La La Land (2016): The Love that Shines Brighter than the Dreams


During my twenty-something years of life, I have never felt more consoled by a film than with La La Land. Anyone with a dream would have been moved by Emma Stone’s incredible performance during the final audition, but it hit me harder because I had been feeling especially lost with concerns for my future. I had just spent a couple nights going from feeling surprisingly confident about my talents and where I’m headed in my life to feeling utterly hopeless at the world that doesn’t seem to share my interests and at myself, who seemed so insignificant and powerless. La La Land was the remedy I needed right then and there. I know for sure that I’ll watch this film again and again and be differently inspired each time. So I can’t say that my appreciation for the film today is sufficient and everything that it deserves, but there are thoughts I would like to document for now.


I know that my judgement is probably clouded with my obsession for the idea that love fuels every human creation and is of utmost importance, but I have to say that this film, at its core, is about love. This I say to all the critics who claim that the film isn’t detailed nor fully realistic in portraying Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling)’s journey to accomplishing their dreams. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but I think those critics are missing the point, being caught up with the theme of the film and failing to see what’s being emphasized underneath.

Don’t get me wrong. Pursuing a dream and realizing it are important to me. Although I wish this isn’t always the case for my own sake, I am an idealist- I encourage myself to dream, get myself to ceaselessly work for it and believe that there is justice in the world. So, yes, I would have liked to see Mia staging her one-woman show and Seb setting up his jazz club from scratch. Such scenes would be the epitome of their efforts at making their dreams come true, and I would have connected with them better, as a persistent dreamer myself. However, the scenes in the film were sufficient to make me understand that the characters struggle within and without, but their devotions to their dreams keep them going and will get them to their dreams. Even without seeing the process of accomplishment, I remained drawn-in to the story and could even unknowingly hold the belief that they will see their dreams come true. Seeing the details of the process wasn’t important for me because I’ve seen everything I needed to before; and, to me, the scenes before are about love.

I think that the theme of love assumes as much importance as, or even more importance than, the theme of dream in La La Land. The most obvious sign for me in realizing this was acknowledging that I cried when Mia and Seb argue over the dinner table, with a similar sense of compassion that I felt when I cried during Mia’s audition. Underneath the hurtful words in that scene, I could read their caring intentions. Mia worries that Seb was losing sight of his dream from the Hollywood haze but fails to be frank for fear of hurting his pride, while Seb cannot say that he got into it for Mia, after overhearing her phone call with her parents where she explains to them his career and financial situation with difficulty. Above all, both of them want the other to be around. Seb wants Mia to escape her daily hassles and experience the wealth, excitement and relaxation that he can provide for her. Mia wants Seb to support her when it gets difficult to hold on, for he is the one that inspired her to trust her talents and venture. Now that I think about it, Mia’s love for her dream seems to outweigh her love for Seb, when Seb’s love for Mia seems to be greater than his love for his dream…

Regardless, love never stops to drive them to do better. They first fall in love as they see so much of themselves in each other: neglected artists who seem almost foolish in keeping their dreams, but with pride, personality and true love for their passion. How they fall in love is so subtle that some critics point this out as something forcefully installed to carry out the story. But doesn’t all things human seem random at times, only to turn out to be the result of a mixture of previous influences? Their love is realistic, natural and absolutely endearing. Once they become a couple, they truly recognize the other’s talent and end up falling in love with “what (the other person is) passionate about”. Seb gets Mia to like jazz and Mia makes Seb fall in love with her personality (which is what I believe to be an actor/actress’s “talent”). I guess, in the sense that Mia herself is art, it is possible for Seb to have fallen in love with her even more.

Knowing the other’s talent, they push each other; and they push themselves for their lover. To have a future with Mia and to be the man that he thinks she wants, Seb signs a contract with the band that doesn’t entirely share his style of music. Mia brings him back to his senses in the argument as he starts to stray away from his dream. She wishes to do well with her one-woman performance that Seb has cheered her on to do, but it fails to have a big audience. What seems more despairing for her is that Seb doesn’t show up, making her dramatic move back home completely understandable (which some critics have pointed out as being unharmonious with Mia’s character, when it does make sense as their love was that important for her). Then Seb comes back to let Mia know of her audition and supports her in person this time, which does end up getting her on the track to realizing her dream.

After Mia’s successful audition, they intuitively know that they will have to part ways. Instead of saying goodbye, they tell each other that they’ll always love the other. Compared to the scene where they argue, the development in how they handle their love as two artists striving to become who they are destined to be is impressive. There is no room for miscommunication nor any need to say much anymore, because they sincerely understand one another. They trust in the unconditional love and support that the other has for them, and understand that the other’s utmost wish for them is to accomplish their dreams. Their success in the very end proved for me that their love, which came to their lives to ignite a spark of light, transcends time and space. Thus, I came to the conclusion that love, indeed, is a more fundamental theme in the film.


