I dont’t know how you remember 2016, but for me it was the year La La Land came out. This was back when Facebook was still in fashion – and my blue feed would fill up with friends posting their movie tickets and related merchandise. Some of the die-hard fans of American musical theater would go watch it for as many as thirteen times. Little did I know back then that the film would rattle my worldview.
Even by a modest estimate, I took at least five of my closest friends to separate screenings, over the time frame of four years. I had also purchased it on YouTube and I felt an almost semi-permanence about owning the sentiments conveyed in the film. In a world as ephemeral as ours, it felt good to hold on to it.
This is quite surprising considering that I dozed through parts of it, and found the plot line hard to follow at numerous points. At times I just found myself getting another ticket just to give myself an added chance to discover something more, a detail that I hadn’t been able to catch the seventh or eigth time. Funnily enough, I had an inexplicable belief that there was indeed something amazing about the film, that I was just yet to uncover.
I think it was about the fifth or sixth time watching it that it really hit me. When I said world view, I perhaps made it sound unnecessarily more grandiose, but there is no better word. In hindsight, it was the defining film that utterly transformed the way I perceived my interpersonal relationships and where they cross with dreams and youth. 2016 was my real coming-of-age year.
As a born cynic, the “so what?” question was my biggest trademark growing up. My classmates would provide a small but significant detail in their life, and my eleven-year old self would always respond with the curt two-word question. Once I could start drinking, my cynicism transformed into something more violent and energetic – charged pub debates about any topic spanning from college gossip to how fluid mechanics can be applied to swimming. The world was obviously so full of crazy and unjustified wrongdoings but no one seemed to question it, or poke fun at inconvenient truths.
La La Land injected in me a truckload of hope that the world was not as twisted and deceiving as I had thought it to be. It taught me that the magic of human chemistry was still alive and was worth looking for. It taught me that the value of extracting commonness that viewers worldwide could relate to was still very much intact and worthwhile. I had always envied the way some people would craft beautiful sentences in their head and have them marching out of their mouth and Chazelle was able to do that. And of course, the music was on point.
This is not the first piece of reflection I've done on the film. Many blog and social media posts have come and gone. But in writing a piece that I know will get published on paper gives me another layer of permanence. The moment of the film that I would like to archive in my memory is when Mia asks Sebastian in front of Griffith Observatory these three simple words – “Where are we?” She had meant where they were at in each other’s lives, but Seb (knowingly) answers “Griffiths Park” the first time around. It’s actually not as simple a question to answer. Is it just spatio-temporal? Is it philosophical, emotional or sociological?
I think its the question we need to ask ourselves more than ever, now that we are confined spatially and have more time to ruminate about these more metaphorical questions.
So, let me end again.
“Where are we?”