Thoughts on the End of La La Land

SPOILERS. BIG TIME. (duh). You have been warned…

Since my friend Marta gave pretty much the expert review of the first part of the movie (enough that her enthusiasm convinced me to see it), I thought I’d process my thoughts about the end of the movie. –Unfortunately, I’ve only seen it once, so there might be missing pieces and slight flying leaps of logic. Forgiveness requested in advance.

I’d been forewarned that some don’t care for the end of this movie. Lately, however, …well, that means I’ll like it. Of course, there was that unfortunate ending of The Remains of the Day, where a female friend and I who watched it were ready to find Izikuro whats-his-name and run him out on a rail. Worst. Movie. Ending. Ever. I was enraged. How dare you drag us through two full hours of a beautiful near-miss sentimental build up only to give Captain Responsible the Workaholic Butler Who Obviously Loves Her a second chance with the woman he obviously can’t stop thinking about even after years, and just walk away and let the whole story fall apart like that?!? As though we wouldn’t notice!

…But I digress.

With this movie and its not-your-average-happy-ending, however, I’ve kind of changed. I think the ending of this movie, however anti-usual-happy-ending it was, was beautiful. Let me explain why I think that.

I’m a survivor of my twenties. I know about that electric rush of emotion and energy and power that gets you through those years. It’s heady stuff, being in your twenties. I love being surrounded by students who are living their way through those days –all the peaks and valleys propelled like you’ve been shot out of a cannon in the vague direction of your dreams.

…But I’ve also survived my twenties. I know that explosions have two properties: they’re nearly always somewhat destructive, and once they’re done, …they’re done. I watched that happen to myself and my own friends. There comes a day when the sun comes up and you suddenly realize maybe you can’t save the world, but you can be where you are and make the best difference you can in your own little world. You realize that dreams are shape-shifters. Dreams are a living idea –they grow and change, and accepting that fact doesn’t mean you’ve sold out or given in. It means you’ve grown into the person you’re meant to be. Some of the saddest people I’ve known are people who took longer than the average bear to figure that out.

By the first fight scene, I knew they weren’t going to make it. I kept wanting to shove Mia back into that kitchen with Sebastian, and not walk out the door. I kept wanting him to run after her. But he didn’t. You can tell a lot about a couple by how they fight, I think. And something about that scene gave me the final clue that they weren’t going to make it happen.

But, they had exactly what they needed for a beautiful friendship. Like all great friendships, they had something in common, and they had a deep and rich knowledge of each other. They knew when to ask “why?” and when to point out a compromise. Mia knew how to balance Sebastian’s dreams when he was on the edge of throwing it all aside for stability –for her, and I think somewhere inside her, she knew that she alone couldn’t make him happy. That, I think, is where I knew that the romance, however amazing and colorful and wonderful, wouldn’t sustain the story (hint: in real life, it rarely does, either).

Love is what sustains the story: and not just romantic love, either. I was struck throughout the movie of the incredible gift it is to have people who know you well and with whom you can mutually cheer each other on towards the things you are passionate about. This was the strength of Mia and Sebastian’s relationship –even beyond romance. It’s all in that scene where Sebastian drives all the way back to her home to get her and bring her to that audition, that scene where she’s so deeply discouraged that hope is a foreign language to her. Sebastian translates for her, not letting her believe the lies she’s told herself. And she finally understands again. There’s no dancing, no singing, no Hollywood romance in that scene, but for me, that’s where I see their love most clearly and purely.

Every girl with a dream needs a few good friends who are advocates for her dreams. Over my life, I’ve been blessed with three that come to mind right away. I’m married to my favorite of the three, but the other two have been there at just the right times with just the right words (even difficult ones, when necessary) to keep that passion inside me alive.

They’ve been a windblock, kindling, a boundary of stones to keep things under control, even gasoline at times. Catalysts to the work God has done in my life, they’ve kept me doing hard things, kept me believing that God put me here to do something only I could do, kept me from walking away from my dreams.

And, so, that “five years later” scene, where Mia walks into her home, greets her children, and kisses a man who’s not Sebastian (there was an audible expression of disappointment in the theater) came as no surprise to me. Because I’ve survived my twenties. I know life is like that sometimes. And sometimes, what seems to be the happy ending winds up being anything but that in the long view.

I, too, held my breath a little during that flashback/dreamscape scene after Sebastian and Mia meet again and he sets his hands to the keys, playing the song that they sang together. But the outcome was exactly as I assumed it would be. We’re carried through their backstory, the angst of dreams that died, the pain left of unfulfilled plans, the questioning –-this was the dream, now was it really what I wanted after all? We can see that question in both Mia and Sebastian’s faces in that scene as Mia walks out and their eyes meet.

I kept waiting, but I knew she would leave. It was the right thing to do. It was the only thing to do. I’m not being callous here –I’m speaking from the perspective of a married woman: sometimes the most profoundly powerful act of love is letting your feet lead you back home when your heart wants to stay somewhere else. Mia’s deciding to leave with her husband, in my eyes, was an act of incredible of courage and strength, and something I’d like more in stories.

I finally got what I was watching for: that smile. The smile that had to have started in her heart when she walked in and saw that sign, watched Sebastian’s dreams realized. That, for me, was what the story was about.

Happy endings come in all kinds of packages. Some just take a little time and pain to unwind.