“La La Land” Argument

2 mins read

This past weekend my daughters convinced me to watch the highly acclaimed movie La La Land starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone and directed by Damien Chazelle. Music has always been a part of our home culture and the sales pitch was that ‘there’s lots of music and I’d like it’. They were right, I did like it! The picture was filled with music and colors, but in addition to audio and visuals, there was another element that caught my attention: the love life between the two main characters. 

As a family and marriage counselor, the dynamic between the two main characters, Sebastian and Mia, elicited my analytical mind and compelled me to think critically about their relationship. The two main characters cross paths since the beginning of the film and throughout the plot they become closer and also grow apart. The tension between people, places, and things is palpable, and the decisions they make ultimately dictated their separation. In one of the most climactic scenes, we see the two characters having what could be characterized as their first fight. 

In this YouTube clip we can see the entire scene with the script at the bottom. Below are my clinical observations from this scene:

  • “Why can’t you?” (0:55): in this interaction it seems clear there’s a longing, and perhaps an untold expectation, for closer physical proximity. Untold expectations is a central theme and we will see it unfold more later, but in terms of longingness, relationship researching thinktank Gottman Institute, refers to these as bids. In their seminal book “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work” Gottman refers to bids as calls/invitations/hints for ‘attention, affection, humor or support’. Clearly in this case Sebastian was making a bid for support, in the form of proximity, and it failed to land with Mia. 
  • The long haul (1:45): This phrase ‘the long haul’ crystallized their disconnect. Sebastian believed Mia wanted him to ‘grow up’ and find financial stability. Mia believed Sebastian joined this band as a stepping stone towards opening his dream jazz club. Both expectations were rooted on outdated love maps. At some point they stopped checking in on each other to make sure they were ‘on track’ regarding the reasons behind their decisions. Once we lag updating our ‘love maps’ with each other, we are bound to end up making wrong assumptions, untold expectations, and walking away in disappointment. 
  • What are you doing now? (3:05): This question is a banner for a state of frustration and confusion. The downhill seems inevitable now. These are times in which our emotions are compromised and more likely than not we experience what Gottman calls flooding.  Flooding is when a partner feels so ‘caught off guard’ by the other’s comment that they are now shell-shocked and dumbfounded. If we are in a flooding state it’s best to recognize it, take a time-out, sooth ourselves, before returning back to the topic at hand. Not returning back would exasperate the other partner, staying in it will more likely result in a lose-lose situation such as escalation, and resentment. This is exemplified in this clip by the phrases “no one likes jazz, not even you” and the climatic and damning “Maybe you liked me more when I was a failure…”

Generally speaking, love brings people together but that doesn’t mean love keeps them together.  The quality and girth of intimate romantic relationships is directly correlated to the way we communicate, approach, and navigate through conflicts.  Tensions are a part of every relationship and the manner in which we go through them directly influences if we grow closer together or farther apart. Let us take notes from La La Land’s romantic couple and pay attention to bids, love maps and how we manage flooding so that our relationships strengthen through conflict not fade away.

My name is Arturo and I am loved by God and in response to that I best serve others by adding VALUE to their lives. My goal is to enrich lives, relationships, and communities.
From an artistic standpoint I’m a visual communicator and via the use of photography I seek promote beauty, concepts, and messages. Spiritually speaking I've served as a chaplain at a addiction/recovery rehabilitation center, and before that as a youth pastor, missionary, and Young Life/Club Beyond staff for many years here in the USA and abroad.
On the mental health side I currently serve as a life coach, certified addiction recovery specialist, and marriage and family counselor.

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