I'd love to hear your thoughts on La La Land's ending! If you don't mind.
SO HERE WE GO. I’ve heard a lot of think pieces/complaining about how the movie is about hollywood, or white men saving jazz, or unrealistically fulfilling your dreams all at once, etc., but I don’t see how you can watch that ending and come away with those things. Sure, the movie dabbles in all of that, and you can make commentary on how unrealistic that is, or in the case of John Legend’s role in the movie, how shitty it is—but then, there’s that ending. That glorious, perfect pitched ending.
The last we see of Mia and Sebastian together, they’re making a choice many of us have or will make in our lives; a turning point in a relationship, where you have to choose what you’re willing to sacrifice, or give to keep the love that you have. They make what I would say, as a person who has made this very choice, the right choice, and seperate for the good of their careers. And realistically, painfully so, that is a lasting break—we jump five years, and things have happened that make their separation permanent (Mia is married, she has a child). That’s startling and, because it happens so quickly instead of the slow and quiet way that it occurs in real life, unbelievable. We think, they’re playing a trick on us, this can’t possibly be where this movie of sparkling lights and love songs is going to end. But the longer the scene goes on, and we see Mia in the car with her husband, so comfortable, it starts to set in, and then, even though we know it’s coming, when she sees the sign at his club—the sign she made for him—we feel the way she does. It’s been five years for her, and she has that space that we, as an audience, were not given from the main storyline, so she’s surprised, and suddenly longing, and that’s an emotion we can feel.
But the ending isn’t about where Mia finds herself, it’s about Sebastian. He plays his song, and the fantasy begins for him and we get to go along with it. Mia may have moved on, but Sebastian is closer to us, he still feels that sting when he sees her, much worse then she felt. The cinematography here is beautiful, and the music carries us through it, and it’s satisfying, just to retrace the steps of where we have already been with these characters, to hear the same cords they sang together. You can’t tell me it didn’t hit you when, in the bar, the music swelled and he walked right up to kiss her.
Because this is from Sebastian’s point of view, we see the way he wished it had been, how they could have stayed together, and it is so firmly planted in what he could have done differently. Mia still takes the audition, gets the job, goes to Paris, but he never takes that job with the band, he’s there at her show, he goes to Paris with her. His fantasy includes being there for her, in a way that he never really was during their relationship. He puts her, her dreams and ambitions, first, so that in the end, Mia ends up exactly where she is now, where she’s meant to be, but she’s married to him instead. And even while he’s thinking of it, the unreality of that situation bleeds in—through the film set, the Van Gogh-esque swirls of Paris. It could never have been real, because he was a different man then, he would have always made those choices. He had yet to learn his lesson.
In the end, they are able to smile at each other and part again, because this isn’t a love story. This is a story about growing up. It’s a story about how a person can mean so much to you during one point in your life, how they can change you, can take up all of the space in your world completely, and how much you can love them in that moment—and how beautiful that is. It isn’t lasting, it’s not guaranteed, it’s something you may regret and dwell on over and over later, but it is beautiful. Sebastian’s dream looks so unreal because not only did it not happen, it couldn’t have happened; there were a gulf of reasons why the two of them never would have worked out, even if he had gone with her to Paris.
But they changed each other. They nudged each other towards their futures. They were each other’s turning point, towards success, their dreams, all the things that felt out of reach when they met. So when they said, before they parted, I will always love you, what they really meant was; I will always love what you have given me.