“La La Land” Is This Generation’s Love Story and It Is Profoundly Sad

 

Warning: This piece is one big, fat spoiler. Sorry. Go see the movie, it’s great!

The movie La La Land begins with a two-song introduction to the mindset of young nobodies who go to Hollywood, dreaming of making it big. “Someone in the Crowd” says “Do what you gotta do until someone notices you.” We’re introduced to two characters who are doing exactly that, with no evidence of success. Mia is an aspiring actress who works in a coffee shop on a movie lot. Sebastian is a pianist with dreams of revitalizing jazz music. In the meantime, he plays humiliating gigs of trite Christmas carols and an 80s cover band.

As their relationship deepens, they encourage each other toward success. Sebastian encourages Mia to not only write a play but to self-produce her one-woman show at a local theater. Mia encourages Sebastian toward his dream of opening a jazz club and suggests a few revisions. However, Sebastian joins a pop band led by an old friend and Mia’s show flops.

The relationship between Mia and Sebastian is mostly predictable: they begin as failures but encourage each other toward success. By the time they both begin to taste success, they become aware that their relationship is at an end. Recall the second song’s lyric “do what you gotta do.” They had worked themselves out of their relationship. It’s hard to know whether they prioritized success over their relationship or success itself undermined their relationship.

Five years later, Mia and her husband stumble into Sebastian’s new jazz club – with all the changes she had suggested years before. Sebastian, playing emcee for the night, spots Mia, sits at the piano, and plays the song that had been the theme for their relationship throughout the movie.

While Sebastian plays, we are flown through a version of life in which their relationship continued and they married and had a child and were both successful though not exactly in the same way as the movie had depicted. It is the most unconventional moment in the movie and a familiar dilemma for millennials today. If success requires absolute devotion, what room is there in your life for anyone else? If your disenchantment with the possibility of meaning-giving relationships turns out to be wrong, what consolation can success provide? These are disturbing questions that haunt and for which, so far, our world offers no answers.

The profoundly sad moment of “La La Land” is when Mia realizes, in either regret or horror, that she was not forced to sacrifice her relationship with Sebastian for the sake of success. Instead, she was simply unable to imagine the possibility of reaching success while also maintaining their relationship.

After watching the blossoming of a positive relationship and its demise brought about by success, Mia and Sebastian are faced – in a moment of true tragedy – with the possibility that it didn’t have to be that way.

When young people have early successes, they have few relationships and little to no responsibilities to a family. Their experience teaches them that success is the product of an unobstructed and obsessed work ethic. The success stories embedded in our culture validate that experience and seal the deal for our understanding of what success demands from us. This simplistic sequence doesn’t exclude alternative scenarios for success, it simply does not include them and thus appears to be absolute.

In our competitive society, the rewards apparently go to those who obsessively game out scenarios, make superior calculations of risk, and ultimately play to win. At least, that’s what we tell each other and ourselves. Where imagination and creativity fits into this way of life is unclear. Often it is jettisoned as an inefficient and costly distraction. Unlike Mia’s realization in the club, the potential futures we have lost may never be known.

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  1. James Gawron Thatcher
    James Gawron
    @JamesGawron

    Eric Wallace:The profoundly sad moment of “La La Land” is when Mia realizes, in either regret or horror, that she was not forced to sacrifice her relationship with Sebastian for the sake of success. Instead, she was simply unable to imagine the possibility of reaching success while also maintaining their relationship.

    After watching the blossoming of a positive relationship and its demise brought about by success, Mia and Sebastian are faced – in a moment of true tragedy – with the possibility that it didn’t have to be that way.

    Eric,

    This is complete valuelessness at work. The current generation has been conditioned to be so disdainful of values that they automatically assume they’ll be forced to give up the relationship.

    Pathetic.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #1
  2. Eric Wallace Inactive
    Eric Wallace
    @EricWallace

    James Gawron (View Comment):
    Eric,

    This is complete valuelessness at work. The current generation has been conditioned to be so disdainful of values that they automatically assume they’ll be forced to give up the relationship.

    Pathetic.

    Regards,

    Jim

    Jim,

    I don’t disagree with you. What struck me about this movie is its ambiguity at the conclusion. It wasn’t a “and everyone lived happily ever after” ending – far from it. My hope (albeit probably too optimistically) is this movie might be the beginning of an honest appraisal of the choices and possibilities in each person’s life and lifestyle – apart from the warped perspectives our politics has offered.

