Here’s to the Dreamers

WARNING: This article contains spoilers for the film, La La Land.

In December, my girlfriend and I had the opportunity to attend an advance screening of the film, La La Land. Going in, we both had a feeling we would enjoy this film, but I do not think either one of us had any sense of how much we actually would. Having seen some of the trailers, the cinematography and angelic chords of “City of Stars” had already managed to captivate us. Plus, let’s be real here, who can resist seeing Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone share the screen together? My girlfriend and I were together for just over a year at the time and we love going to see musicals on Broadway, so this movie seemed like the perfect fit for us.

A promotional image displayed on the screen as the audience entered the theater.

Oddly enough, the night of the screening could not have come at a stranger time in my life. My girlfriend and I had just gotten through a rough patch. With the arguments and the uncertainty still lingering, was a film about romance really what we needed right now? If that was not bad enough, I was having issues with another love of my life: music. I had just connected my iTunes library to Apple Music and my phone decided that it was going to use 6 GB of data downloading music I never told it to download. I was sitting in the theater getting ready to watch a romantic musical while having a love-hate relationship with both romance and music. What are the odds?

As my mind wandered, trying to figure out what to do with my phone, I was caught by surprise as the lights went down and the film began. The image began to stretch across the screen to reveal the full word, “Cinemascope,” and suddenly there was only one thought in my mind: “Holy shit.” All of my stress and heartache quickly disappeared as I watched the ensemble perform “Another Day of Sun.” With vibrant colors and upbeat piano riffs, it was impossible not to be entranced.

And for the first time, in a damn long time, I remained entranced for the entire film. Watching Emma Stone’s Mia and Ryan Gosling’s Sebastian find their way through life and love opened my heart and expanded my mind. Two somewhat simple characters with different life interests manage to show audiences what it really means to fight for the dreams that matter most. As their relationship progresses, Mia and Sebastian work towards their dreams, but also learn the cost that come with it.

To provide for Mia, Sebastian joins an “alternative jazz” group, led by an old friend. In doing so, Sebastian makes a deal with the devil. He turns his back on his passion for “pure jazz” as a way to provide for his significant other. This is an event that too many people can relate to. It is devastating when you have to give up on your dreams, but sometimes that is what you need to do in order to hold on to a loved one. Mia, on the other hand, puts all of her time into her own one-woman show. We witness her struggle to get everything just right in preparation for her one night only show. Consumed by both efforts, Mia and Sebastian unintentionally begin to drift apart, leading to their inevitable separation.

At the moment of their separation, the film begins to smack audiences across the face with reality. “Wait,” I thought, “wasn’t this supposed to be a romance? Why isn’t he running after her?” Over the past hour and a half, Mia and Sebastian had come to represent something more than just characters on a screen. To me, they represented my relationship. In my life, my girlfriend and I were drifting apart due to the inevitable adjustments that come with college life. Worried it would be too much, I feared that we would split, but Mia and Sebastian were showing me that anything could be worked out. That being said, you can just imagine my surprise when they ended up breaking up. Panicked, I had to remind myself that it was a romance movie and the guy always ends up with the girl at the end of those, right?

I sat at the edge of my seat and gazed at the screen, desperately waiting to see when Mia and Sebastian would work things out and grow old together. To my delight, it seemed like it would happen. I just had to wait for the powerful “I love you” moment as the two got back together after Sebastian helps Mia land the role of a lifetime. Well, there was the powerful “I love you” moment, but the “getting back together” part never came. She had to go to Paris for a film and he wanted to stay for his Jazz Club. I found myself to be devastated, but all hope was not lost.

As the screen faded into a blue sky and the words “Winter: Five Years Later.” appeared on the screen, I began to get excited again. “This is it. They’re going to reunite and their love is going to carry on”, I thought to myself. I really believed that as I watched a now successful Mia retrace the steps of her old life. Then came the heartbreak. Mia enters her lavish house, just to be greeted by her husband and daughter. Upon seeing that her husband was not Sebastian, all hope the film had given me was destroyed.

In that moment, I learned the true power of a great film. I took this piece of art for granted and it responded by slapping me back to reality. Like most people, I expected a happy ending to come from a film filled with catchy tunes and bright colors. We all take things for granted, especially when it comes to life. We expect things to go a certain way, or least we hope they do, and most of the time we wind up feeling content with the way things turned out. La La Land exists to remind us how beautiful our lives can be, as long as we stay true to ourselves. Yes, things did not go the way that we had hoped when it came to Mia and Sebastian. Yet, they both achieved their dreams. Mia became a highly regarded actress and, as we later find out, Sebastian went on to own the jazz club he had long desired for. Their relationship did not work out because their passions never allowed there to be room for each other. The film transcends the audience’s wishes and shows us that we all can achieve our dreams, but the sacrifices that we make, or do not make, will determine whether or not we achieve them.

Although heartbroken, audiences do not leave the theater empty handed. In the film’s final moments, Mia and her husband coincidentally enter Sebastian’s club. An upbeat Sebastian stands on the stage to give his band praises as he gets ready to perform. Just as he is about to sit at his piano, he notices Mia sitting in the crowd and his entire demeanor quickly turns somber. As he plays the opening of his song, each chord contains the pain Sebastian feels, as the sounds echo across the room. In an instant the music becomes much more upbeat, as a cinematically stunning montage begins showing the audiences what Mia and Sebastian’s life could have been. For a brief moment, everything seems right. We see their pure happiness and we could not ask for more than that. As the montage ends, though, the music turns somber once again as we find ourselves back in the club. Goodbye happiness, hello reality. When Mia and Sebastian lock eyes one last time to share a small smile, I felt my heartstrings get torn out of my body. Watching the words, “The End” appear on the screen made me so empty and so lost, in a surprisingly good way.

La La Land may be just a movie to most people, but it showed me what life can really be like. As a current undergraduate film major at Fairleigh Dickinson University, I plan to one day move to Hollywood in the hopes of becoming a director. Seemingly, I should have been worried as I watched Mia and Sebastian’s relationship progress and digress. Well, a funny thing happened after we left the screening that night. My girlfriend and I managed to get closer through its music and its love story. Sure, Mia and Sebastian did break up, but they did have good times. They both motivated each other to be the best they could be and to not give up on their passions. Sadly, things did not work out between them, but neither can disregard the effect that the other had on them. As for my relationship with music, let’s just say it was very hard for me not to hum “Someone in the Crowd” the entire way home. Somehow, a film so full of sadness managed to repair two very important relationships in my life, while teaching me very important lessons along the way.

Besides all of the hardships that the film conveyed, La La Land did manage to teach me one more life lesson, that in my opinion, may be the most important of all. Instead of worrying about the future and what it may bring, we need to make sure to cherish every moment that happens now. Cherish the bad ones. Cherish the good ones. Believe it or not, these moments are what dreams are made of. Without them, we lack the motivation and desire necessary to go the distance. Were it not for the dreamers, a film such as this could have never been made. For all I know, this film could be the “little chance encounter” that we all have been waiting for.