14 February 2017

Alternative Realities

Of course the main male character had to be called Sebastian. And of course the film La La Land had to end with Sebastian being alone. It is not that the film ends badly – after all, both main characters Mia and Sebastian achieve what they had wanted to accomplish: her, to be a successful actress; him, to open his own jazz club.

It is however not truly a happy ending either. They had vowed eternal love to one another, whilst knowing their professional paths would increase the distance between them. Did they also then realise that their personal paths would equally diverge? And even if they had realised it, even if they are no longer a couple, even if she is married to someone else, and has a child, is it really incompatible with the fact that they would still love each other?

I like to think they are at least grateful to one another for the love they shared. Letting go was perhaps the biggest gesture of love they could have had for one another, each avoiding to impede on the other’s aspirations. Their time together was brief but they have impacted each other’s lives for ever. I can’t help but imagine that for Sebastian at least, Mia remains the love of his life. A love that he cannot replace, that he would not even try to replace. Nothing, no one, can prevent him from viewing her that way.

No, it wasn’t always rosy between them. They were occasionally rude, hurtful to one another – which couple doesn’t fight? But they shared a special sparkle. They seemed to glide over mundanities, over the rest of the world. They had somewhat of a respectful disdain for the conventional, they were passionate and committed to forge their own paths. They had each other for support – for a while. One can call them dreamers, living in an imaginary “la la land”, but they didn’t care – they shared a dream together, echoing Yoko Ono’s words: “A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality.”

Mia and Sebastian met randomly – the chance of a lifetime. Many people probably don’t get to meet the love of their lives. And yet, love was not enough. I will always struggle with the notion that love isn't all that there is, that there could be fundamental, non-negotiable dreams that would set two lovers apart.

“Sometimes love was not enough”. It echoes Salman Rushdie’s own words in the memoirs he wrote a few years ago (see a previous post about that book). His mother had been married to a first husband, not “an arranged marriage but a true ‘love match’ and they did not fall apart because they had stopped being in love but because he was unable to father children and motherhood was an imperative. The sadness of exchanging the love of a man for the love of her unborn children was so profound that for many years she did not speak his name”. After the death of her most recent husband many years after, when the “imperative of motherhood was, obviously, no longer an obstruction”, she learned that he “was still alive, had never remarried, still loved her, and wanted to see her again”.

In Love in the Time of Cholera, the novel by Gabriel García Márquez, the two main protagonists had similarly loved each other in their youth and were only reunited at the sunset of their lives. But Salman Rushdie’s mother never saw her first husband again. Mia and Sebastian randomly bump into each other five years later. They don’t exchange a word. He plays “their” tune on the piano. They smile. She’s gone.

They have let each other go, which perhaps doesn’t diminish the irreplaceable intensity of the love they experienced. I can’t help but cry though. I am not even a big fan of musical films – I had not realised the (young!) film director was the same one who had directed Whiplash (see a previous post) – but the serious lightheartedness of Mia and Sebastian as they dance under the stars deeply touched me.

Mia and Sebastian

I could stop here. That could be the end, right? Love is beautiful but is not always enough. So that’s it?

I refuse. I say no. It does not have to be like in the film. Not every similar story has to end the same way. I do not believe our fate is inevitable. I am not certain we can break free from the scars of our past, from their consequences in our present lives. But I do believe we have to try to change the course of things if they are not taking the turn we would like them to have. Fitzgerald’s last line in The Great Gatsby beautifully captures that sentiment: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past”.

Nothing irks me more than hearing “whatever is meant to happen will happen”. Nothing annoys me more than being told to “let go”. What if new dreams could be built together, uncovering new forms of happiness? And if not new dreams, what if we were malleable enough to modify our aspirations ever so slightly that they become more aligned with the evolving dreams of the loved one? Can one change enough without toning down what defines oneself at core? I want to think it is possible, too bad if I am perceived as a believer of fairy tales. Life is too precious – and short – to be able to bear the sadness of missing out on the magnificence of an existence shared with that other unique individual. It isn’t going to be easy – but it’s worth it. It’s a million times worth it.

Mia, Sebastian is waiting for you.

PS: in case you had not noticed, I photoshopped the poster of the film La La Land. Couldn't help it. Apologies, Ryan Gosling. I like you but you had to go.

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling