Exploring The Elements Of Metamodernism In ‘La La Land’

(WARNING: This post contains mild spoilers for La La Land)

In the middle of January, Damien Chazelle’s La La Land opened in cinemas in the UK, and like many other eager beavers, I went straight to see it. After thoroughly enjoying Chazelle’s 2014 debut Whiplash — an almost-thriller centered entirely around jazz drumming — and the critical buzz that was building around La La Land, the usual skepticism I would feel on hearing the word “musical” was quashed. I left the cinema feeling like I’d seen something fresh and different, something that paradoxically seemed simultaneously uplifting and dispiriting.

What struck me most while watching the film was that paradoxical feeling and the parts of the story that made me feel each way. It’s almost as if it was trying to be the perfect Hollywood romance while knowing that that could never exist.

Postmodernism And Metamodernism

Metamodernism is the name for the movement that has possibly come after postmodernism. Postmodernism is characterized by irony, self-referentiality, and cynicism. Perfect examples are shows like It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, with the gang’s never-ending narcissistic exploits without any feeling or sincerity (e.g. the insistent of not dealing with Frank being Charlie’s father), and movies like American Psycho, a film that destroys grand concepts like truth using black humor but ending in nihilism. Nothing learned and nothing sincere.

Examples Of Metamodernism

Examples of metamodernism are everywhere in current pop culture: Louie, Parksand Recreation, Bojack Horseman, Easy, The Lego Movie, the list goes on. Rick and Morty is a great example. You would almost certainly assume at first glance that it is a fairly postmodernist show, full of cynicism and many of the stylistic factors we’ve come to know from postmodernism. However, the sincerity (and therefore the feels) develop quickly in a way that a postmodern show — for instance, Arrested Development — would never accomplish.

Metamodernism In ‘La La Land’

La La Land is a perfect example of the feeling of metamodernism. It finely dances (tap-dances) the line between cheesy and genius, either side of that line is the sincerity and cynicism (and the oscillation between the two) that defines metamodernism. It wants to have the naivety and sincerity of the earlier time it idolizes, but the lessons are learned. It has optimism but with the knowledge of postmodernism. It also features many of the typical aspects of postmodernism: genre-mixing, referencing other movies, self awareness, and the destruction of meta-narratives.

A good example of metamodernism is fairly near the beginning of the movie. We have had the two main characters’ days shown to us from their own perspectives leading to the scene where Stone’s character hears Gosling’s character playing the piano from outside a bar. Cue the most perfect meeting you ever did see. However, as she begins to gush to him about his piano playing he shoulder barges her and walks out. Flawless.

Even the struggle both the characters go through in relation to their idealistic dreams of what they want to do and the realistic challenges of everyday life can be seen through the same lens. They are constantly caught between these challenges, and in the end when Mia leaves for Paris the story opts for something between optimism and realism.

The ending is bittersweet. They’re both successful and Mia is happily married with a child. She’s back in LA and heading out for dinner with her husband when she’s pulled into a bar by the sound of jazz, just like when she first met Sebastian. Of all the gin joints in all the world, she has stumbled in to his. Seb then plays the song that drew here into that first bar and we get a devastating dream sequence of their relationship working perfectly, à la 25th Hour. Before she leaves they smile at each other.

In the end La La Land shows that just because we don’t have the perfect happy ending, it doesn’t mean we can’t be happy. We’re not naive, but we’re still optimistic.

I don’t actually really know anything about Metamodernism, but these guys do:

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‘Arrival’ and the integration of complex theoretical ideas in successful Hollywood films

If you haven’t yet seen Denis Villeneuve’s latest outing, Arrival, I recommend you go see it now (or read on at your peril). If you’ve seen the movie, or read any of the reviews online, you will probably be aware of its almost universal acclaim. Slower than many blockbusters, it nonetheless manages to retain interest and tease the surprising developments satisfyingly throughout.

What the movie does best is beautifully explain and present the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis, aka linguistic relativity. Knowing nothing of this hypothesis beforehand, I left the cinema feeling as though I had a grasp on what it meant (I probably don’t, but hey!).

In case you haven’t seen the film and you’re the only person in the world that doesn’t mind spoilers: the movie opens with Amy Adam’s character, Louise, and her daughter doing mother-daughter things, leading in to scene where her daughter dies in a hospital bed, breaking your heart in an opening sequence, à la Up. As the movie then moves in to the main story of the ships arriving we see Louise, looking sad and without a wedding ring, getting called in to translate the aliens’ language with her mad linguist skills.

