La La Land and taking vocational discernment seriously

By Grant Colborn

Damien Chazelle’s 2016 film La La Land is a colorful homage to the classic movie musicals of the 1930s and 40s. As a big fan of musicals, it doesn’t get much better for me than watching Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling tap dance through twilit streets and being reminded of Gene Kelly singing in the rain. I love every second of this movie!

The story follows Sebastian (Gosling) and Mia (Stone), two starving artists in Los Angeles. Sebastian, a pianist, wants nothing more than to open his own jazz club while Mia is chasing her own dream of becoming an actress. After a series of chance encounters, the two begin to date and eventually fall in love. As the movie progresses, both Sebastian and Mia make great strides to help each other achieve their dream and Mia ends up landing an audition with a big-time producer. However (and this is your spoiler alert), the end of the movie skips ahead five years and we find that Mia and Sebastian do not end up together. Mia has indeed become a world-famous actress and Sebastian has his jazz club, but Mia is happily married to someone else and has a kid of her own. After Mia and her husband unknowingly wander into Sebastian’s club, Chazelle chooses to show us in a 10-minute epilogue what Mia and Sebastian’s life would have been like if they had ended up together.

There’s a theme here that I think can teach us a little something about discernment. In his book “To Save a Thousand Souls,” Father Brett Brannen states rather bluntly the consequences of not following our God-given vocation. He explains that if we choose “Plan B” over God’s predetermined plan for our life a few things will eventually happen. Namely, we will never be as happy and fulfilled in this life, we will suffer from some “residual” sadness, and saying “no” to God could potentially affect the lives of other people.

Chazelle’s epilogue retraces the plot of the entire movie and shows Mia and Sebastian making different choices along the way. In the end Mia still becomes an actress, is married and has a family with Sebastian, but Sebastian does not have his jazz club. In fact, the last scene of the epilogue shows the couple sitting in someone else’s club enjoying an evening out on the town.

Are we doomed to a life of misery if we choose “Plan B”? Absolutely not. As Christians, we are still called to holiness regardless of the path we choose and we can still be quite happy if we travel down a path other than the one God has planned for us.

But there will always be a “what if” feeling when we choose the other path, a longing for something more, however faint it may be. It’s not hard to image Sebastian asking himself this question in someone else’s jazz club, even with Mia at his side. People come and go in our lives. Some greatly help us along the path to holiness but then move along to discern their own vocation. Indeed, the last shot of La La Land, post epilogue, shows Mia and Sebastian making eye contact and silently recognizing that they have each achieved their dream.

Discerning our vocation in life should always be taken seriously. Is it hard? Yes. Is there sacrifice involved? Always. But God gave us his Son, Jesus, and Jesus gave us the sacraments, especially himself in the Eucharist to help us along the way.

(Grant Colborn is a seminarian for the Diocese of Davenport and currently doing a pastoral internship.)

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