Expectations of the Protagonist Part 3
Hello 4381 Productions,
Most love stories always end the same way. The main characters fall in love, their love is tested, something bad happens, and they somehow end up together in the end. Perfect. Well we all know life doesn’t always work out like that. Over the last two blog posts, I have explored the common ideas and expectations associated with the role of the protagonist in storytelling. This post will further explore that idea and how it relates to the human experience by analyzing the evolution of Sebastian and Mia’s relationship in La La Land (2016).
The film is about the all of the glamourous (and much less glamourous) aspects of Hollywood. In a lot of ways, it’s a love letter to Los Angeles and classic musicals, like Singing in the Rain (1952). The film centers around the two main characters, Sebastian and Mia, crossing paths several times in the city while trying to achieve their own personal dreams, until they get to know each other, and begin to build a relationship. Mia wants to become a famous actress and Sebastian wants to own his favorite jazz club to reinvigorate it. Their relationship is full of wonderful song and dance numbers, montages of dates and intimate moments, and them both working towards their dreams. Mia encourages Seb to join a jazz band to make money, while he encourages her to put on a play about her life. As they work towards their goals, they start to see each other less and less until they’re eventually brought to a point where they have to choose what is more important, their relationship or their dreams. Spoiler alert: They choose their dreams.
Although the movie is centered around the characters building up their relationship, that is not their end goal. The main characters experience a numerous amount of trials and tribulations to finally achieve their dreams, but choose to sacrifice their relationship in favor of personal gain. A lot of people I’ve talked to don’t like this movie because of the ending. Claiming it’s “Bullshit” or “Not a happy ending”, which it’s not, but life isn’t like The Notebook (2004) or any sappy unrealistic love story where everything works out in the end. Life is full of tough choices and I appreciate this movie for the decisions the characters make. It’s not what the general audience member would expect from of movie of this type, but I think it’s more relatable and carries a better message than most fake romantic comedies/musicals.
In conclusion, failure is a natural part of life. In cinema, we expect our protagonists to succeed and everything to have a happy ending, which is fine, but I find that movies benefit when expectations are subverted in favor of being more relatable to the human experience. The Dark Knight (2008), The Empire Strikes Back (1980), and La La Land (2016) are exemplary examples of films set in semi-fictional settings where characters fail, deal with consequence, learn from their mistakes, and grow past their limitations. That’s all apart of life and cinema is like life, but with all of the boring stuff cut out isn’t it?