So in the end it turns out the lovely aliens (looking like the giant creature from Enemy) have come to give you humanity a gift, isn’t that nice of them. The gift is their language. This is when the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis comes into it: language determines cognition. Louise becomes immersed in the Heptapod language, which then effects how her brain works giving her the gift of experiencing time in the same way as the Heptapods. Then we find out that she hasn’t been remembering her lost child, but seeing her future child.

This is all pretty incredible and emotional. It reminded me of Nolan’s Interstellar in many ways, not least because of the shared themes of love, family, and time used to devastating effect. But also the way the narrative of Arrival conveys the meaning on the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis in a similar way to Interstellar‘s dramatisation of the theory of relativity (another thing I barely understand).

It’s refreshing to realise that Hollywood is not afraid to put huge budgets into intelligent movies. Whilst we are still getting a constant stream of comic book and franchise hits, it’s comforting to know that people are making big budget movies combining  such complex ideas with such compelling narratives.

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‘A Force Awakens’ and Rey’s power

I recently had a conversation, spurred by watching Rogue One, of where the latest additions to the Star Wars franchise come in rankings of all the Star Wars films. The agreement was they both sat fairly high, but the discussion turned to Rey, A Force Awaken‘s protagonist. What was suggested was that Rey’s quick harnessing of her power was a cop out and that she shouldn’t have be able to so easily defeat the powerful, and trained, Kylo Ren. Possibly a bit of a dues ex machina.

The argument was that Kylo Ren, Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader etc all had to train to be able to utilise the force. Shame two thirds of those guys are evil.

My, no doubt ill-conceived, argument (which was definitely inspired by serious philosophers and not G&Ts) was that the prowess of Kylo Ren’s character was partly because of his conditions. His mother was a general, his father a charismatic and aloof criminal, and his grandfather an all powerful Sith empire guy. Also a man. And also not very happy about his life and conditions, and appears to have gone through a teenage rebellion that’s gotten a bit out of hand.

Whereas Rey has been fending for herself, abandoned by her family, and salvaging scrap from spaceships to get that yummy looking black gloop stuff. She doesn’t appear to have had much time to hone her Jedi skills, or even realise they exist. She is also a woman. Which perhaps is, or is not relevant.

One has come from a background where they could develop their skills and one has not, because they had to focus simply on surviving.

As much as I told myself I would never seriously discuss Star Wars, I’ve now done it. Yay for me.

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Halt and Catch Fire and the slow burn

Halt and Catch Fire is currently my favourite thing on TV (well, internet). Yes, I know Game of Thrones is amazing, there’s tits and dragons, Westworld is great (tits and horses), I will definitely watch Mr. Robot at some point, and The Walking Dead is still enjoyable I guess, sometimes, if you’ve got nothing better to do…

But, Halt and Catch Fire isn’t particularly like any of those shows. Set around tech in the 80’s it’s closer to AMC’s hit Mad Men than most of the most popular shows of today. Like Halt and Catch FireMad Men was a costume drama set within a particular industry and within a particular time period. Like Mad Men, Halt builds very slowly, focussing on character development and dialogue, no decapitations, nudity, or dragons. Boring, right?

But unlike Mad MenHalt is not a hit. Having just finished its third season, numbers have actually fallen. Hovering at about 300,000 for the third season, which is pretty low. Other slow dramas may start off with low ratings, but generally slowly build over time as they gain more views, like Mad Men or Breaking Bad (another incredibly slow show, not that you’d know it for the phenomenon it became).

Amazingly however it has survived, and even been renewed. You could speculate the reasons for this, AMC may have more than enough money that they’re happy to support something without the high ratings usually required for renewal. The third season has been critically applauded, I’ve see several articles knocking around that suggest people should binge it immediately.

I was always amazed Mad Men did as well as it did, excellent although it was, simply because of the speed it moved. If you think about Game of Thrones as well you make think it incredible that it’s the international obsession it is considering how slow the first couple of episodes are.

For whatever reason, Halt hasn’t captured the hearts of swathes of viewers like other slow moving dramas have managed to before it. I still think the four main characters, their relationships with each other, and their development over the three seasons is the best thing on TV.

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