la rogue’s review published on Letterboxd:
So I am going to apologize beforehand for this post because it is going to be fairly lengthy. I have been trying to be more concise and less lengthy in my posts because typically when I get going I have no idea how to stop writing. I thought it would be cool though to upload a sequence analysis I just submitted in my film class. So this post somewhat gives you a bit of an idea of what my writing is like as an actual student. I chose to write mine over La La Land because I own it digitally so it was convenient and I also have a lot I can say about this film. I rewatched it a few days ago and had a hard time just picking out simply one scene to write about and eventually i made up my mind. I chose to write about The Epilogue scene in La La Land. So under here will be exactly what I submitted to my professor. Thanks to anyone who reads this.
Film Sequence Analysis: La La Land "Epilogue"
The year 2016 in my opinion was one of if not the most pivotal years for cinema this decade. As our culture and politics began to take a shift these cultural shifts became frequently represented and significant in the films released in 2016. With the rise in movements like #OscarsSoWhite and Black Lives Matter (BLM) it was effervescent that 2016 was a year that was going to be much different compared to years prior to it. From films like Arrival, Moonlight, Hidden Figures, Lion, Rogue One, and 20th Century Women, 2016 managed to captivate audiences as well as output stories that were not only interesting but ultimately innovative. But out of every film released in 2016 there is one film that has managed to stick with me years later: La La Land.
Damien Chazelle’s eccentric and bombastic musical spectacle garnered near unanimous praise for its well-choreographed musical numbers and phenomenal performances from its leading cast earning Emma Stone her first Oscar win. La La Land follows the story of Mia (Emma Stone), a young redhead barista who aspires to be a successful actress. She subsequently crosses paths with Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) after hearing him play a beautiful piano melody on the night of Christmas Eve. Sebastian is a jazz obsessed music aficionado who seeks to revive “real jazz” for the masses. As the two begin to fall in love while pursuing their careers in the entertainment world their worlds begin to collide as they both go on a journey through “La La Land”. La La Land notably received immense levels of acclaim for its visual style, themes, and overall execution. The film received a staggering fourteen Oscar nominations winning six of them. Most notably (for this analysis) La La Land took home best cinematography, best director, and best original score.
Simply looking at the epilogue scene alone can make it pretty clear as to why La La Land won the Oscar for best cinematography and best production design. Set in the future, Mia sits as an audience member in Sebastian’s jazz club “Seb’s”. The club is dimly lit with hazy blue lighting. Mia is wearing a sleek black dress while Sebastian dons a grocery store brown bag colored suit. After locking eyes with Mia, Sebastian begins playing the piano. Sebastian is playing the exact piano melody he was playing the night of Christmas Eve. It is interesting that the camera seems to only focus on Mia and Sebastian in order to emulate an intimate moment between these two characters. In fact everyone behind Mia is actually blurred and when the camera is on Mia it is uncomfortably close to her in a head shot style translating her discomfort and unease in the situation. When the shot is focused on Sebastian it is almost reeling in on him tunnel vision style as he tries not to look at Mia and simply focus on playing the piano. Both characters are drenched in blue lights from the blue lighting in the club. The shot begins to fade to black as Sebastian sits at the piano with a light shining on him which then parallels to Mia sitting in the audience and the camera zooming in on her and the shot fading to black as a light shines on her. The piano keys are very soft and melodic in this particular sequence and seem to be the only sound within this sequence. It gives the viewer this feel that they are in the room with these two like an unknown spectator.
The scene then goes back to the first night that Mia saw Sebastian (technically the second) on Christmas Eve. It then becomes clear that we are no longer in the real world and we have entered a fantasy like dream. The screen is no longer dark, instead it is lit vibrantly and full of colors. Mia is deeply saturated in an autumn like hue whilst wearing a rich blue dress. The characters begin reliving the entire film but within a fantasy world where everything seems to work out just fine. Nothing goes wrong within this fantasy world, everything is just perfect. The fantasy world is drowned in brilliant colors and absolutely fantastic lighting. There is an abundance of blue in nearly every single frame of this dream sequence. From the lighthouse plastered on the wall of the jazz club to the window of Mia’s bedroom in her stage play, blue begins to take on a life of its own. I believe the abundance in blues could be because blue is a color representing “good”. Typically when you see good vs evil blue is always the color representing more positive characteristics as opposed to red. Blue is a color of tranquility, optimism, and heaven so it only makes sense that it persistently shows up in this dream like fantasy. Aside from blue the primary colors continuously appear within the sequence as well. From yellow to red to blue they are all present and even beyond the primary colors too. This sequence almost utilizes every color imaginable. It helps that the music is blaring and simply dramatic during this sequence as well. The juxtaposition between the grandiose musical number and the vivid colors creates an auditory and visual feast. The editing is very clean and precise giving the effect that this shot is in a continuous loop, that it goes on and on. As the camera pans the shot will begin a totally new shot in a new environment, new costumes, color schemes, and even a change in musical progression. The performances from Emma and Ryan in this particular sequence are nothing short of fantastic. The two actors exude wonder and this sense of magic in portraying these star crossed lovers dancing their way through a mariachi of colorful set pieces. The frame eventually turns to a filtered style to give the film a grainy texture. This effect is used to give a sense the footage might be old or filmed in the past. It is an extremely stylish transition in order to emulate a sense of nostalgia. All of this parallels right back to the original shot. The scene shifts back to the real world once Sebastian is finished playing the piano.
The purpose of this marvelous spectacle of an ending is simply to show “what could have been”. It is clear that things did not work out between Sebastian and Mia since they split near the end of the film but what they had together was special. They both loved each other deeply and clearly both had their lives changed from their experience with one another. But it simply was not meant to be that they remained together. There is a moment close to the end of the film where Mia basically asks Sebastian “so what now?” to which he replies that they should stay separated. I think both characters understood it would be of their best interest to let one another go but this dream sequence makes you ask what if? Damien basically says “here is what would have happened in the metaphorical world of La La Land”, and then there is that moment of realization where we are brought back to reality. This is when both characters lock eyes in a way that is heartbreaking and tragic but ultimately bittersweet. That moment between the two where there is this soft reassuring smile on Mia’s face and Sebastian gives a gentle nod. This moment is one that is transcendent and absolutely breathtaking. The first time I saw La La Land I remember being glued to my seat and shedding tears after this moment. It is a scene with a simple message but I believe Damien was trying to say “some things are just not meant to be”. It is a painful truth and one that is hard to digest. Through the epic and extravagant Epilogue sequence, Damien Chazelle displays what made La La Land such a significant musical drama. La La Land was able to execute its narrative unlike anything I had ever seen before it. It had the ability to juxtapose its flashy style with its themes and motifs in order to create an absolutely evocative experience that breathes magnetism and exuberance.