Revisiting La La Land: In Defense of A “Bittersweet” Ending

Warning! This post contains spoilers from La La Land, and is intended to be read after you have watched the film until the end. If you don’t want to be spoiled, close this tab in an orderly fashion. Spoilers will start after this picture from Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone’s first collaboration in Crazy Stupid Love.






I am supposed to write an English essay on youth empowerment in the age of Tumblr right now, yet I am writing a different English essay. I am still amazed how La La Land blew my mind with its ending. Through my first viewing, I thought that this ending of Mia and Sebastian eventually achieving their dreams yet have to lose each other and what could’ve been about their relationship if they weren’t so doubtful about each other is a really sad one. I kept thinking about the could-have-beens in their relationship; the fact that they could be happy if they weren’t doing things the way they do. I didn’t relate to this story at first. Yet, after recent discussions with my friends (Hello, Uti and Ratih!) upon the ending of this film, I found out that La La Land is eerily relatable to me, and I would argue that this film boasts a happy ending (and at the same time, taught us about the nature of soulmates and love).

First, I am going to get scholarly with you, since I recently picked up a copy of James Gleick’s Chaos: Making a New Science at my local thrift bookshop. This is a theory of mathematics I’ve always wanted to explore, since seeing Jeff Goldblum portray a scientist who specializes in this discipline in Jurassic Park. The theory itself is quite interesting; it emerges from Edward Lorenz who postulates that every single little thing in the world might affect greatly to the future – that the occurrence of a hurricane can be affected by the flapping of a butterfly’s wings through every single chain of cause and effect. Same goes with Mia and Sebastian’s story; if Mia weren’t drawn to that sound of the piano, Mia wouldn’t date Sebastian at all. If Mia and Sebastian didn’t act as assholes in their cars on the I-5, they would have had a more convenient trust on each other, and they might get married at the end. Yet, after all of the unfortunate occurrences they have experienced (spare the could-have-beens),  this is the best possible outcome. Even though they might not have each other, but they have gained something good from each of them – Seb opens his bar based on Mia’s name suggestion, and Mia made the play Seb suggested. If Mia didn’t make the play, she wouldn’t get the job in Paris and remain an unknown actress! It’s great that they criticize and give suggestions to each other during their time together, since they would do great things in the future. If they were to love each other purely and unconditionally, they probably wouldn’t develop as individuals and won’t reach their dreams. Mindblowing, isn’t it?

Ryan Gosling in that scene on the I-5.

Then, La La Land brings us to the main point that love doesn’t mean possession. There has been lots of romantic movies that justifies the fact that a happy ending means the girl gets the guy and the guy gets the girl. Yet, we can see that this is not always the happy ending in real life. What if they turn out to be a very, very possessive/abusive boyfriend/girlfriend? After we date/marry someone, that person might not be someone we expect them to be. A guaranteed union with someone we love might not be a happy ending. La La Land teaches us that it is okay to not get the girl/guy at the end. There are lots of goals that constitutes a happy ending, and usually the happy ending in a romance movie is getting the girl/guy at the end. The happy ending in La La Land is our characters getting their dreams to come true, even though they might not get each other at the end. The thing is, since this is marketed as a romance movie (and essentially follows the plotline of two characters falling in love), we have this “will they or won’t they?” mindset during our viewing of the film. Our perception of the ending will be way different if we set our mindset to “will they get what they really want?” instead.

The last thing is that, the most intense, meaningful relationship in one’s life might not be their last. (That’s life, it happens.) Sure, the person you end up with might affect your life tremendously, but there are some relationships in your life that might change you as a person fundamentally – they might have made an indelible mark in your life. I caught feelings on one of my actors when I was directing a play; even though we only worked and hung out together for two months before I move to the States, he made an impact in my life and I, too, made his; and we have discussed this with each other, and so I know for certain about it. He didn’t have feelings for me back, but we have this mutual respect and understanding as creatives. The thing is, I feel more confident in my life and felt like that past two months has made me a better person. Some minor interactions with stupid crushes might change your fundamental being, and you might not realize it.

Because random interactions play big parts, a happy ending doesn’t mean possession, and a little fling might change one’s life, I would like to argue that Mia and Sebastian has a happy ending. Each of them got what they really want in the end, albeit not getting each other. And it’s okay, because it’s a part of life. Sometimes something’s got to go to actually get what you really want, and it’s okay. Maybe someday I’ll be a famous theatre director with a superbly good-looking husband, and I’ll come across a small jazz club and I’ll see that person sing a Sinatra song. And as I leave, I’ll smile, knowing that he made my life a better one and hopefully I made his a better one as well. And he’ll smile back. And we know that everything’s okay.

We know that we’re content. We know that we’re satisfied. And all is well.

5 responses to “Revisiting La La Land: In Defense of A “Bittersweet” Ending”

  1. Great post, I just saw La La Land last night and have a new appreciation for that ending after reading this. Do you ever share your articles on any film sites?

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