As the notes go higher, keep the sound grounded and full. As you sing lower, don’t press too hard – think light and high.
Some paradoxes of life. Even choral singing has some something to say about finding center and balance.
La La Land struck chords with aching familiarity and I’m pretty sure it hit home for many of the audiences as well. After having watched it, it came to no surprise it won 7 Golden Globes, among other nominations and international awards. What was surprising however, was the atypical ending of the movie that caught us all off guard. It’s a film supposedly patterned after the Golden Age of Hollywood where boy meets girl, love conquers all, and audiences get exactly what they paid to see.
What makes this film so good is it revives 1940’s and 50’s film elements such as the set, singing, tap dancing, jazz music and style, but infused modern storytelling elements that veered away from thematic cliches ever so present in old Hollywood movies. While some movies offer an escape from our mundane lives, this one brought us right back to the core of some of life’s realities. For those who have watched it, you know what I’m talking about. That. Friggin. Epilogue. 5 years after.
At first, it shattered me. What was the point of having all those recurring universe-conspired encounters of Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and ultimately changing the course of each other’s lives? What a let down to find that 5 years after their parting, after having succeeded in their chosen careers, Mia is happily married to another man, now raising a child. Mia and Seb were supposed to be destined for each other. Earlier scenes foreshadowed a happy ending. By that part, in my mind, I was still hoping for some pixie dust to change this unfamiliar scenario. But story gets even more tense. Right just when the universe conspired again for them to see each other at Sebastian’s successful jazz club, Seb nostalgically plays their theme on the piano and the scene shifts to an alternate perfect life path flashed before us. At this point, I was hoping for some magical realism to change the ending (Like the scene in 13 Going on 30. Haha.) to what should have been. The alternative recap ends, reality sinks in as we are thrown back to the jazz club with Seb onstage, finishing his last note. Mia and her husband stand up to leave, but upon reaching the door, she stops and glances back at Seb with a peaceful smile. Seb returns a bittersweet one.
Right then, I knew it just had to end that way. I could not think of a better ending. I understand why many felt betrayed, but here’s why I wasn’t anymore:
The Golden Age of Hollywood typically depicts two lovers that surmount all kinds of struggles in the name of love, however impractical and crazy it may be. La La Land deviated from the usual plot. In fact, I would say the story was not even about Mia and Sebastian’s romance. It’s about the winding journey we face as we set to follow our dreams.
La La Land overthrows the notion that only that one true romantic love can give happiness and satisfaction to our lives. The movie is also very representative of our time where women can now freely choose and find satisfaction in pursuing careers first over, say, romance, or having children and nurturing a family.
“But they could have worked it out long distance! They didn’t have to give up on their love.”, my friend, Macy, whimpered.
I know right?! But his brings me to my second point: unlike the old movies before where the primary focus were relationships itself, the film emphasizes and makes us appreciate the beauty that is brought about by relationships. Some relationships, no matter how destined they may seem to be, are simply not meant to be. Yet, we are reminded that we would not be where or who we are without them. Mia and Seb’s smile exchange at the end comforts and reminds us to not to regret anything that has in someway, touched and changed our lives.
In the alternative ending, everything went smoothly, not a tear shed, ending on a high note where they live happily ever after. As my friend, Imma, pointed out, that scene was the real “La La Land.” The alternate life path flash was representative of the “perfect world” we otherwise would have wanted for the characters, and for ourselves (that’s why it was so painful to watch! Huhu). But we do not live in a perfect world. Even Hollywood stars, with all their beauty, fame and fortune, even as we envision as demigods on pedestals, are not exempt from the struggles of being human. We make plans, relationships, big dreams – sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Such are the pains and gains of the journey.
What I truly loved about La La Land is that is was real and wasn’t cloaked in romanticizing failed but good relationships. This brings me to question, did the relationship fail or was it successful in the sense that it served its purpose?
I appreciate that it ended on a bittersweet and hopeful tone, giving us the space to imagine happy separate lives for both of them. We may not live in a perfect world, and uncertainties of life may lead us to the most unexpected places, but we can always be hopeful and may I add, joyful, that things will turn out for the best, and the mess will make sense in the end. Here’s to the ones that dream, here’s to the hearts that ache, here’s to the mess we make!
