The first time I watched La La Land was on a plane, and by virtue of being in a loud and cramped environment, I completely missed the atmosphere of the movie. I just watched it again, fully immersed, and I came out of it melancholic, bittersweet, triumphant, and above all, nostalgic.
Nostalgia is a major component of the movie. From Sebastian’s lament for dying jazz and Mia’s one-woman play featuring her childhood hometown, to the juxtaposition of minor and major keys in the music and the oversaturated, Technicolor-like color scheme, nostalgia is not only present in concrete form but permeated the atmosphere of the movie. But rather used as a longing for the past, nostalgia is a way to propel passionate drive towards achieving dreams and movement towards the future.
The inspiration behind Mia’s dream towards becoming an actress was her aunt, as so beautifully portrayed in “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)", and Sebastian’s drive towards establishing a jazz club was the desire to preserve jazz in its purest form, which he proclaimed was “dying in the vine.” And as Mia struggled and nearly gave up, her “nostalgic” (as she described it herself) play was what allows her to be discovered.
In the last emotional tribute to their could-be relationship ("Mia & Sebastian's Theme") in Seb's, the last note is not played. As Sebastian hesitates to end the song, the audience’s applause ends the song for him. The audience and the movie do not allow Sebastian to play that last note because even though his and Mia’s chapter is over, their story isn’t. In a way, Mia and Sebastian are the embodiment of each other’s pursuit towards their dreams, as they met during the most rocky, incipient times of their careers and relentlessly pushed each other forward. Though they are no longer in each other's lives, their story will live on through their achieving and living out their dreams. The nostalgia of how things could have been sends the movie off in a wistful note, but the smiles Mia and Sebastian share in the end show that their roles in each other’s lives are complete - their dreams are just starting.