From: Silver Screen

Scenes that Stick: Love and loss in ‘The Last Five Years’

Scenes that Stick: Love and loss in ‘The Last Five Years’
Graphic by Carly Johnson

Editor's Note: This article appeared in The Eagle's October 2020 virtual print edition

The ending sequence of a film is always accompanied by an array of emotions: sadness, surprise, happiness, fear or some other unique feeling — there’s nothing quite like the mindset one is in after watching a story come to life on screen.

Yet, perhaps no film has an ending quite as bittersweet as that of “The Last Five Years,” the movie musical adaptation of a show by the same name. “The Last Five Years” showcases the five-year romantic relationship of the main characters, Jamie (Jeremy Jordan) and Cathy (Anna Kendrick), as well as the eventual end of it.

Though this sounds like a typical musical, what truly makes this film unique is the way in which Jamie and Cathy’s story unfolds. Instead of a linear timeline, the film inverts the journey by introducing Cathy, who is experiencing the end of her and Jamie’s relationship, and then showing Jamie in the next scene, where the audience sees the two at the beginning of their relationship. The film showcases their falling in and, eventually, out of love from beginning to end and end to beginning. Viewers see each partner’s perspective, and their point of view only meets in the same timeframe once throughout the movie.

While this format makes for plenty of opportunities for humorous and heart-wrenching moments, no scene is more memorable than the ending (or beginning, depending on how one looks at it). In this nearly 10 minute sequence, Cathy is back at the very start of her and Jamie’s relationship, serenading Jamie about how she cannot wait until tomorrow, bidding him a wistful and heart-warming goodbye, but evidently struggling to watch him leave. After this, Jamie’s perspective shows the end of the relationship, inside of his and Cathy’s apartment, writing her a goodbye letter and explaining in a somber song how he is leaving her for good. 

As Jamie steps out of their home and onto the front porch, Cathy, in her separate timeline, is singing her goodbye. Jamie stares “at” her, representing him reminiscing on the early days of their relationship and remembering how he saw her when he still loved her. 

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The juxtaposition of Jamie’s forlorn stare with Cathy’s loving singing of “Goodbye Until Tomorrow” is a strikingly bittersweet moment of tremendous loss for the viewer, one in which Jamie and Cathy’s relationship feels like their own.

It’s a moment of dramatic irony in the most heart-wrenching sense. Viewers know that Cathy’s dreams of happiness with Jamie are futile in the end, and then they actually see Jamie walk out and leave her behind. It’s brutal in a way only a camera can capture. But what truly seals this moment is the very end. As the music starts to fade, as Jamie walks away, a younger Cathy disappears from view, and the present day Cathy comes on screen.

As she walks up the steps to her and Jamie’s home, there is a heavy sense of dread and heartbreak as viewers watch the door close behind her, knowing that Jamie’s goodbye letter lies behind it. It’s moments like these that are able to tap into the viewer's deepest fears — being left behind like a half-hearted mistake, or leaving one’s other half behind in the first place. It’s a melancholy notion and a terrible idea to conceive, but for many it’s all too inescapable and familiar. 

The film is skilled in its production and storytelling. It entertains with its vibrant and unique musical stylings; it breaks hearts in its beginning and its end; it’s relatable in the most painful of ways. And, at the end of the day, it’s scenes like this one that make a film touching, heartbreaking, captivating, memorable and, most of all, real.

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