From: Silver Screen

Scenes that Stick: Finding peace in an unhappy ending in ‘La La Land’

Scenes that Stick: Finding peace in an unhappy ending in ‘La La Land’
Graphic by Carly Johnson

I suppose that it is easy to find “La La Land” cliché. The upbeat music, star-studded cast, vibrant costumes and glossy shots of the Hollywood hills make you wonder if you’ve seen the film before. But, what sets it apart from the rest of the oversaturated, love-sick movie musicals? 

The finale, which lamentably acknowledges the boundaries of the idealistic Hollywood ending. This is the key to understanding the film’s beauty.

Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) find themselves in a tough situation: While they may be madly in love, their life paths are rapidly diverging. Their romance becomes strained due to physical and emotional distance that comes with the progression of their respective careers. Each step they make toward repairing the relationship somehow drives an even greater divide. 

Years following their breakup, Mia finds herself inadvertently visiting Sebastian’s new jazz club with her husband. Upon spotting her in the crowd, Sebastian begins to play their musical theme, an unmistakable motif that emerges throughout the movie. 

With those notes, a seven-minute montage in the style of a golden-age movie musical begins. Moments of their relationship that could have gone differently are depicted, the make-believe choices leading to an alternate ending in which they live happily ever after. The aesthetic of the section is fantastical, with painted scenery often replacing real-world locations. Needless to say, practically everything about the epilogue is unrealistic. It is the played-out, oversimplified embodiment of “what could have been.”

And yet, neither of the characters display any sort of disappointment with being on the outside of this fantasy. As Sebastian finishes his piece and Mia stands to leave, the two share a brief parting smile. After their shared moment, they divert their attention away from each other, and the movie concludes with a nostalgia-inducing flourish. 

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It is easy to feel a bit broken or disappointed by the ending, as the instinct is to root for the couple throughout the course of the film. With every one of their missteps, you can feel yourself growing more frustrated. However, there is undeniably a sense of authenticity in the conclusion. It parallels how even the most passionate of relationships often fall out of tune, sometimes through no direct fault of either party. 

From my perspective, it appears that Mia and Sebastian push each other toward achieving their dreams. They realize that had their relationship continued, they may not have accomplished as much as individuals. Their connection serves the purpose of teaching them the lessons necessary to move forward with their passions, even if it came at the expense of losing one another. Perhaps the epilogue proves they never really “lost” their love, at least not in the metaphorical sense. There is always a piece of them that will remain tied to their “la la land.”

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