La La Land is widely regarded as the ultimate ode to the dreamers, the artists and the idealists by writer and director Damien Chazelle. It is a story representing every starry-eyed young artist that has ever moved to Los Angeles in an attempt to “make it” in the big city. The film follows two young, passionate and success-hungry individuals—Mia, an actress, and Sebastian, a musician as they experience together the utter elation and possibility the city can offer, as well as the gritty reality of inevitable sacrifice and rejection along the journey. The film is an earnest representation of the grueling struggles so many artists experience in chasing their dreams, and it does a superb job at simultaneously illustrating the harsh, often crushing actuality of pursuing the arts as well as embracing the beauty to be found in the passion and struggle along the way.
There are a plethora of aspects of this film that were done phenomenally well and have been deservingly praised; it received over 100 awards for elements such as the screenplay, directing, music and performances, six of those being Academy Awards. But one glaringly significant facet that can be noted consistently throughout the film is the expert use of color by Chazelle. La La Land uses its palette, albeit subtly at times, to signify what’s to come, to express some insight and depth into a character’s state or mindset, as well as their surroundings.
For instance, it is not uncommon in pop culture for the color blue to be seen as “the dreamers color.” The same goes for the color throughout La La Land — blue is the color of success, or the longing thereof. We first see Mia leave her blue room in her blue dress, standing out alongside her friends and fellow partygoers who are adorned in their own flashy colors. Mia is often seen swathed in blue from the California sky at dusk while she peruses the streets or from the mood lighting in the club where she and Sebastian first meet. The Hollywood Boulevard mural she strolls past, which depicts some of the dreamers and artists that came before her, is also bathed in cool tones as well. This color throughout the film is a symbol of creativity and of those who have “made it,” because of this, it is often worn by or associated with those trying to climb the ladder to success and dreaming of achieving something akin to what those who came before them did.
Red is of equal significance but used in the film to indicate reality, or that a character or characters are looking through a more realist lens in contrast to an idealist one which most likely brought them to where they are in the first place. Red is overtly apparent in an early coffee shop scene where Mia works as a barista when everyone recognizes a famous actress is sporting a red dress. Mia immediately envies her, for the actress has achieved the ultimate goal of success in the industry. Yet, Mia has to work behind a café counter to keep herself afloat while striving for that very goal. Red is also worn by Sebastian as he’s forced to make ends meet while playing a pool party and is the color of a jacket Mia wears during her humiliating and unsuccessful auditions. Red is a grounding color, one that yanks the characters down from their daydreams of concerts, film premieres and red carpets and gives them a slap of reality, bringing them back down to earth on the hot, Los Angeles asphalt. Red may be taunting and discouraging, but can be viewed as equally motivational for the characters: dangling the tantalizing possibility of what could be in front of their noses, prompting them at times to fight harder and gain determination.
Interestingly enough, throughout the film, Mia is accompanied by more blues in contrast to Seb who is often seen alongside reds. It could be argued that Mia is generally more of an idealist and Sebastian sees the world more so through red or “realist” colored glasses. We watch as Mia and Sebastian fall in love and since red and blue create purple, one may think the film should be flooded with color, but that is not the case. Their colors don’t mix often, but when they do it is often more grandiose and dreamlike than actual reality could ever be. Their first dance together has the breathtaking backdrop of a purple-hued sunset over the city as their feelings for each other grow, and we also see it again during the “Planetarium” scene, when the two are seen literally dancing and floating together through the purple cosmos, the stars and potential possibilities.
It’s worth noting, though, that these scenes are nearly fantastical. The stark reality is that their relationship is faltering, Mia fumbled her show which Seb was late to and missed completely, and the two are adorned in black and white, void of color and fighting on the street in the night. The lack of their colors melding — the lack of purple Chazelle uses, in reality, is perhaps foreshadowing to the idea that the two were never meant to be. Their futures and lives were not meant to mix together, for it only ever has successfully done so in dreams and wishes. Mia and Seb come to realize they cannot have each other and their passions as well, and perhaps it was either going to be their careers or their relationship that was doomed to fail. This stands the question, which type of love is more important? The love for a passion and dream that one has dedicated their life to achieve, or the love for someone who may be the one or a soulmate? It’s of course a subjective inquiry, but an interesting one nonetheless.
It becomes apparent that Mia and Sebastian’s failing relationship has been desaturating the film slowly, draining Los Angeles and its people and surroundings of color until things are more bland and void of the bursting palette we are treated to in the opening sequence of the film. Not even the greens representing uncertainty or the yellows that signified change show face. And it is because of this which makes the “Epilogue” sequence in the end so absolutely visually and emotionally impactful, for we are granted the beauty of bright color again, albeit in a vision that can not ever be, but a gorgeous dream nonetheless, and who doesn’t love to dream? In this sequence, the full spectrum of colors are back as we watch Mia and Sebastian dance and live through their very own “what could have been” if things played out differently. Purples, yellows, blues, greens and oranges are back— a full rainbow of color splashed in amongst the two characters. An abundance of success for the both of them, film premieres in Paris, unwavering love, a family together… are all imagined when they spot each other in Seb’s dimly lit jazz club after years apart. The epilogue ends as the song does, slowly tapering off and fading back to reality as the final piano notes are played and the two lock eyes one last time. Mia is now an actress and Seb has his club — they have both “made it,” they have achieved the dreams that they once spoke about together years ago. The club is lit in mainly two colors: blue and red. This gives the two a balance at long last, blue and red together, though no purple in sight. But as the two slightly smile at one another, it is the knowledge that the possibility of purple, of each other, is part of what pushed them to where they are today, and they are thankful.
La La Land is ultimately a heartfelt gift handed from Damien Chazelle to the community of idealist dreamers, creators and artists who have ever felt misunderstood in their work, had their dreams or passions diminished by others or have felt hopeless in the struggle not to settle, but instead fight to do what they love in this life. They are the ones often overlooked, their craft not taken seriously, but it is films like this that, through its dialogue, its music and its characters says, “don’t give up, this one is for you.” We as artists are valued and our art matters, just as art and its creators always have and will always matter, as art is just as much of a necessity as color is in life.