Column by Rachel Wood, contributing writer
I am only slightly ashamed to admit that I’ve seen “La La Land” in theaters three times. Call it overrated, but it really is a charming movie.
So maybe it didn’t have the best singers and some of the plot elements have been met with criticism, but I have to say that I really enjoyed the movie, including its (somewhat odd) ending. As it turns out, a few of my friends had some different opinions. As we left the theater after their first viewing, they berated me for encouraging them to see a movie with such a “sad ending.”
I want to explain why the ending isn’t as bad as some of you might think. In fact, I think it’s what turns an average movie into a great one – a movie we can learn something from. That being said, beware of spoilers ahead.
It all depends, as usual, on a matter of perspective. So, the love story doesn’t exactly turn out the way we expect it to, but does that make the ending unhappy?
First of all, if “La La Land” had ended exactly how we expected it to, would it even be as good of a movie? Stereotypical storylines don’t exactly win awards and critical praise (yet Nicholas Sparks movies still capture a wide fanbase, for some unknown reason).
Second, when a movie sets out to show the uphill climb of following a dream, it kind of presupposes the dream will be the plot’s driving force. That’s exactly what happens; both characters achieve the dreams they’ve been chasing forever, just not with each other. Sometimes, that’s how real life works. Maybe I’m just a jaded, overly-independent realist, but it’s very possible that your life goals don’t line up with those around you – and that’s OK.
A lot of us, myself included, can spend hours imagining how things would’ve turned out if one thing in our lives had gone differently, especially when it seems like everything is going wrong. What if you’d gotten that scholarship? What if you’d picked a different major? What if you hadn’t taken the class where you met your best friend?
The ending of “La La Land” does a great job of representing this. The pieced-together clips, reimagining key scenes from the movie, show us what could’ve happened if one of the main characters had made a different, seemingly critical decision.
I feel like T.S. Eliot captures the essence of this ending montage in one of his poems: “Footfalls echo in the memory, down the passage which we did not take, towards the door we never opened into the rose-garden.” It sounds melancholically lovely, imagining what could have been, but it presents a problem – how do you know there’s a rose garden behind the door if you never opened it?
When things don’t go as planned, it’s easy to berate yourself about the one choice that may have changed everything. However, that’s part of the problem, too; you never truly know things would’ve changed for the better.
Author John Green says it can be nostalgic, an escape mechanism, to imagine the future, but I also think creating an imaginary past does the same thing. It takes our mind out of the present for a moment, but it doesn’t truly do us any good. I don’t fancy myself a “carpe diem” poet, but it’s important for us to remember that what could have been doesn’t define our happiness – it’s how we react to what really happened.
Would they have been happier together? Maybe. But I feel like goal-driven people like Mia and Seb can’t help but be happy when they make their dreams into reality.