Many years ago, I was teaching a literature class to high school students and I decided to have them read two short stories that both touched on a single theme, the tension between occupational dreams and relationships. One of the stories was entitled “Contents of the Young Man’s Pockets” by Jack Finn. The other was entitled “The Jade Goddess” by Lin Yu Tang and it is about a Chinese jade carver who elopes with the love of his life but loses his family because he cannot seem to refrain from carving jade that always gives his location away. In both stories, the main character must decide between the pursuit of his gifts and his career on the one hand and the person he loves on the other.
LaLaLand seems to explore the same theme and resigns itself to the conclusion that usually, you cannot have both. Or, if you can, not easily, and not without some good fortune. “The youth gets together his materials to build a bridge to the moon,” Henry David Thoreau once wrote, “or, perchance, a palace or temple on the earth, and, at length the middle-aged man concludes to build a woodshed with them.” There is a moment where Sebastian, played by Ryan Gossling decides to give up on his passion for jazz music to play in a band that makes money. Going on the road, he is forced to ask Mia (Emma Stone) if she will consider giving up her dream of acting to travel with the band. This is really the pivotal moment. When in life do you conclude to “bill a woodshed” out of those unrealizable dreams? When do you refuse to? And at what cost.
Question for Comment: When Sebastian and Mia part, they tell each other that they will always love each other. Is this possible?