it charms viewers. In Matt Singer’s Screen Crush article “Let’s Start the ‘La La Land’ Backlash Backlash,” he describes the visual aspect of the film’s advertisement photo, “It’s a striking visual: Gosling in his dark wool (not polyester) suit, Stone in her canary yellow dress…In this single pose, they’ve essentially diagrammed their characters’ entire journeys over the course of the film: They come from different worlds, meet, and send each other’s lives careening off in new directions, with the city of Los Angeles serving as the glittering backdrop to their romance.” The viewer can immediately see the vast differences between Mia and Sebastian, she doesn’t even jazz before she starts spending time with him. In an earlier scene, Sebastian tells his sister that he will not date anyone who does not like jazz, but he tries to convince Mia that jazz is important because it is important to him.

Singer explains the effect of the aesthetically pleasing visuals has on the story line, “The sunsets in La La Land are aesthetically pleasing, but they serve a thematic purpose too; this movie is about metaphorical sunsets as well as literal ones. In La La Land, everything is ending: Sunny days, romances, dreams, possibly jazz, and even an entire kind of moviemaking and moviegoing. Like sunsets, these things don’t last, but they sure are beautiful before they disappear.” Mia and Sebastian end up falling in love because they are chasing their dreams together as opposed to chasing their dreams alone like before.

Shortly after their movie date, Mia and Sebastian are seen visiting the planetarium where the share their first kiss. This scene is one of the most significant because it truly captures the emotions each of them feel when they are together. The camera shows a two-person shot of Mia and Sebastian flipping on the switch for the projector to project the stars on the ceiling. The camera focuses on the images that are being portrayed, milky ways and rotating nebulas that makes the viewer feel like their experiencing the breathtaking images along with Mia and Sebastian. Sebastian is then seen lifting Mia up to the stars to which she starts to float and she grabs his hand to join him.

The camera pans upwards to focus on the two and zooms into Mia stepping towards Sebastian. He spins her around as the camera zooms into the twist of her dress and exposes a zoomed-out image of Mia and Sebastian’s figure waltzing among the stars. The zoomed-out angle the camera provides, makes the audience seem like they are among the stars watching the two dance from a distance. The camera emulates the viewer’s eye by gradually panning left as they move across the galaxy. A sudden white light appears on the screen for about three seconds and then flashes to Mia and Sebastian floating down back to the ground where they originally started their kiss. This scene truly highlights the fluttery feelings you get when you start a new relationship and you share your first moments together. The feelings are so strong and beautiful that they take your breath away in the same way beautiful images of the galaxy can take your breath away. What the galaxy can create almost seems unreal in the same way being so happy with someone can make you feel.

While Sebastian encourages Mia to step out of her comfort zone to work on preparing her own one woman show, he was continuing to stay stuck in the same routine. He was picking up gigs and waiting for the Samba/Tapas place to officially close so he could buy the previously famous jazz club and make it into his own. Until one day, Mia’s mother calls and he overhears her telling her mom that he is a pianist and will open his own club one day. But when she asked about what he is doing now, hearing Mia say “he’s saving up” and “he does little gigs” got to him. He ends up getting offered a spot in his old friend’s band because they needed a new pianist. The band does not play authentic jazz music and he must play the keyboard which he has previously admitted he hates playing. He is only in the band because it provides him with a steady income. Mia is supportive of him but when he must go on tour she is a bit sad and confused about why he is settling for a band that does not even play the music he is so passionate about.

In one scene, the viewers witness Sebastian and Mia’s first fight. Usually when the two are around each other, there are happy colors present and lots of sunlight. If it is night time and they are in their apartment, there is a red-light glow which symbolizes their passion for their dreams and their love towards one another.

But in this scene where they fight, the lighting around them and in their apartment, is almost a pale blue glow. The lighting is foreshadowing to the events that are about to unfold. The way the camera is placed, makes the viewer feel like they have a seat at the dinner table with Mia and Sebastian because of the two-person close-up shot. Everything seems to be going well until Sebastian announces that he is going back on tour and that after tour he will be recording, indicating that there will most definitely be another tour after that. He wants her to come on tour with him but and becomes confused because he knows about how hard she is working for her play. Mia is upset but brings up a fair point when she asks if Sebastian likes the music he plays, and he does not understand why it matters if he likes the music he is playing or not. Sebastian admits he thought Mia wanted him to be in this band because it would mean he had a steady job. He starts to criticize his dream and says that no one likes jazz anymore, no one wants to go to a jazz club. The most significant part of this scene is Mia trying to encourage Sebastian to not give up and that people will want to go to his club because they see how passionate he is about jazz. When she says that, it captures the true essence of why she fell in love with him. She calls him out for giving up because the Sebastian she knows and fell in love with would never give up that dream. The blue light in the background adds to the sadness Mia feels and the defensive vibes Sebastian gives off because he knows she is right. They get interrupted by the fire alarm going off and the camera follows Sebastian into the kitchen where he burnt their dinner while the door is heard slamming shut. The burnt dinner symbolizes how everything has completely fallen apart, his dream and now their relationship.

