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When Film Endings Leave Us Unsatisfied: La La Land v.s. Portrait of a Lady on Fire

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Tampa chapter.

Eurydice and Orpheus from Greek Mythology. Romeo and Juliet and their star-crossed love. Even if you have not been told the stories, you still know them because these stories are the catalyst for screenwriters who write your favorite movies.

Fans of film live the tale when they watch Mia’s soft look at Sebastian at the end of La La Land (2016). Romantics have the want for more, for the two to run into each other’s arms. Alas, Mia and Seb’s life is not a movie with a perfect ending. However, Seb’s final nod is just enough to reassure the audience that there is still a journey the characters have made. It’s simply not a love meant to be between the two of them. 

The hardest films are the ones that seemingly end prematurely. They leave us staring at a black screen, the memory of what we just saw still stirring. Imagine how distressed La La Land (2016) audiences would be if there had never been a nod from Seb.

French academy award winning film, Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019), gave us the answer. The myth of Orpheus and Eurydice is referenced directly throughout. Marianne shares the tale with Héloïse while the real life myth is replicated in the end of their love story.

Just like in La La Land (2016), the Vivaldi orchestra score of their love circles back and crescendos, only Marianne is watching Héloïse break down from across the theater. The women are seated separately by social class, even more by the times. Set in the late 18th century, their love can not be seen or heard. Marianne knows her love is not unrequited if Héloïse will turn and see her. 

The dolly moves inwards with the hunch of Héloïse’s shoulders into herself. After the drawn-out shot on Héloïse, Marianne lets out the final words, “she did not see me.” The screen goes black, and like Marianne, the audience never knows if Héloïse knew her one true love was right in front of her.

It’s a devastating end to a brilliant story. Yet, it is so much more devastating than La La Land (2016) because their love stories differ in time and circumstance. There is still audience satisfaction based on cultural norms and assumptions that the conventional couple will have happy endings. Mia and Seb would be successful in their industries with few roadblocks.

Nevertheless, audiences are forced to recognize no matter what, Héloïse will be forced into a wedding dress after the screen has gone black. She and Marianne could never have Mia and Seb’s end. As films progress with the world, we may see more unsatisfying endings because they will be nonfiction stories, everyday people who don’t get to live carefree like in the movies.

Casey LaPlaca has been a member for the Her Campus at Tampa chapter since coming to the University. Her articles chronicle her consumption of art and media; also her occasional observations about injustices and inconsistencies. Beyond Her Campus, Casey is a Junior at the University of Tampa, specializing in Design with a double minor in Writing and Advertising. Her passion for art and expression lies in her lived experiences, which she writes about here and reflects on as a member of the Diversity Advisory Board at her University. Casey believes in both keeping a positive attitude and practicing the art of decompressing through rewatching a sitcom. She invites readers to sit back and enjoy a cold milkshake while we get nostalgic and/or enlightened.