Why the Movie ‘Lion’ is a Much Better Film than ‘La La Land’

A few days ago, I saw the movie ‘Lion’ and bawled my eyes out.

It’s one of those movies that will stay with me for a long time (and which I’m certainly going to buy whenever it becomes available for purchase). I highly recommend it. I pondered many things during and after the move, but for some reason, one of my first thoughts upon leaving the theater was: This movie was so much better than ‘La La Land.’

Being the over-thinker I am, I feel a need to analyze why.

[Spoiler Alert: I will reveal the emotional impact these movies are likely to have, i.e. their endings. If you’d rather not know, skip the rest of this post and just watch ‘Lion.’ ;) ]

By the way, in case you didn’t know, ‘Lion’ isn’t actually about a lion, but an Indian boy.

You can check out the trailer below. (But I really recommend you don’t, because trailers always spoil too much and make the actual movie-watching experience less exciting, in my opinion. Maybe just watch the first few seconds to get the general feel of it. Or just stare at the still of Dev Patel’s face and be content with that.)

Also if you didn’t know, ‘La La Land’ is a musical.

You can check out the trailer below. Just be forewarned that it is deceptively cheerful. More about that later.

Both these movies are Oscar contenders.

They are both extremely well-made, starring talented actors, and clearly put together by talented teams. I loved the music, the cinematography, the creativity, and the engaging story-telling of both films.

These movies are in completely different genres, but they are both of extremely high caliber. I’m not here to argue about that. (The fact that ‘La La Land’ was a musical did not cause it to lose any points in my book. I loved the music and dancing. The grand opening number was probably my favorite scene in the whole movie, and I found several of the songs haunting in the best of ways.)

Within the first five seconds of both movies, I said to myself, I really like this movie. But I left those theaters feeling very differently.

Both endings had a big emotional impact, but the quality of that impact was very different.

As the credits of ‘Lion’ rolled, the tears would not stop slipping down my face. I think I might have cried more during that movie than any other movie in my life, but I left the theater feeling inspired. To be better. To love better. To give myself to things that really matter.

During the credits of ‘La La Land,’ I felt slightly stunned. Filled with angst. Unsure how to feel. I had been completely emotionally drawn in, only to get knocked off a ledge. I found myself haunted for the next 24 hours, replaying the movie over and over in my mind, trying to pinpoint what exactly bothered me so much.

Perhaps the themes of ‘Lion’ are simply deeper than ‘La La Land.’

How can the themes of identity, family, and love compete with the world of Hollywood and show business, right? But no, the themes of ‘La La Land’ struck just as deep a chord with me as the themes of ‘Lion.’

Young creatives pursuing their dreams and seeking love. Caught in the tension between the persistence of seemingly unrealistic aspirations and the realities of the world and relationships. What a relevant conundrum to a young creative like me! ‘La La Land’ was about identity, too. And love.

It was really the ending that bothered me. After several hours of reflection, I figured out why.

It wasn’t that I needed a happy-go-lucky ending. I’m all for unpredictable and realistic. The ending didn’t feel forced either––it wasn’t different for the sake of shock value. It effectively captured a very real feeling and aspect of life: That mixture of regret and angst that sometimes plague us when we let them.

But as I looked back on the rest of the story through the lens of its ending, I couldn’t help but feel that this story epitomizes selfishness. It’s all about you. About your dreams. About becoming who you want to be.

The ending segment (that takes place in the mind of Emma Stone’s character), to me, highlighted the power of choice. All along the path of life, we have choices. And looking back, we may have wished we had chosen differently. We may fantasize about what kind of life some different choices would have brought us. But the fact is, we chose what we chose with our eyes open, and we did so for a reason.

They wanted their dreams more than they wanted each other. That’s what they got. The end.

To me, this was an incredibly depressing story that portrayed the opposite of the kind of life I want to live. A life of selfishness and regret. A life that sparkles, but doesn’t shine. A life that pursues a concept of success that eventually collapses in on itself, revealing that it was hollow and empty from the beginning.

In contrast, the sadness I felt at the end of ‘Lion’ was incredibly life-giving.

I felt heavy at the end of ‘Lion,’ but a very different kind of heaviness. I didn’t feel confused or full of angst. I was touched.

‘Lion’ is essentially about finding yourself. Not by achieving success in a particular career or discovering the limits of your potential, but by finding home. The truths of this film struck me so much more deeply than the ideas proposed by ‘La La Land’ that it almost feels silly comparing them.

More and more, I have been realizing that we can only understand ourselves by looking back. Most of us spend a good portion of our lives chasing these sparkly prizes held up in front of us. We are told to want these sparkly things, so we chase them, not realizing that we’re running from parts of our past that scare us. But only by facing those scary childhood traumas and resolving them can we truly understand who we are, what drives us, and how we fit in the world.

It’s not about believing in yourself enough; it’s about understanding who you are.

It’s not about proving the world wrong by achieving something you’ve been told is impossible. It’s about figuring out how to make the world a slightly better, more beautiful place than it would be without you. It’s realizing you have something to contribute, something only you can give––and that has to do with the people you have the power and opportunity to love.

It’s not about achievement. Even artistic ideals––though I understand those values as a musician and writer myself––are not worthy in and of themselves. I don’t believe they are. They only have value in their ability to touch and impact people.

Like a good movie, for example.

What does it matter if the melodies and dancing segments in ‘La La Land’ sparkle or if the emotional impact of the movie is powerful, if its message is ultimately hollow?

One of my favorite things about ‘Lion’ is that it’s a true story. I love that. It is the kind of story that should be true. ‘Lion’ is well-made, but it doesn’t just have stunning cinematography, a haunting soundtrack, and a talented cast. It is full of the kind of resonant truth and beauty that makes it truly shine.

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Elizabeth is an American living in South Korea who believes in destiny, miracles, and living life intentionally. She holds to simple faith in a complex world, values the beauty of the everyday, and strives for vulnerability with other imperfect humans. She is always learning, laughing, and finding herself in awe of grace.

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