We went and watched La La Land the other day with high expectations. It was 8.9 on IMDB and something similar on Rotten Tomatoes so it went straight up the list of movies to see and voila we were there.
It may be the best movie I’ve ever seen.
The brilliance of La La Land was the juxtaposition of having the courage to follow and realise your dreams, no matter how impossible they may seem, and the harsh reality of the losses you may incur in doing so.
Trade offs. I love the concept of trade offs. Greg Mckeown explains it brilliantly in Essentialism when he talks about the seemingly obvious concept of a trade off — to get something you’ll have to give something up. You can’t have both. You will have to choose one. Saying yes to something is inevitably saying no to something else.
Maybe La La Land was so refreshing because it did justice to one of the hardest things in life which is that we can’t have everything. For the characters, they gained their deepest, heart-wrenching, ‘can’t-live-without-it’ dreams through their careers. But they lost the deepest, heart-wrenching, ‘can’t-live-without-it’ love of their life … each other.
How bizarre to be inspired possibly more than in any movie I’ve ever seen to follow my dreams and do it MY way regardless of what others may think and yet to feel more deeply than ever before the loss these characters experience.
That’s the other key then. If one reason I found it such a great movie was the inspiration to dream and to act courageously, then the other reason was how it made me want to hold onto what’s dearest with me more tightly.
I watched Emma Stone walk home in that scene where she’s become famous and we’ve moved forward five years and I was holding my breath. Surely, surely, SURELY the man she will kiss will be Ryan Gosling? Then like a torture victim who knows a severe punch is coming but has nowhere to go — I reeled when it wasn’t him. And there’s a child?
This means there’s no going back. This doesn’t end well. It was strange not having a feeling of disappointment or anger at the plot … it seemed right. The feeling was deeper. It was right that the movie went this way because it was so deeply moving. It was a deep, deep, centre-of-the-heart level sense of loss.
A trade off.
And then, my goodness, when she walks into the bar and sees that it’s called SEB’S. My. Goodness. Time slowed down and when their eyes met it was profoundly disturbing. Like the emotion in a eulogy where you know in any other circumstance you’d leave because it’s too uncomfortable … but you can’t because this needs to happen. It’s right. It was that feeling. And I found myself wishing, hoping, longing, even whispering under my breath to Ryan Gosling not to sing that song. Not that song. Not the emotional tune that had underpinned the whole story. Not the song that he should have played when he surprised her — him single / her single — in Paris to tell her he couldn’t live without her.
But that would have been wrong, wouldn’t it? There was something right in what transpired even though I sat there telling it not to happen. He sings the song because he has to. He hasn’t seen her in five years, she’s wearing a wedding ring and sitting with a man who’s wearing a wedding ring as well. Still, he has to sing it.
Hold onto what’s most important. I squeezed my wife’s hand extra tightly during that scene — let’s be honest, for the next day! I knew that my story was partly in my hands and partly not. For the bit that was in my hands, I decided anew that I would make whatever trade off necessary to put my marriage first. I was thankful that we’d never taken any opportunity that could have led to a parting of ways when we were dating or even before then. Thankful that we’d ended up together when they hadn’t.
Maybe that’s why I was so deeply moved by the movie? So often we’re told to chase our dreams recklessly with no mind to consequences — winner-takes-all OR we should play it safe and do what’s right for those around us even when it doesn’t feel good. La La Land somehow tapped into both of those truths.
Recently I’ve been thinking about how many things seem black and white but are actually grey. I’m not saying I don’t believe in absolute truths — I absolutely do. But the application of universal principles and absolute truth is often grey. La La Land is like that. It sits tenderly, beautifully and inspirationally in the grey.
It grabs your heart and screams
‘FOLLOW YOUR DREAMS! DO IT YOUR WAY! WHO CARES WHAT OTHERS THINK IF YOU WERE BORN TO DO THIS?!’
Then it pauses … keeps you close … and whispers in your ear with a tone so serious that it stops you in your tracks
‘decide what’s truly most important … because you can’t have both’
You can’t have both. Trade offs. Why couldn’t they have both? The dreams, the fame, the jazz club AND the happily ever after? Maybe it was because their love wasn’t most important. Their dreams were. And sure enough, they had to make a trade off.
What’s truly most important to you? Truly? Let that question whisper in your ear and your heart and stop you in your tracks. Because there is one thing that sits with me as I consider the movie and why I loved it so much. They were ok that they didn’t get their happily ever after because I guess they did. Their dreams were most important to them. The love they had was amazing and it was heartbreaking that they didn’t end up together, but when they smiled at each other as she left the jazz club to follow her husband and leave Ryan Gosling behind forever, they were saying that they were ok with the trade off they’d made.
I don’t have all the answers. I don’t even have all the questions. I don’t always do the best job with what’s in my hands. And I certainly have no control over the things that aren’t in my control. But I can decide what will be truly most important. What will be so important to me that I’ll be able to look at other things that might be amazing and heart-breaking that they don’t come to pass and still smile and be ok?
I know one of those things for me that’s above all others is my marriage. It feels good to say that. If their love was truly most important for them then wouldn’t it have been ‘right’ for Emma Stone to return from Paris halfway through the movie shoot to meet Ryan Gosling who still hadn’t put a dent in his jazz club dream and for them to look each other in the eyes and smile because they were ok with sacrificing their dreams and careers for the love they shared? I think so.
If you pursue what’s truly most important then you too can look sadness and loss in the face and smile. Everything else makes sense when you chase after what’s truly most important. The only challenge in that is how many of us think we know what’s truly most important but then end up realising we got it wrong! I hope that’s not the case for you and I definitely hope that’s not the case for me.
Last of all, La La Land might be the best movie I’ve ever seen because it inspired me to act. To step out and chase my dream of writing and sharing reviews. The reason this blog is called La La Land is because I started it after watching the movie. The only difference is that I already have the love of my life, so maybe I can have both?
La La Land — 9.5/10