Five years later, the camera zooms in on a car door opening and a foot with a designer shoe on, stepping out of the vehicle. The camera follows the woman, who happens to be a successful Mia into the coffee shop she used to work at. The viewer can hear “this one is on the house,” and she grabs her coffee and walks out, she has officially achieved her dream. The camera then follows Mia to show her new life. She is a mom and she is not married to Sebastian. When her husband and her decide to go for dinner, the traffic causes them to go an alternate route where they are then seen entering a club. After the two enter, the camera flashes to an image of the club’s name, Seb’s, it is clear to the viewer that Sebastian has achieved his dream as well.

In an interview, producer of the film, Damien Chazelle says that he created this movie to show viewers that the Hollywood fairytale they believe in, is not authentic. Chazelle thought it was important to emphasize that although the characters do not end up together in the end, their journey to success would not have been possible without each other. They continue to hold great respect and admiration for each other because they needed one another to push each other.

When Sebastian notices Mia in the crowd, he takes a seat at his piano and starts to play the same melody that Mia first heard that night her car got towed and she was walking home. The camera zooms in on her and immediately zooms out to show the Mia from that night when her and Sebastian first met at the restaurant.

A ten-minute music number is next and shows Mia and Sebastian dancing from one set to another which symbolizes what their lives could have been like in a perfect world. During this montage, the viewer sees things happen differently than before. Sebastian turns down his friend’s offer to be part to the band, Mia performs her play and the audience is full instead of empty. Mia taking part in her audition that led her to become famous is seen and Sebastian hugs her for getting the part. Shortly after, the two are seen in Paris where Mia is filming her movie and then they are seen getting married. The camera follows Mia returning different from the one she walked in to greet her husband, and follows her footsteps to reveal Sebastian sitting on the floor playing with their son. They go out for dinner, but end up at the jazz club and walk to the same seats. Instead of her current husband, Sebastian is seen in his seat and they are much more intimate.

The song then ends and the flashback is over. Mia is still staring at the stage and the camera zooms out to reveal her current husband and her still sitting next to each other. The movie ends with Mia and her husband leaving Seb’s but before she leaves she takes one last look and catches Sebastian’s eye, they stare intensely at each other and smile and they go their separate ways. Producer Chazelle admits, “I think these two characters’ help inspire each other’s dreams and the way that that unfolds means that they can’t end up together but that their love isn’t any less important. I was talking to somebody the other night and he said that ‘What I really love about this story is that in the end, even though she’s happily married and has a baby, that this movie celebrates those loves that came before and that they’re just as important as the love you have now.’ It’s about how important each person is in your journey in wherever you’re going.” The title of the film, La La Land emphasizes that nothing in this world is perfect, there are a lot of hardships and heartaches to go through. But sometimes someone may come into one’s life and make them feel like everything is perfect, but that is not reality, instead we often have to choose between the greater good. Sebastian and Mia could have ended up together in my opinion, I just think their dreams were far more important than trying to make it work during a time where they were in a spot of uncertainty of where they stood with their dream. The montage at the end leaves the viewer with the message that you can only get your biggest dream and the love of your life in la la land, which symbolizes a perfect world. But the main takeaway point from is for people to follow their passion wherever it takes them because if they do not do what they love, they will never be happy.

References: Sikov, E. (2009). Film studies: An introduction. NY, Columbia University Press.

Singer, Matt. Let's Start The 'La La Land' Backlash Backlash. ScreenCrush, 2017, screencrush.com/la-la-land-backlash/.

Perez, Lexy. 'La La Land’ Producer, Director Defend Ending as an Alternative to the Hollywood Fairy Tale. The Hollywood Reporter, 2017, www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/la-la-land-ending-meaning-explained-978105.

Pictures 1 and 5: Retrieved From https://filmdaily.co/obsessions/la-la-land-laughably-bad/

Pictures 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 11, 12: Retrieved From La La Land 2017

Picture 8: Retrieved From: https://chimeralighting.com/la-la-land-linus-sandgren/

Picture 9: Retrieved From: https://medium.com/@nschaden/la-la-land-balancing-modernism-and-classicism-c93f706dae01

Picture 10: Retrieved From: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/542191242628069912/