La La Land

***spoiler alert

            My sister walked out Damien Chazelle’s movie, “La La Land” in tears.  There were moments during the film when I could barely maintain composure as well.  Why was the movie so compelling? 

            The movie begins with two individuals pursuing their respective dreams.  Mia dreams about becoming a famous actress.  Sebastian dreams about rescuing jazz and opening up his own jazz bar.  Sebastian and Mia’s passion for their dreams creates a magnetic attraction between the two individuals.  They push each other to pursue their dreams, dance under the stars, and fall in love beneath sunsets.

            Sebastian and Mia’s relationship struggles as Sebastian’s band starts a world tour, traveling for weeks at a time.  These struggles culminate on the night of Mia’s one-woman show show, when Sebastian skips her show for a photo shoot.  Only 4-5 other people show up to watch; Mia feels like a failure; and the couple dramatically breaks up. 

            A movie director later contacts Sebastian hoping to hire Mia after seeing her show.  Sebastian drives across the state to find Mia and encourages her to finish the audition.  She gets the role, and once again they are faced with a difficult decision.  Will they sacrifice for each other?  Will he leave the band behind and follow her to Paris?  Will she let the position go?  Neither party is willing to compromise on their dreams, so they part sadly saying, “I’m always gonna love you.”

            The movie ends showing Mia married to a handsome man with a beautiful baby, accidentally walking into Sebastian’s bar on date night.  Sebastian notices her in the crowd and begins to play their theme song.  Scenes from the life they could have had together play across the screen.  This is where I began to tear up, not as profoundly as my sister, but where my emotions did get the best of me.  Why didn’t Sebastian follow her?  She was going to be successful enough to fund his musical endeavors.  Why wouldn’t she go on tour with him?  His fame could have brought her the attention she needed to be a successful actress.  Why didn’t they prioritize each other? 

            This movie evokes many questions and does not provide concrete answers.  What is love?  Is it La La Land?  Dancing in the stars?  Is passion enough?  Did Sebastian and Mia even really love each other?  Maybe they did.  If love is really, “willing the good of the other,” then they both did push each other to be successful and to fulfill their dreams.  Maybe sometimes, loving someone means letting him or her go.  BUT maybe they didn’t.  If love is “self-sacrificial and laying down your life for the person you love,” then neither was willing to sacrifice.  Did they ultimately love music, acting, or themselves more than they loved each other? Can this type of pride have any place within the context of loving relationships?  Is love showing up, no matter what?  I am no philosopher.  I cannot answer those questions, but I do argue that this movie allows us to “feel” some answers and consequences.  It allows us to feel the sting of unrequited love and decide who and what we are willing to sacrifice for in our own lives. 

            Furthermore, it also shows us the mercy of time and grace in this life.  Even though Mia and Sebastian decided that loving each other meant letting go, God gave Mia another man to love, who was willing to sacrifice for her.  He gave her someone who did show up for her when she needed him.  The sting of unrequited love did not ultimately steal her ability to love forever.  It begs the question, were Sebastian and Mia really soul mates?  Or is Mia’s soul mate the man she married?  Is there truly one person we could be destined to spend the rest of our lives with?  And is it really possible to mess that up irreparably?  Knowing the Lord’s mercy, I doubt it.  How could I really destroy God’s plan for myself?  I am just not that powerful.  Perhaps God in his mercy provides many opportunities for love.  Perhaps, we meet our respective soul mates by putting aside our pride and choosing to love despite the personal cost.  Just maybe, at that perfect intersection of our heart’s openness and the mercy of opportunity we choose love.

           If you have not seen the movie, I highly suggest that you see it.  Art is meant to evoke emotions and questions, not provide answers.  This movie is art.  I’ll leave you with the epilogue, full emotions and questions, but void of answers.  Perhaps, you may may feel something as you listen.