Now that I’m done with my long long analysis of why and how I watched La La Land with a focus on “love”, I want to move on to some other aspects of the film that I personally connected with.

I’m not always an emotional person, but the very first scene, a no-cut tracking shot of performers on a highway in LA, brought tears to my eyes. It reminded me of all the Uber drivers I met in LA who were aspiring screenwriters, actors and musicians. I’ve read reviews where people criticized the randomness of that first sequence, saying that it is an unnecessarily fancy performance; but it was more than a mere performance to me. It felt so real, having seen real people carrying on their lives with a smile, hoping to actualize their Hollywood dream one day. The fanciness of it brought more sorrow, because I could only imagine the effort the performers must have put in to get the scene to look so divine within a single take. I couldn’t help but think about all those actors and actresses whose names will pass me nevertheless.

A detail I loved about the film was its use of colors. I noticed how the (mostly female) underdogs of the industry are presented in bright colored clothes. Mia is seen in dresses of all the colors of the rainbow. Even in her café uniform, she dons a bright light blue scarf and/or a red tote. Then after she becomes a successful actress, she is seen in monotones, namely black and white. Another use of color in the film that I fell in love with and want to mention is the LA sky during sunset. It’s not my intention to rebut every criticism I’ve read online about this film, but I must say something about the comments that the colors in the film are inattentive of the characters’ emotions or the flow of the story, but always pastel, purple, pretty and pointless. My opinion is that this film is an homage to the people of Hollywood who overcome adversities to bring something true in this world, but also to Hollywood itself that once amazed its audience with its visual spectaculars. All of the shots are breathtakingly beautiful and, most notably, real. I’ve heard from a reliable source that the colors of the sky and all of the backgrounds weren’t edited, and the crew had to wait for the right moment to come during sunset to capture the perfect color. A message I can draw out from this particular aspect would be that there is authenticity in the beauty that Hollywood presents, and we mustn’t override the realness of it, be it its environment or its people.

I’m attaching pictures I took of the sky last year in LA. I had fallen in love with a lot of things in that city, but nothing surpassed my adoration for its sky during sunset. It’s something I hold dear to my heart and I just had to protect it.




La La Land is a film that means so much to me. It picked me up when I was blinded by pessimism; and brought back memories of LA, with such passionate and warm-hearted people, and just incredibly beautiful in and of itself. I’m thankful, just entirely thankful.

“I trace it all back to then, her and the snow and the Seine. Smiling through it, she said she’d do it again.”


Directed by Damien Chazelle. Starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling.



A Walking Tour of My Favorite Places in UCLA

On the day right before my departure back home, my friends and I took our very last and very sentimental walk from Westwood to UCLA to our apartment on Landfair. We stopped by at all our favorite food chains in Westwood to pick up one serving from each (so that we would be able to eat all those different kinds and manage not to stuff our faces to death- pretty smart, eh?), took the longer route around campus to get to an area suitable for a picnic, and traced our footsteps back home like we did every weekday for the school year. We made a big deal out of it. Being the corny person that I am, I wanted to capture every scenery in my eyes, in my memory and in my heart. So I took pictures, loads and loads of pictures, as I walked.



View from Citybank, where my friends would come once a month to withdraw cash.

I still remember the impression of fanciness that the building with the dome gave me the first time I walked those streets. Yamamoto, closed last summer, still remains in the center of Westwood.


The quiet sidewalks by the medical buildings.

I usually walked this area by myself and I’ve always felt lonely. I can’t remember when I started to find comfort in that subtle pain of being alone, but I feel warm and even energized looking at this picture now.


A random medical building that I’ve grown to become familiar with.

I had a class in a library of rare/sacred texts and it was in a building on this corner. I got lost getting there (of course) but fortunately met a friend and we had a little adventure before we made it to class. We walked out of the building together, talking about our interests within our major. I wonder how she’s doing now.


Views from the very last crosswalk to campus.

I hated waiting for the lights to change, so I almost always took the side road in front of the conference center. There were so many chill people on these streets each morning, while I was almost always the busiest, taking rapid steps and chomping on an apple or, preferably, a banana.


View of the new conference center and its newly installed lights.

When these lights turned on at night, there was a strange romantic feeling it brought about in me. I always thought it was strange and kinda cute.


Constructions going on across from the conference center.

