Perfect Scene – La La Land’s (2016) tortured, beautiful final fantasy

Luke Stevenson is one of the hosts of The Popcorn Muncher Podcast. He is only serious about Bee Movie.

In the first entry of a new semi-regular series, Luke takes a look at a memorable scene from the closing moments of La La Land. There will be spoilers ahead.

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling connected in musical La La Land
Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling connected in musical La La Land

The Movie

La La Land, directed by Damien Chazelle, is a musical romance about two dreamers in Los Angeles. Seb (Ryan Gosling) is a jazz musician who wants to open his own jazz club, while Mia (Emma Stone) is a barista with dreams of becoming a movie actress.

The Scene

After finishing her audition for a movie in Paris, Mia and Seb’s relationship seemingly ends as they both agree to pursue their dreams, but insist they will always love each other. Five years later, Mia is a famous actress, married and a mother. On a night out, her and her new partner walk into Seb’s jazz club, where he sees her and plays the music he played the first night they met. This prompts an eight-minute fantasy sequence retelling their story and positing the life they might have had together, before we snap back to reality. Mia leaves, but not before her and Seb exchange a look and a smile, letting one another know they are happy.

Why It’s Perfect

While it takes its visual and musical cues from Old Hollywood musicals, La La Land’s story is about a universal series of human emotions and actions – feeling passionate about something, wanting something, loving someone and letting that someone go. The story is essentially about how the things people are passionate about can bring them together, but it asks the question of what happens when that togetherness is not compatible with hopes and dreams. Mia and Seb’s breakup isn’t due to any falling out of love, but the burning desire to follow the dreams which brought them together in the first place. They love and let go, which is the ultimate bittersweet sacrifice.

Without this final epilogue scene after the ‘five years later’ title card, you could be left feeling that their decision to separate was half-baked. However, weaved into this final sequence is not only the magic of Old Hollywood visuals and the best bits of Justin Hurwitz’s masterful score, but the universal emotions that connect audiences with these two characters. The story of two white, attractive, successful people living in Los Angeles isn’t relatable for the majority of audiences, however this scene unites the characters and viewers in feelings of nostalgia and lost love.

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone star in lavish musical La La Land
Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone star in lavish musical La La Land

No matter their current happiness, which we learn they both have through the brief smile when Mia leaves the club, it’s a common human tendency to fetishise and over-analyse the past and that feeling of what might have been. The whirlwind fantasy sequence takes us through all of the stages of their relationship in quick time and paints an alternate future where everything worked out fine. In it, our two leads do exactly what we all do, and erase the bad parts. They view their romance as a sun-drenched, old fashioned musical like the ones Mia loves, soundtracked by the jazz Seb loves. This sequence erases the tension that occurred when Seb was away on tour, the fact Mia worked on a play that was ultimately unsuccessful in the short term and the stresses those things put on the relationship.

A criticism of La La Land is that its structure front-loads all of the ‘musical’ at the beginning, dumps the ‘drama’ at the end and leaves the middle empty. However, this slower section focuses on the realities of the relationship Mia and Seb will later erase as they fetishise the life they could have had together. What makes their ultimately doomed fantasy so potent is that it connects with the feeling of melancholia that often arises when thinking about the past. Chazelle makes the homage to Old Hollywood even more explicit, if that is possible, as the movie’s own obsession and longing for a past time marries with that of its leads.

As well as an aesthetically pleasing style choice, the movie’s celebration of Hollywood’s golden age of musicals is just another layer of the film’s connection between its characters and their journey – that dreams go only as far as it takes for reality to catch up with you. Like Mia and Seb do in the wake of their fantasy sequence, it’s impossible not to confront that reality, no matter the pain it may cause. However, just like the filmmakers did in the Hollywood classics that shaped this masterful musical, it is important to hold on to warm memories of how things used to be, in case you need them again in the future.

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling show off their moves in La La Land
Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling show off their moves in La La Land

What did you think of this scene in La La Land? Can you think of any examples of perfect scenes in movies? Let me know in the comments section.

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