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The La La Land Dilemma

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD (to be fair, the movie has been out for like three years, so…)

“Here’s to the fools who dream, foolish as they may seem. Here’s to the hearts that ache, here’s to the mess we make,” sings Mia in the award-winning musical La La Land. The 2016 Oscar-winning work follows the lives of two aspiring young people who move to Los Angeles to achieve their dreams: Mia wants to be the next big actress and Sebastian wants to open a jazz club called Chicken on a Stick. The two fall madly in love whilst singing, dancing, and developing their careers. Towards the end of the movie, Mia is offered a once-in-a-lifetime audition in Paris, the audition she has been waiting her whole life for . . . she has to go. And although Mia apathetically suggests that Seb come with her to Paris, he replies, “I've got to follow my own plan. Stay here. Get my own thing going. You know.”

The movie ends with a five year fast-forward. Mia is now married (not to Seb) with a young child and is clearly incredibly successful. At the risk of sounding cliché, I’d say that Mia has achieved her dreams. She and her husband walk into a club one night, sit down, and watch as the owner of the club comes on stage—Sebastian. Mia and Seb’s eyes meet and he’s awkwardly speechless in front of everyone, stopped in his tracks as the memories of Mia come flooding back. He then sits down at the piano and plays the melody that he and Mia had shared throughout the time they fell in love. After they imagine what their life could have been like together, the song ends and Mia and her husband stand to leave. Just before exiting, Mia stops and turns to meet eyes with Seb. They both give a soft smile. Mia leaves. The movie is over.

Heartbreaking though it was, the film was beautiful and exciting, and it raised an important question that I believe our generation encounters today. This is the La La Land Dilemma: If you have to choose between love or pursuing a dream, which should you choose?

In a corporate, success-driven country which rewards passion and hard work, I believe this dilemma is not only plausible but is also common. In the early stages of a relationship, the barriers are often distance, time, or “stage of life”. Perhaps to fully pursue your goals, you simply cannot also be invested in a serious relationship.

I’d like to acknowledge the diversity of the situations I am addressing, for I understand that each relationship is different and complicated. Rarely is a decision as black-and-white as the one in La La Land, though, to be fair, I don’t think the filmmakers (Damien Chazelle and others) intended to give a universal answer to this so-called “La La Land Dilemma.”

Media has fed us the perfect fairytale romance for decades, and we have not stopped ourselves from gobbling it up. Although Disney fairytales make for an entertaining watch, it takes about two minutes to understand that they’re simply not reality. People disappoint; work is hard; there is no “the one,” and relationships are never perfect. As sad or frustrated this may make you, it is true. La La Land presents a real-world situation, even if it is glorified with Hollywood pomp and pageantry. The La La Land Dilemma really explores whether being with someone is worth all of the effort, obstacles, and disadvantages that come along with them. Mia and Seb came to the point where they could choose to be with each other and achieve less or be apart and achieve more.

In my opinion, they made the right decision. Mia and Seb realized that if they chose each other, they might have had a wonderful marriage. But they also realized they would forever look back in regret, wondering what they could have achieved. Though they might not be together, they came to the decision that they were both better off apart in the long run. They made a decision that I believe most young people would not have the guts to make; they understood that staying together simply wasn’t what was best and, even though it was tragic, they came to terms with it.

If you are in a relationship with someone and you are “held back” by that relationship, that probably isn’t the right person for you. There certainly will be give and take; every relationship takes effort and sacrifice, but it is important to evaluate how much that sacrifice is. Aristotle wrote that “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” This ought to be the case in a relationship. The two together should be better than the individuals apart. Mia and Seb realized that they were simply better apart than they were together. I hope we might all take a lesson from them and be honest with ourselves. Here’s to the fools who dream, foolish as they may seem.

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