    Eric

    • #2
  3. Eric Wallace Inactive
    Eric Wallace
    @EricWallace

    This guy from The Federalist didn’t like the movie at all and reaches some conclusions opposite from mine. Might prove an interesting follow-up read.

    • #3
  4. Fake John/Jane Galt Coolidge
    Fake John/Jane Galt
    @FakeJohnJaneGalt

    Maybe love is profoundly sad?   Especially now in the “if it feels good do it” and the “swipe left or swipe right” generation.

    • #4
  5. Eric Wallace Inactive
    Eric Wallace
    @EricWallace

    Fake John/Jane Galt (View Comment):
    Maybe love is profoundly sad? Especially know in the “if it feels good do it” and the “swipe left or swipe right” generation.

    Those “innovations” were supposed to be “liberating” and universally affirmed and yet that’s not the vision promoted by “La La Land,” which is noteworthy.

    • #5
  6. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    I’m really glad you wrote this up! I stayed away because it didn’t look like my kind of musical, but I do think a lot of what you say makes sense, so far as the plot is concerned, & American society.

    I am of course far more friendly to America’s millennials than, well, maybe than just about anyone on Ricochet. I think they’re far more sinned against than sinners, in the scorecard of America’s reciprocal blame game.

    I also agree that competitiveness is crazy in an age of loneliness. I’m thinking long & hard about this & it’s good to see other people who think about the same stuff.

    Now, for the differences. I would say that there is more than a little of the pleonastic in the success-loneliness couple. Success to people who were not brought up (1) in an age of confidence & (2) did not benefit from broad & narrow social organizations to protect & guide them in the great world that i America–success to such people often means the only tolerable answer to the question: Who am I?, because it says, I’m tolerable, I’m worth something. Everyone’s alone, it’s hard to get anyone’s attention–& secretly, most daren’t believe they could make claims on someone else’s time, love, & life.

    People who want to blame the young themselves; or the liberals; or Big Government–or whoever, can be my guests. But it’s America that’s in trouble-

    • #6
  7. Kate Braestrup Member
    Kate Braestrup
    @GrannyDude

    This is interesting. Haven’t seen the movie, but it brings up something my husband and I have discussed pretty often, namely what it is that the extremely successful people we know have in common?

    By “extremely successful” I mean someone who is at the top of his or her (usually his) field. Weirdly, my dad was Exhibit A (reporting/history) my cousin is Exhibit B (Hollywood) and another cousin’s husband is Exhibit C (high finance). All, as it happens, male, and all of them absolutely and utterly prioritize(d) their work.   Exhibit B didn’t even marry or have kids, just a series of girlfriends not serious enough to even introduce to the fam—while Exhibits A (Dad) and C had wives who essentially made family life happen without them.

    These are, however, outliers. By definition most of us do not ascend to the top of our professions, nor need we. More balanced lives bring their own successes, and reason to (at times) pity those who live out-of-balance. Just about every college commencement speaker reminds us, nobody on his or her deathbed wishes he’d spent more time at the office…well, Dad might have. But I’m glad I won’t.

    Sheer hard work—even obsessive work—definitely contributes to the outlier brand of top-flight success, but it’s still a gamble, with odds that would probably discourage a saner person from making the attempt. I’ve met devoted poets who gave up everything for their art…and their poems stank. And I’ve met storytellers who could’ve been wonderful novelists if only they’d had the discipline, or maybe the interest in sitting down and actually writing. Success in anything is a mixture of talent, discipline, labor and luck. Parents of prodigies have my sympathy, as do the spouses (usually wives) of those who are, simply, obsessed with the work they do.

    I’m glad I get to be somewhere in the middle, balancing priorities of family and service and creativity in the usual, muddled way that yields what feels to me, at least, like a pretty whole and blessed life.

     

    • #7
  8. Eb Snider Member
    Eb Snider
    @EbSnider

    Well, I didn’t see it, but hey…. if it’s good enough to win a Best Picture Oscar I guess it’s worth consideration.

    • #8
  9. Hypatia Inactive
    Hypatia
    @Hypatia

    In my opinion,  the movie is still about lasting love.  After all, there’s NO indication, when we see Mia with her husband and child, that she did the wrong thing, or that she “settled”.   It’s just–love doesn’t die, or not always. (Sometimes one person kills it!) Many times ( the more, the luckier we are)  there are many parallel loves and possible lives, and who hasn’t had one or more moments like Mia has in  Seb’s club?

    No, it’s about love, not competitiveness or the drive to success. Remember,  love vaunteth not itself, does not insist on its own way….and never fails.