For some reason, I thought I was going to miss the constructions that were always happening on campus. I don’t miss them too much, but maybe I will later on.


My friend’s favorite steps.

I climbed up these steps just one time. It was a rather mellow morning and the observation that everyone always seemed to head this direction got to me out of nowhere.


A point of intersection in campus (feat. UCLA Store, Ashe Center & John Wooden Center).

I was always lowkey scared of bumping into someone, because of the genuine chaos that existed on these grounds during the mornings.



I was supposed to meet a friend at a café in this building, but I got lost (which is so very typical of me). So I asked a group of random people for directions and they were so so friendly.


The curvy brick road to get to Powell Library and the views on it.

I ran into so many people here: my former roommate, my former TA and a friend from my apartment. I was always in a rush and it’s a shame I never made time to lay down on the grassy hills, because I always thought the hills looked crazy peaceful.


Powell Library.

From the all-nighters during exam weeks to using the media lab to watch movies for class, I have so many memories in this place.


Royce Hall.

I kinda hate myself for hating the sunshine in front of Royce Hall.


Not a random picture of trees casting shadows on the street.

Turning the corner here would get me to the building where I had Spanish 2. My heart used to beat a little faster from the excitement of seeing my classmates and nervousness of having to compose sentences on the spot.


Views from the walk to Melnitz Hall, my favorite.

The only memory about this place worth keeping is the conversation I had with my Spanish TA that one time I stayed behind to pick up an assessment paper that I forgot to take the previous week. I randomly brought up my Spanish friend who I met through the international center and asked him for advice about what I should talk about with him to practice speaking. I did it purely to avoid awkward silences, but it ended up getting him to become more fond(?) of me. After that day, he greeted me differently in class, I could tell.


The famous Sculpture Garden.

I ended up taking a very artsy picture of my friends walking ahead of me with determination to find a picnic spot.


Our picnic food!

We ate as we made direct eye contact with the sculpture lady’s butt.


Melnitz Hall.

The film class I took in this building opened my eyes to the fun in analyzing film and the talent I just might have in deriving meanings out of them, appreciating their values.


North Campus open area (without the iconic purple flowers).

I spent spare hours between classes in this area, sometimes with a classmate, sometimes on my own. I always felt so relaxed and calm sitting in one of the tables.


The path I took to get to the dorms.

These places stir up a sense of relief that I felt after a day’s end. Walking down these steps required no effort and I sometimes even enjoyed the luxury of observing the trees, the sky and all of nature.


Student Academy Center, Kaufman Hall & Janss Steps

This area, I identify with the first couple of months in the states. I was very often confused when I first started studying at UCLA. I remember how I made use of my strolls in this area by organizing my thoughts and making plans for the day.


Walk up to my apartment.

On this last walk, my friends and I all commented on how the red windowsills of our building is visible from that point and how it was going to be the last time we see it from this direction. I think all of us became more emotionally attached to our apartment than the campus through the months, which is natural when you think about the difference in stress that comes from taking classes (referring to the campus) and sleeping, eating and generally living (referring to the apartment).


The tunnel.

The tunnel had so much significance. It was a meeting point for a lot of occasions too.


Strathmore & Gayley.

I used to pass by these places a lot more when I lived in the dorms. I don’t really remember how I felt, but walking the streets for the very last time made me think about how much I felt at home when I started walking up the hills to get to my dorm room. It got me missing my days in the dorms.


Views from my friend’s room of the surrounding area.

The two most visible things from these pictures are the tunnel and a frat house, Triangle something something. I never really did anything at one of those frat houses so it isn’t that I feel a personal tie to them, but I have an image of them in my head. With their presence, they created a loud, festive and youthful atmosphere, and I loved living close to it. I know I’m going to miss the environment, the entirety of it.


It’s incredible how such short amount of time spent in an area can give a person such powerful senses of belonging. I lived last year like I did all my life: I struggled with daily tasks, prioritized my enjoyment above most things, strived to connect with more people and maintained an overall “good and lawful (as my mom would say)” life. Then how come last year was so impactful while others slipped away most of the times? Now that I’ve spent some time back home, grown a little distant from my dream-like experience of living in LA, I see that there wasn’t much of a difference in how I carried out each day but in how I perceived things in my daily life. I was always mindful of “the terminating point”. Especially towards the end, I started paying more attention to detail, tried harder to remember, and everything I did meant more to me.

