Here's to the Ones Who Dream
Films with Jazz
After watching La La Land twice in one week, I couldn't wipe the big grin off of my face. As we march toward the Oscars, La La Land has received a somewhat contentious 14 Academy Award Nominations. Friends and family alike have been divided over what is a rather harmless film. Rather than debate, I simply want to share what I love about this film, and how it’s inspired and affirmed my little life journey of late.
When asked to explain this film to others, I find myself wistfully looking off into the distance and sighing... “It’s about dreams...” Invariably, the look I get from across the table reads, “rein it in.” But, it’s true. I'll share with you my journal entry from the moment after I watched it the first time:
Just saw La La Land and I have so many feelings.
- can I go back into film?
- can I go back into music?
- am I chasing what I love?
- am I making something that I can throw myself into?
- am I making something that makes others notice and share a passion?
- what am I passionate about that no one else is?
- what do I need to make other people notice?
Immediately, I clung to this idea of making other people care about something. There is a pivotal scene in the film where Sebastian whisks Mia away to a jazz club in the middle of the day. While the band plays, the camera lingers for a moment on each player and his instrument. It’s a moment for director, Damien Chazelle, and composer, Justin Hurwitz, to compose their own love letter to jazz (one they began with the 2014 film, *Whiplash* and continue now). The band continues to play as Sebastian explains how the melody dances amongst each member dwelling with them for however long they want. The fact that each person has a melody that goes beyond what’s written for them is his argument for the beauty of jazz.
We hear Sebastian’s melody from the very beginning as he plays Christmas carols in an LA lounge. He suddenly begins to play a wistful piece—playing exactly what is in his heart—which draws Mia to enter the lounge and see him for the first time. From that moment forward, it is his melody that draws Mia to play her own. By the end of the film, we hear her own melody in the song, “Audition (The Fools Who Dream).” My favorite part is the bridge:
She told me:
A bit of madness is key
to give us to color to see
Who knows where it will lead us?
And that's why they need us,
So bring on the rebels
The ripples from pebbles
The painters, and poets, and plays
And here's to the fools
Crazy, as they may seem
Here's to the hearts that break
Here's to the mess we make
Just reading those lines makes my heart beat wildly. The words are so daring, and they are at last the words Mia needs to come into her own as an artist. It is through this song, this audition, that she soars into her career. After a long stretch of musical silence in the film, her melody finally plays, and the jazz suite is finished. The story of the fools who dream ends, and we enter into the masterful epilogue of the film. Regardless of what you think about the ending and instead focusing just on the first year of the film’s plot, La La Land is about Sebastian making Mia care about something: herself—and ultimately, her dream to act.
Films with Faith
I probably shouldn’t base my life goals off of actor’s acceptance speeches, but here are two I loved from this year's Golden Globes:
Emma Stone: “I think that hope and creativity are two of the most important things in the world, and that’s what this movie is about. So to any creative person who’s had a door slammed in their face, either metaphorically or physically, or actors who have had their auditions cut off, or have waited for a callback that didn’t come. Or anybody anywhere, really, that feels like giving up sometimes but finds it in themselves to get up, and keep moving forward, I share this with you.”
Meryl Streep: “Once, when I was standing around on the set one day, whining about something — you know we were gonna work through supper or the long hours or whatever, Tommy Lee Jones said to me, “Isn’t it such a privilege, Meryl, just to be an actor?” Yeah, it is, and we have to remind each other of the privilege and the responsibility of the act of empathy. We should all be proud of the work Hollywood honors here tonight.”
Hope. Creativity. Empathy. I have always had an affinity toward the film business perhaps for these three exact feelings the medium conveys. A film puts us in the shoes of someone else, and brings us closer to their experience. As I thought about this some more, I began to realize how important film has been as I’ve become an adult.
As I look to study theology in the fall, I want to advocate for understanding God in the arts. I think that begins by helping us see one another better through our similarities and our differences. Good acting does that. Good films do that. My favorite films have made me understand someone, or understand myself just a little bit better, which in turn, helps us all understand why we are here, and what God may have in store for us.
Here are some of my favorite films, and the topics they address:
- Elizabethtown: depression, death and the bond of family
- Dan in Real Life: whimsical love found in just three days
- Whiplash: the risk and the greatness found in the arts
- Super 8: divorce and loss, the reminder of a loved one after their death
- Hugo: hope despite loss (and Scorsese's love letter to film history)
- Perks of Being a Wallflower: abuse, anxiety, friendship, growing up
- Birdman: the insanity inside each of us, the one-take experience of theater
- The 400 Blows: classic coming of age storytelling
- Silver Linings Playbook: the aftermath of mental health (through dance!)
- You’ve Got Mail: playful, harmless love and a reminder that AOL was a thing
You are what you read and for many these days, you are more likely what you watch. Each of these films is a part of me in some way. In many cases they have spoken to emotions I have felt, or emotions my friends have felt. These films honor those emotions and give them space to breathe. La La Land is my favorite film of the year not because it’s a feel-good musical during our crazy political climate, but because it speaks to the courage it takes to dream.
I don’t know what my next chapter holds. I am just weeks away from hearing back from schools. In the meantime, here’s to the ones who dream. May we all find our place among them.
- Have you ever been crazy enough to follow a dream?
- What are your favorite films? How have they shaped you?
- How do you find ways to empathize with others?