    • #9
  10. Quinn the Eskimo Member
    Quinn the Eskimo
    @

    Eric Wallace: Instead, she was simply unable to imagine the possibility of reaching success while also maintaining their relationship.

    I summarized this for someone as “Sometimes your dreams aren’t enough.”

    • #10
  11. Fake John/Jane Galt Coolidge
    Fake John/Jane Galt
    @FakeJohnJaneGalt

    So basically this story says that relationships and family is for losers?

    • #11
  12. Eric Wallace Inactive
    Eric Wallace
    @EricWallace

    Kate Braestrup (View Comment):
    I’m glad I get to be somewhere in the middle, balancing priorities of family and service and creativity in the usual, muddled way that yields what feels to me, at least, like a pretty whole and blessed life.

    If someone could make a movie about that! That would be hard but worth it.

    • #12
  13. Eric Wallace Inactive
    Eric Wallace
    @EricWallace

    Hypatia (View Comment):
    After all, there’s NO indication, when we see Mia with her husband and child, that she did the wrong thing, or that she “settled”. It’s just–love doesn’t die, or not always. (Sometimes one person kills it!) Many times ( the more, the luckier we are) there are many parallel loves and possible lives, and who hasn’t had one or more moments like Mia has in Seb’s club?

    All of those are possibilities. My wife and I agreed that if the movie did not end ambiguously as it does, it would not be nearly as good.

    • #13
  14. Eric Wallace Inactive
    Eric Wallace
    @EricWallace

    Quinn the Eskimo (View Comment):

    Eric Wallace: Instead, she was simply unable to imagine the possibility of reaching success while also maintaining their relationship.

    I summarized this for someone as “Sometimes your dreams aren’t enough.”

    At the danger of sounding like a naive romantic, I think another possible summary is “Sometimes we don’t dream enough.”

    • #14
  15. Eric Wallace Inactive
    Eric Wallace
    @EricWallace

    Fake John/Jane Galt (View Comment):
    So basically this story says that relationships and family is for losers?

    Almost the opposite actually! If that was the message, I would expect an ending of “everyone’s cool” and a redemption and “happily ever after.” But it was not that way at all. The “right decision” and how it felt to the characters making the decisions was left very open-ended.

    • #15
  16. Owen Petard Member
    Owen Petard
    @OwenPetard

    Fake John/Jane Galt (View Comment):
    So basically this story says that relationships and family is for losers?

    Umm, nope. Have you seen the movie?

    • #16
  17. Troy Senik Contributor
    Troy Senik
    @TroySenik

    Eric,

    Great post. I loved the movie and interpreted it precisely the same way. I place it in a  subgenre that has developed in recent years about how contemporary society distorts (and in some instances, ruins) our capacity for love. Two other wonderful films I’d put in that category are Up in the Air and Her (which I wrote about at Ricochet back in the day).

    By the way, one film that has similar ambitions but that you should avoid at all costs: The Lobster, the allegorical art film that had a screenplay nomination at this year’s Oscars. Total, utter garbage — and disturbing to boot (any film that features graphic violence against dogs is automatically on my blacklist).

    • #17
  18. Quietpi Member
    Quietpi
    @Quietpi

    Another Generation, Another Ending.

    Jim and Tammy were “steadies” (in the 1950’s sense) all through high school.  They saw themselves as perfect for each other, despite their differences.  Jim was a jock – a very good jock, but a jock.  Tammy was a scholar, cheer leader, class president.  They had every intention of spending their lives together, so certain that when they were 17 years old, he proposed to her.  But Tammy’s mother could see that Jim would never amount to anything, and forbade it.

    After high school they parted ways, lost contact, and each married wonderful spouses.  Each raised wonderful families and had exciting, fulfilling lives.  As things happen, Tammy’s husband entered the same field as Jim, and the men would occasionally encounter each other at regional conferences.

    Because Jim certainly did amount to something.  He had a wonderful career, topping it off teaching at the local university.  I encountered a student in the major in which Jim taught once, in a barber shop.  Did he know Jim?  The student’s face lit up. “He’s my favorite professor!”  He and his wonderful wife were beloved members of the community.  Jim’s wife passed away suddenly, but Jim remained active, vibrant and a joy to know.

