By Ishaan H. Jajodia ’20.
Crafted with love and care by Damien Chazelle, the director of Whiplash (2014), La La Land [being shown March 31 and April 2 at the Hop] manages to create a world where idealism is recognized for what it is and where realism takes root. The highlight of this movie is the way it reconciles idealism and realism in a world that is so uniquely ours, and so universal to the human condition.
I first saw the film at Dartmouth, as part of the Telluride at Dartmouth mini-festival last September. It took three months and a second viewing of the movie, back home in Bombay, India, to unravel what this meant to me. Watching the movie reminded me of a couplet by the mystic Rumi:
“Amongst the crowd, alone I mourn my fate,/With good and bad I’ve learnt to integrate.”
Chazelle’s and Rumi’s work, despite being separated by eight centuries and almost seven thousand miles, are remarkably similar. They are both inward-looking in a way that creates new meaning for members of the audience who dare interact with them, lending them an aura of timelessness.
Coming from the home base of Bollywood, a film tradition where every movie was a musical, how would I perceive La La Land? I asked myself if I would perceive La La Land the same way? And then I realized what separated La La Land from any other musical: the intentionality and consciousness of every aspect of the film. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone spent months synchronizing their moves, correcting every small mistake. Ryan Gosling spent almost half a year learning and polishing his skills at the piano. Both actors sung the songs they appeared in. This is the most apparent point of difference from Bollywood cinema, for Bollywood focuses on having playback singers that sound drastically different from the actors who appear on screen. The transitions between song and dance, and drama happen seamlessly, pushing La La Land into a league of its own. My search for answers led me to confront a deep-rooted bias, one that I am still dealing with.
Similarly, the film put in perspective my dream to change the way art is perceived, and it made me realize something equally important. Alissa Wilkinson, from Vox, puts this idea in terms that I now realize capture how I felt when I watch the film the second time: “There’s an emotional familiarity with disappointment running through the film — the pain of knowing that you’re really good at what you do, but so is everyone else, and there’s no guarantee that your work will see the light of day.” This is a pain that every Dartmouth student internalizes, for the 4,300 fine men and women that attend the College are some of the world’s smartest minds. Not everyone can be valedictorian, not everyone can run a successful business enterprise or change the world. There is an implicit recognition of failure here at Dartmouth, one that is paralleled in La La Land.
But what is it that makes La La Land worth watching again, and again? In the tension between Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian, I see myself. I see a tension between love and work, between love and passion, between idealism and the real world. I see imperfection; I see a world that responds to music the same way I do. And once is far from enough—after watching the film twice, listening to the soundtrack repeatedly, and thinking while driving into the horizon, this work makes one realize that its concerns, expressed through jazz, are pertinent to the viewer.
At the end of the day, Chazelle’s masterpiece shines through. It is one of the few films in recent filmography worth watching again, making masterful use of literary and narrative techniques in a way that draws one forever, leaving one enchanted in a way that stays within.
Art keeps us sane, as a species. As an active photographer myself, I try my best to bring the arts to center stage. I also run my own arts not-for-profit, The Mumbai Art Collective. I’ve been fortunate to be an Arts Ambassador, especially because it gives me an opportunity to continue to connect with art at Dartmouth.