Melinda, I concur re the ending: Without it, both M&S going their separate ways AND the parallel universe vision of their life together, the movie would fall pretty flat. But given their characters, I’d have to say the ending has an inevitability to it. As I like to say, it was their Narrative Imperative.
Which brings me to your point about the transformative nature of love. When I read that, I suddenly had a thought: What if we drew a distinction between Love and Passion.
The former, especially Romantic Love, is what I would argue is what M&S experience throughout Act II.
The latter is what Mia has for movies and acting, and Sebastian has for jazz and performing.
Probably too simplistic, however it’s interesting to consider how Passion TRUMPS Love (or Romance) in LLL. M&S get what they want, the objects of their Passion, but not what they need True Love. Arguably they never experience True Love, here meaning Love at a level of depth beyond the Romance they share.
And this brings me back to what I wrote about in the Dialogue post: How the movie does a great job in exploring the dichotomy of living in L.A. and working in Hollywood, the surface level sheen which the business tends to operate in, and the grit and grime of actual day-to-day existence.
So are Mia and Sebastian really transformed by love… or is it their passion for their respective creative ambitions which lead to their change in life-circumstances (career success), but in the end have they gone through an authentic metamorphosis at a psyche level?
That shared smile in the end has multiple layers of meaning, yes? Acknowledgement of the good times they had. A nod to the career success they have achieved. And yet, why do we feel it’s a bittersweet ending if the pair gets what they want. Yes, part of us wants them to be together, but that neither fits who they are as characters, nor the post-modern sensibilities of the movie. But part of it, as far as I see it, is the sense or feeling M&S have that somehow… they missed out on an opportunity to discover more about Life, Love, Existence…
Not that they even REALIZE this at any sort of conscious level, rather more as ambiguous, unformed feelings?
That’s basically just top of mind ramblings, but I wonder if there is something there: Love / Passion?