La La Land feels as unsettlingly balmy as the morning dream you want to go back to

Devansh Sharma

Dec 29, 2016 10:03:28 IST

La La Land is not an ideal dreamland you would want to be in. It does not paint a rosy picture of the future for you but it pushes you to do it for yourself. It is not a leisurely watch in its entirety. While it enchants you with its stunning visuals and foot-tapping music in the first half, it starts taking all that away in the second half. The narrative transports you back to the proverbial la la land in the climax sequence only to shake you out of it in the final moments of the film.

La La Land feels as unsettlingly balmy as the morning dream you want to go back to

A still from La La Land. YouTube

It is in that tug-of-war between idealism and pragmatism that it gives you a reality check. However, this reality check is not as harsh as an eye opener. It does not feel like a slap to your face. Instead, it convinces you to keep your eyes closed and dream on in order to cope with brutal realities. It feels like the moment when you want to go back to a good dream after waking out of it.

While it is rather rare that we end up going back to the same dream, humans are blessed with the ability to create an alternate reality for themselves. While some may call it a self-defense mechanism, I would like to call it a 'flight of faith.'

This escapism is a prerequisite for every exceptional performing artiste. It is only when the artiste is completely immersed in their work that they are able to enthral their audience. An artiste needs to switch off their social censors in order to devote all their energy towards their art but there is always a tinge of self-doubt that creeps in whenever you are self-absorbed.

This hint of self-doubt is the mind's warning to the heart. La La Land builds on the same idea as it projects life as a conflict between the heart and the head. The heart wants what it wants but the head flashes an unpleasant memory every time it feels that the heart is getting the better of it.

This is the most daunting challenge that a performing artiste faces, irrespective of their art form. When a joke of a stand-up comedian is not followed by bursts of laughter, when a monologue artiste stares into the puzzled eyes of their audience, when a jazz singer cannot help but notice members of the audience walk out of the auditorium or even when a beat boxer does not receive an encore at the end of the recital. The mind knows that the performer is on the brink of rejection and the ailing heart strives too hard to regroup.

This psyche and journey of a performing artiste are what probably the filmmaker Damien Chazelle wanted the audience to experience or feel through the film. While it would have been convenient to provide the audience with a virtual reality tour to cloud nine, the filmmaker ends the film on a bittersweet note in order to ensure that the audience empathises with the 'almost-made-it' feeling that a performing artiste, or humans in general, experience throughout their lives.

There is a recurrent theme of conflict in the film, though it comes across as a candyfloss musical on the surface. This theme of conflict not only dominates the life of a performing artiste but is also the underlining element of what the film defines as 'good music.' Music is easy to the ears only when it comes from a place of friction or tension.

As a scene in the film points out, this tendency of outdoing each other or the theme of conflict can also be seen in music. For instance, while enjoying the performance of a jazz band, each instrument attempts to outdo the others. It is in this conflict that the music becomes the most pleasurable. Irrespective of the musical instrument, it can create a melody only if there is friction of some kind.

Even the signature tune of the film, Mia and Sebastian's Theme, echoes the same tension that the entire musical talks about. Prior to that, music was all about breaking into a song and dance sequence. The director established the universe through a similar sequence in a traffic jam. But it is when this theme resounds that we see an inflexion in the narrative. From there on, life is no longer that easy that you can conveniently break into a song any given time.

But the final exchange of glances and smiles of the lead pair Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone speak volumes of the subtle message of hope that the film hammers home. As the two estranged lovebirds smile at each other with teary eyes, the conflict within themselves comes out. While they are well aware of how they parted ways, they have preserved their la la land to utilise it as a ray of hope in darker times. They acknowledge reality but are certain of the ownership they possess over their shared memories and dreams.

While one cannot control or manipulate the external environment, the land of dreams is one's completely own. It is there that one can use one's artistic capability to paint the canvas the way one wants it to be or if it is too late, how one would have wanted it to be. This is the inseparable luxury that artistes enjoy.

As Albus Dumbledore points out in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows aptly, "Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean it is not real?"

Updated Date: Dec 29, 2016 10:03:28 IST