La La Lear
We went to see La La Land the other night, and everyone is still pissed off. #2 son called it a tragedy, although that seems a bit strong when you consider that both leading characters get exactly what they wanted. Nevertheless, the general sentiment in our group was similar to that of the critic's girlfriend who turned to him during the final act and said: "fuck this movie."
I'm annoyed for a different reason. I paid good money to see a musical about Los Angeles with Ryan Gosling and some girl. When you do that, you have a right to expect light entertainment. I believe California even has a law about this.
And instead of light escapist entertainment, I get what? I get King Lear. King Fucking Lear.
You think I'm shitting you?
I am not shitting you.
Damien Chazelle takes La La Land in the world of possibility and dreaming, which is nice, and also sort of like playing mumblety-peg with an electric carving knife. You are entering deep waters. The Bard touched on these topics in the final scene of Lear:
Re-enter KING LEAR, with CORDELIA dead in his arms; EDGAR, Captain, and others following
Howl, howl, howl, howl! O, you are men of stones:
Had I your tongues and eyes, I'ld use them so
That heaven's vault should crack. She's gone for ever!
I know when one is dead, and when one lives;
She's dead as earth. Lend me a looking-glass;
If that her breath will mist or stain the stone,
Why, then she lives.
Is this the promised end
Or image of that horror?
Fall, and cease!
This feather stirs; she lives! if it be so,
It is a chance which does redeem all sorrows
That ever I have felt.
The feather, alas, is not going anywhere. Shakespeare is not letting anyone off the hook, least of all the man who told his daughter - when she was unwilling to trivialize her love for him with words - that "nothing will come from nothing." Wishing can create some powerful delusions, but Lear's mind can dance the watusi and still not Cordelia's status. After life has kicked him around a little, Lear wishes Cordelia alive as much as any human can wish such a thing. But as another poet once said, and Shakespeare ratifies:
The moving finger writes; and, having writ,What's been done can't be undone. Except...well, actually, there's a big exception to this. In Hollywood movies, especially those of the Golden Age, there were a few occasions when the moving finger hit the rewind button, perhaps most memorably in Capra's "It's a Wonderful Life".
Moves on; nor all thy piety nor wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a line,
Nor all thy tears wash out a word of it.
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And from there to Groundhog Day and beyond. One of the first films to employ this device was the silent 7th Heaven, which came out in 1927. It was based on a 1922 play of the same name, and Chazelle says it influenced him as they were putting together that accursed final act for La La Land. Here are the salient plot points (from TCM's page on the 1937 talkie):
...Chico fights in the trenches and Diane works as a nurse. The couple think of each other every day at 11:00 a.m. and mentally send the message "Chico, Diane, Heaven." After the war ends, Gobin and Aristide, who has become Diane's friend, try to convince Diane that Chico was killed, but she refuses to believe them until Father Chevillon gives her the medal that Chico gave to him when he lay wounded on the battlefield. Diane is heartbroken and renounces her belief in God, but when the clock strikes 11:00, she once again feels Chico's presence. She rushes home and finds Chico, who was only blinded in the explosion that was thought to have killed him. The young lovers embrace and tearfully reaffirm their belief in each other and in God.Diane essentially wills Chico back to life, and into her presence. To paraphrase Coppola in "Hearts of Darkness", Chico's not dead until she says he dead.
Well, two can play that game. Sebastian and Mia aren't split until I say they're split.
And I ain't sayin' nothin'.