To take this observation a step further, I should be able to feel this much attachment to my life back home, or anywhere else, if I stay aware of the fact that there is an end to everything. Perhaps I would be able to treasure more in life if I start the day by telling myself that this life will have its end and this day will never repeat itself. I used to think that there was no point in thinking about the inevitable ephemerality of the human, since we can’t do anything about it while it so obviously exists. I thought the best way to live was to forget about that darkness at the end and live carelessly, freely and happily. Now I see that choosing to stay ignorant of the truth limits our freedom, and consequently keeps us from a grander happiness that we could have for ourselves. But I’m not advocating that we dwell on death and the end of all things, because too much of such thoughts can also keep one from experiencing all that is there in life. Ultimately, some ignorance seems necessary. In other words, we mustn’t lose the somewhat naïve hope that what we sense and do can get us to reach a certain culminating point as human beings. Then, what seems most desirable to me now is mediation- finding a balance between believing in the goodness of the universe and acknowledging the end.


A quote from a film that shares my observation on the way to live life:


“And in the end I think I’ve learned the final lesson from my travels in time; and I’ve even gone one step further than my father did: The truth is I now don’t travel back at all, not even for the day, I just try to live every day as if I’ve deliberately come back to this one day, to enjoy it, as if it was the full final day of my extraordinary, ordinary life. We’re all traveling through time together, every day of our lives. All we can do is do our best to relish this remarkable ride.”

From About Time (2013) by Richard Curtis, starring Domhnall Gleeson and Rachel McAdams.



An ending note to self: I’m amazed to be concluding “Exchange Student Diaries” with a personal observation that makes a connection with a film. This post binds everything I’ve posted so far in this blog, and I feel like the two things I care very deeply about are being brought together in a peculiar and hopeful manner. I feel a strange sense of balance and satisfaction in my life at the moment, and I feel that I can get a good night’s sleep tonight (Yes, I’m ending this post with all these feels).

A Fleeting Thought on Film & Love

For these past few months, I’ve been imagining myself creating a film. I know nothing of it- what it would entail, where I would begin, whether I would write or film it. Taking classes have taught me how to watch a film, but I believe making one is a different story. Amongst the uncertainty, however, there is one thing I know with some clarity: that my films would be about love.

It’s so strange to me that I have this sensitivity towards love. For one thing, I have so much doubt about love in general. I think that so much has to come together harmoniously for there to be love, and it seems rarely the case that love is equal and fair. Can love be so core to humanity when it relies on chance? What if love is just a naïve idea to beautify a point of intersection between interests? In my heart, I feel there is so much importance in love, but I would face moments of rationality when questioning its being and my faith in love would waver. Another thing is that I haven’t really experienced true love in my life yet. I’ve had feelings of adoration that were deep enough to the extent that I would think I can feel physical pain from them, but they never really lasted to have any significance. It’s a little embarrassing but my left palm ached as if I genuinely cared for Jacob who failed at love in the second book of the Twilight series. So I’m yet to know what love is, but strangely, I still feel its importance.

I’m writing about love at this particular moment in my life, because I feel that my thoughts on love are evolving these days. At the end of last year, I felt loved. It had been long since I did, so my reactions to it were apparent and I could easily reflect on them. To tell the story in short, I was scared when he loved me. Then he left and I felt regret at shying away, because I couldn’t get my mind off of that warmth he made me feel with his tenderness. Friends would say that it wasn’t real love and that it was just a fling. Maybe it was just a momentary surge of emotions that got us to like each other, and this thought once made me lose hope in honest love. But then again, nothing is ever transparent when it comes to people. Now I don’t think that his thoughts and intentions matter. What matters is that I felt something from and to a person and acted in response. What matters now is how I take this experience with me in the present time.

I hate to admit, for I don’t want to think of myself as relying on others to define my own, but being loved boosted my self-esteem. It made me randomly happier and more comfortable with the way that I am both inside and outside. My philosophy on life is that all humans ultimately strive for happiness, and it looks to me now like love would bring me closer to that ultimate goal of human existence. Then I can say that the importance I place on love isn’t totally groundless.

There’s still so much I need to think about regarding love. I can’t completely trust the thoughts I have now, because my reflections are based on a fraction of what I think love is. I’ve been loved but haven’t returned that love to actually be in a lasting relationship with constant interaction, a more developed form of love, so to say. For now, I will live life with a newfound understanding of love and high anticipation for the next idea that life will enlighten me with.


My favorite dialogue about sincere love that has died away but remains in the hearts through its lasting influence:

– But I feel an infinite tenderness for you. I always will. My whole life.

– I’m sorry. You know me. Sometimes I cry for no reason.

From Blue is the Warmest Color (2013) by Abdellatif Kechiche, starring Adele Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydoux.

Films about love, especially those that portray its reality, have the greatest impact on me. Films like Blue is the Warmest Color inspire me.