La La Land ending shows how powerful film can be

The ending of La La Land left me emotionally shocked, and I did not know why yet at that moment. What does the ending mean? I couldn’t see clearly when I was in the theater. Does it mean Mia and Sebastian’s love story is consisted of a series of mistakes that, if corrected, they can be together? Why am I so shocked about that? Upon later reflection, I began to understand. La La Land showed me what movies can do, and how powerful this form of media can be.

 

Consider the process we perceive the movie’s first four acts, through the first Winter to Fall. Winter: two lowlife man and woman living in Hollywood and their unlikely encounter. Spring: they are attracted to each other and fall in love. Summer: their happy life together and their pursuit of dreams. Fall: they experience hardships, but things seem to work out in the end. These, allow me to over summarize a bit, are the exact same routines the audience would expect in a romantic film or musical.

 

The ending of La La Land is so powerful because it cleverly breaks such expectations in the fifth act, the second Winter. By the end of act four, the audience is left with the impression that Mia is very likely to get her role and finally become an actress. When Mia first shows up in act five, we all nod in agreement. Look at her, all in fine clothes, high heels clicking against the floor, and seems so prestigious that the Café she used to work in now offers her two free coffees. Just another round of routines before a wrap, we are sure. Then things veer out of our expectations; the second coffee Mia gets isn’t for Sebastian as we’d like it to be, but for a man totally strange to us. He is obviously the husband of Mia now, and they have children together. What about the romance Mia and Sebastian had during the past year? What about the dreams they pursued and the vows to forever love each other? We don’t want a strange man in the end; we want Sebastian, the character we are already familiar with, have a connection to, and can sympathize with. By cleverly breaking the audience’s expectations, La La Land makes us already nostalgic by the beginning of act five.

 

Then the final blow. Another unlikely encounter. They meet in the jazz bar Sebastian used to dream about, and Mia is finally a successful actress. Then cue in the dream sequence, the fantasy montage, or however you’d like to call it, only we all know this isn’t real. In a sense, we know the whole story isn’t real; it’s a movie after all, and we know the romantic love they had during the first four act and our expectations for this genre of film are already too unrealistically beautiful. But the final sequence is more beautiful still. Every bad moment is removed, if not replaced with a better version. The regrets are no more because they seize every opportunity to be happy, the setbacks they can’t get over with are now all overcome, and they live happily ever after.

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Sebastian and Mia watching a film in a film. “Still from La La Land, (2016.) Image from IMDb.”

Already nostalgic, I was crashed by this fantasy sequence. This is why we go to movies; this is why we make movies! In just two hours, we experience a life of could-have-beens and could-bes, a life that mimics the reality, but only more beautiful. We are not delusional. We know they are just movies, not reality, but we’d like them to be real and pour our laughs and tears into them to make them more relatable than pure fantasies. We know they are too unrealistically beautiful to be real, but in an alternative universe where we control space and time, they can be. In the la la land of film, we make fantasy real, even for just two hours. This, is the magical power of film.

— Kevin Yu

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9 Responses to La La Land ending shows how powerful film can be

  1. mediaphiles says:

    I really would like to see La La Land and your post gave a great intro into some of the values that you took away from it, and how it is a movie that seems as though one could be emotionally invested in while watching. I think you did a really nice job of expressing why it is that we as viewers go to see movies and how it is that in such a short time we are able to experience a compelling and beautiful story.

    Catherine Maier

  2. mediaphiles says:

    I, too, left La La Land shocked at the emotional and gut-wrenching ending. The implication that in order to pursue your dreams, sometimes the one person you love has to leave your life is a tough thing to watch, especially when watching Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling’s perfect chemistry on-screen. Truly a great film.

    Cal Parsons

  3. La La Land is my favorite film of the year as well–solely because of the ending. I think the ending was appropriate, given the bittersweet nature of LA. Though it is certainly sad (and we all wish they were together), I don’t think the movie would have been so great if we got the outcome we craved. It’s simply the nature of the industry and the reality of beauty versus sacrifice. You’re right–this is what makes the film so relatable.

  4. mediaphiles says:

    More Spoilers

    It was interesting for me to go to the film again with other friends who ended up hating the ending, saying it was “contrived” and “unrealistic.” I completely rejected their opinions, honestly. For me the ending says more than most musicals or hollywood films dare to. Sure the “happy ending” is there, but it’s given to us in such an over the top musical montage that you realize it is in and of itself a surreal representation of the emotions that Seb is feeling as he plays their song.

    For me La La Land is an ironic critique of everything Hollywood stands for. You go in expecting a musical, and that is what you get. But in the end the point is that real life isn’t like musicals. They both achieved their goals because they worked independently and dedicated their lives to it. Mia just so happened to meet someone else on the way. It happens. But life goes on, and I love the way that they make up in the end, with just a nod. I don’t think it’s unrealistic at all, and if anything the song and dance makes not only for an entertaining representation of their emotions, but also makes for a self-aware critique of the nostalgia that so many of us are trapped in. It’s beautiful, but we all need to grow up sometimes and make sacrifices.

    Russell Lawrence

  5. mediaphiles says:

    I saw La La land last week and I really enjoyed it. I also thought that the ending was what ultimately made the film so great. The film plays off of the cliche Hollywood romance throughout with tons of illusions to classic films. I could not help, but think about the scene in Casablanca, where Ilsa walks in and sees Rick, when Mia walks into Seb’s club at the end. I think any film that can capture a feeling from one the greatest films of all time is truly something special.

    -Walker Rise

  6. mediaphiles says:

    I have not seen La La Land yet but am a huge fan of Emma Stone. Your final paragraph convinced me to watch it as soon as I can. I find myself watching movies and enjoying them but then forgetting about the majority when life gets so busy. Hearing how much it affected you is amazing and I hope to feel that too!
    -Maddie Turner

  7. mediaphiles says:

    I very much appreciate your comments regarding the closing of La La Land, as I was absolutely enamored with it. I felt that La La Land as a whole, truly captured what one experiences in Los Angeles-the ups and the downs-but the constant reminder that it is a place where dreams come true. Damien Chazelle though, just as he did with Whiplash, did not provide us with the ending that everyone expected- rather, he gave us something real and tangible. While it may have hurt, it felt true and I could not agree with you more that this film shows us what is possible through the medium of film.
    -Luke Dellorso

  8. mediaphiles says:

    Of course, everyone wishes the movie would have ended with Mia and Sebastian happily living their dreams together. I personally liked the ending because throughout the movie I saw their dreams as the main goal, and the couple understood that their own relationship may not make it in order for them both to have their dream. This is an amazing movie and Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling have amazing on screen chemistry. I would watch any movie they are in together.

    -Kendra Thornton

  9. marymdalton says:

    Ah, Kevin, you are an incurable romantic. That is not a bad thing. Lovely post.

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