    Unbeknownst to anybody here, Tammy’s husband also passed away.  Years passed, when a friend of Jim’s happened one Sunday to attend a small church in a distant community. (Continued)

    • #18
  19. Quietpi Member
    Quietpi
    @Quietpi

    (Continuing)

    It was pure serendipity that Jim’s friend and Tammy met.  You’re from River City?  I knew somebody in River City.  Do you know Jim?  Why yes, he did.  Within a week they were talking on the phone.  I’m told that they talked about housing in the first call.  He never did propose – he had taken care of that when they were 17.  A week later they were married.

    That was about three months ago.  Nothing has changed.  It’s like they were just out of high school – he still a jock, of sorts, but now with a grey beard.  She could still be a cheerleader except, well, judging from their prom pictures I think she was a brunette.  But what does that matter?  You will never meet a more exciting, vibrant, loving – and loved – couple, these near-octogenarians.

    I haven’t seen the movie yet, but my wife has.  But in my work I see so many lives ruined by today’s insistence on pursuing “my” goals, to the exclusion of any consideration of “us.” With so many centuries of trying to achieve human perfection, this is where our culture has led us.

    But it doesn’t have to be that way for any of us.  While we contemplate our disintegrating culture, as we must, I hope this real life story makes this day a little brighter for you.  It does for me.

    • #19
  20. Eric Wallace Inactive
    Eric Wallace
    @EricWallace

    Troy Senik (View Comment):
    I loved the movie and interpreted it precisely the same way. I place it in a subgenre that has developed in recent years about how contemporary society distorts (and in some instances, ruins) our capacity for love. Two other wonderful films I’d put in that category are Up in the Air and Her (which I wrote about at Ricochet back in the day).

    Thanks for reminding me of Up in the Air! That was a great movie, another one my wife and I discussed for days after seeing it. (In fact she just now said “I’ll never forgive that woman for what she did to George Clooney.”) I never saw Her but it looks like that should go on my list.

    • #20
  21. JcTPatriot Inactive
    JcTPatriot
    @JcTPatriot

    Want to see a great Oscar-Nominated movie? Hell or High Water is negative on the Banking Industry, but not so much that it spoils the movie. This is a easily the best movie I have seen this year. Chris Pine is wasted as Captain Kirk. This is the kind of movie he should be doing.

    As far as La La Land, it would remind me too much of my first marriage, where I worked myself to death and so she found another man who wasn’t as dedicated to his job. I’ll pass.

    • #21
  22. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    JcTPatriot (View Comment):
    Want to see a great Oscar-Nominated movie? Hell or High Water is negative on the Banking Industry, but not so much that it spoils the movie. This is a easily the best movie I have seen this year. Chris Pine is wasted as Captain Kirk. This is the kind of movie he should be doing.

    As far as La La Land, it would remind me too much of my first marriage, where I worked myself to death and so she found another man who wasn’t as dedicated to his job. I’ll pass.

    Sorry about the troubled past!

    As for Hell or high water, can I interest you in some notes?

     

    • #22
  23. Troy Senik Contributor
    Troy Senik
    @TroySenik

    JcTPatriot (View Comment):
    Want to see a great Oscar-Nominated movie? Hell or High Water is negative on the Banking Industry, but not so much that it spoils the movie. This is a easily the best movie I have seen this year. Chris Pine is wasted as Captain Kirk. This is the kind of movie he should be doing.

    Also a really solid choice. I’d also give props to Arrival, which is, perhaps unintentionally, as sneaky a pro-life movie as you’ll find. (I’m not going to explain why; you need to see it).

     

    • #23
  24. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    Troy Senik (View Comment):

    JcTPatriot (View Comment):
    Want to see a great Oscar-Nominated movie? Hell or High Water is negative on the Banking Industry, but not so much that it spoils the movie. This is a easily the best movie I have seen this year. Chris Pine is wasted as Captain Kirk. This is the kind of movie he should be doing.

    Also a really solid choice. I’d also give props to Arrival, which is, perhaps unintentionally, as sneaky a pro-life movie as you’ll find. (I’m not going to explain why; you need to see it).

    It’s also in some secret way, really Christian, or going in that direction by mysticism!

    • #24
  25. Dorrk Inactive
    Dorrk
    @Dorrk

    Eric Wallace (View Comment):

    Kate Braestrup (View Comment):
    I’m glad I get to be somewhere in the middle, balancing priorities of family and service and creativity in the usual, muddled way that yields what feels to me, at least, like a pretty whole and blessed life.

    If someone could make a movie about that! That would be hard but worth it.

    That’s essentially the theme of the Nicolas Cage movie The Family Man, which is not exactly to my taste but a guilty pleasure nonetheless.

    • #25

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