“Here’s to the fools who dream, crazy as they may seem. Here’s to the hearts that break, here’s to the mess we make.”
At once wistful and stirring, these words are the lyrics to the original song, Audition (The Fools Who Dream), which perfectly encapsulate the dare-to-dream spirit of the movie La La Land. Sung by aspiring actress Mia (played by Emma Stone) at the lowest point of her career, the verse plays out her bittersweet journey of chasing her Hollywood dreams.
Fresh off its six Oscar wins, there’s a reason La La Land is widely loved, and not just by film critics. Besides being a technically beautiful film, director Damien Chazelle described the film as a love letter to dreamers.
Watching Mia’s transformation from an idealistic, starry-eyed dreamer to someone who is jaded and overcome by pragmatism, I was reminded of a part of myself that I had cast aside. Born and bred in a hyper pragmatic society like Singapore, I’ve seen that dreams often get dismissed in the pursuit of life. In stark contrast, the film reminds us of the importance of dreaming and the beauty of dreams.
Just recently, there was a debate on the problems with the grades-obsessed culture we have in Singapore, where a child’s grades are often seen as a measure of his or her future success.
Two weeks ago, investment professional Bobby Jayaraman wrote a piece for The Straits Times discussing the problems of a system that encourages a “drill approach” and how it inhibits creativity, innovation and problem-solving skills.
We live with structure and there are goals that we strive to achieve as well as milestones we aspire to hit.
Even as adults, we have our lives planned for us. I remember walking into the CPF building in Tampines two years ago to be greeted by a poster depicting the milestones that have been helpfully mapped out for us – marriage, buying a house, having kids, and retirement.
To see it all listed so matter-of-factly felt to me like we were reducing the act of living to something oddly cold and detached.
When everything moves like clockwork, when spontaneity is sacrificed for stability, life seems to lose some of its colour. It made me wonder if we have lost the sense of adventure in a landscape where there is no room for error.
We may mock the foolhardiness of YOLO (You Only Live Once) and ascribe it to the millennials’ lack of maturity, objectivity and foresight. But when used to inspire courage in someone to seize the moment, couldn’t it also be a liberating and happier way to really live?
And that’s what dreams are for. Rooted entirely in our imagination and creativity, they are sometimes irrational and often lack any kind of reason that can lead us to believe they can come true. Therein lies the magic because dreams – powered by hard work, determination and some risk-taking – enable us to make the intangible a reality. Dreams fuel the side of us that strives to make the impossible happen.
In a culture that stifles creativity and discourages deviation, it is too easy to lose the ability to think for ourselves, to be a person of agency and to find the passion in what we do.
As someone who never felt comfortable following the trodden path, I had often wished that someone, or something, could have given me the licence to dream and pursue them.
Growing up, I was never book smart and hated math and science subjects with the fury of a thousand suns. Despite excelling in languages, I was often told that how I fared in math and science were the only keys to the kingdom.
Did anyone know or care that I dreamed of being a writer? That I created worlds in my head?
My creativity was my kingdom but no one told me that. No one encouraged me to nurture that creativity because no one thought that it would put food on the table. While this is specific to me, the same frustration applies to anyone who ever felt that they weren’t encouraged to realise their passions.
It is the courage to dream, and an environment that encourages people to stray from the norm, that allows us to improve and pursue our true callings – whether it’s someone who’s looking to build the next Tesla, write the next vampire fiction bestseller, or win an Oscar.
La La Land’s key message is a timeless one that not only looks to remind the jaded and lost of what they once held dear, but also to inspire a new generation of dreamers.
To the parents and educators out there with idealistic, creative and passionate kids, let’s not fear that they will stray too far from the conventional notions of intelligence and ambition, and try to empower them instead.
Tell your budding writers that their imagination is the yellow brick road that will lead to their Emerald City.
Tell your tiny techies that their curiosity will breed a new generation of Steve Jobses.
Or even that pursuing their passions with unstinting dedication may lead them to achieve on the world stage, the way Singaporean Ai-Ling Lee has. Just recently, the sound editor was nominated for an Oscar for her work on La La Land. Her feat was extra inspirational, considering how she started out working on commercials in a small studio here, before eventually making a name for herself in the male-dominated sound editing industry.
After all, what are we if not our dreams?
For reminding us of the promise of the paths less travelled and the grand romance that life has to offer in the everyday, La La Land may not have won Best Picture, but it definitely has my Oscar.
All gifs sourced from GIPHY.