A year or so ago, a blacksmith named Fabio from a small seaside Italian town called Fano, gave us copies of his sketches right before we left as something to remember him by. I incidentally unearthed his drawing from the stacks of music sheets I was attempting to organize a few days ago. I remember now why I chose this particular artwork of his, and why it was my favorite among all his drawings:
It reminded me that our life here is transitory; merely seconds face to face with eternity, and that all our glory, our accomplishments, even failures, no matter how great or small, will all come to pass in the hands of time.
(written February 22, 2013 and edited February 25, 2014)
“Mrs. Corpus has cancer.”, my mother told me as she opened the door and stepped inside the room.
“Terminal. Stage 4. Lung.”, she sighed as she settled down .
Shocked, I immediately bombarded her with a series of questions, hoping to find relief with any of her answers. But my mother’s responses only gave clouded hopes, which prompted me to finally ask, “how long is she going to live?”
“Could be 3 months. Or 6 months. You can’t really tell.”
We both became quiet, allowing the buzzing of the aircon to wrap around whatever it was we felt.
Mrs. Corpus has been our widowed neighbour in our townhouse compound for the past 15 years. She went to our house occasionally and chatted every now and then with my mom about health, politics, people, family. She attended many of our family occasions such as my recitals, fiestas and celebrations, she loves dogs and my fondest memory of her was when she gave me piano scores when I was younger because she used to play the piano too. Every now and then when I’d pass by her garage, I’d find her seated on her garage sofa and she would greet me with a smile and say, “pumapayat ka.” (yeah, I really liked her! hehe)
“3 months or so”, I thought to myself. I wouldn’t even be in the country in the next three months. Who’s to say if I would still see her again. 3 months is an awfully short time for me but for anyone who is faced with terminal illness, only the longest of days await. Gauging your life in months, in days, in hours, how does that work? What do you do? What do you say? How would you feel? Scared? Regretful? Remorseful? In denial? Angry? Depressed? Accepting? Thankful? Sorry? Hopeless? Helpless? Loved? Relieved?
I look at the time left for Mrs. Corpus and I look at mine. Here I am, planning my life literally one day at time, as though I have infinite days and years ahead of me. The possibility of having cancer, or diabetes, or high blood or high cholesterol and the other health issues of “wiser”adults have seemed very far-fetched, though I know at the back of my in-denial mind, anything could happen. I guess when we are confronted every now and then with our own mortality as humans, we are driven to reflect and think about our own fleeting lives.
So many questions surface at this pivotal point in my life, but the core of all the searching is this very archaic but substantial question – what am I meant to do with my life? Or the more profound timeless question would be – what is the meaning of my life, of life itself? These questions have made me feel stuck. Perhaps its because I feel stuck that these questions surfaced to begin with. For some time, I have felt like a heavy rock in the middle of flowing rapids, unmoved despite a forceful stream. You’d think after your whole life of studying, you’d actually know the answer to these persisting philosophical pursuits; but the truth is, as one grows older, one is only confronted with more and more questions. Some die, simply passing life by, not knowing the answers.
In my quiet instrospection, I have discovered one snippet among the myriad of secrets of the human heart: beyond the need to feel loved and accepted, there will always be a haunting desire to offer ourselves to something, be it to someone, a family, an audience, a passion, a cause, a group or a country. We are all meant to give something to this world. Our soul calls us to be part of something beyond oneself, to connect to the world around us and contribute a mark, however and whatever it may be. Our heart constantly urges us to ask, “What am I willing to give myself to?”, “What more can I give?” and “What does the world need?”. I realized I shouldn’t worry too much about hastily finding the answers as part of our journey in life is largely made up of our continual quest for such answers that may also change with time.
I hope that despite fear, pain and uncertainty of what lies ahead, Mrs. Corpus would face death with full surrender and fulfillment, knowing that she has served her purpose well in this life and has done what she was meant to do. I pray that however short or long her time is left, she is with a happy heart.
I’d like to end this entry with a poem that inspires me over and over again on how to live life lightly and successfully, and hopefully, it will leave me with a smile on my face when I am on my deathbed one day.
To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others;
To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition;
To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.
This is to have succeeded.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
(Right before I left for the airport to head to the USA March of last year, I dropped by Mrs. Corpus’ house and told her I’d be gone for a couple of months and I’d be back in June. Knowing that it might be the last time I might see her, I kissed her on the forehead and wished her well. She passed away that April. I am glad and grateful to have met such a person as you. Until we meet again. Rest in peace, Mrs. Corpus.)