The Hidden Philosophy of Damien Chazelle

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By Will Blasingame, Editor

Call me cliche, but one of my favorite movies is the six-time Academy Award winning film, La La Land directed by Damien Chazelle. The music, the acting, the dancing, the cinematography, the colors, the metaphors, the emotion: everything about the movie is nearly perfect. And that is not easy, perfection takes sacrifice, a theme prevalent in Chazelle’s films. Today I want to discuss the hidden philosophy of Damien Chazelle.

Chazelle’s first two full-length films, Whiplash and La La Land, have a lot in common: critical success, aspiring musicians, the struggle of the performing arts world, and (of course) jazz. However, the most striking resemblance is the persistent theme of what it takes to be the best. While La La Land emphasizes the relationship sacrifices required to achieve career success, Whiplash takes a more holistic view of the sacrifices required.

In the movie, Miles Teller’s character, Andrew Nieman, is a young jazz drummer at a prestigious music school who wants to be the greatest jazz drummer of all time. He is pushed by his abusive music teacher to his breaking point. Despite this, he pushes on and through the incredible last scene, we see that he will become a musical legend.

As audiences applaud Andrew for overcoming adversity and succeeding, Chazelle has a darker view of the aftermath. In an interview with Screen Crush he says,

“…Andrew will become a sad, empty shell of a person … I have a very dark view of where it goes.”

Through these two films Chazelle is claiming that being great requires sacrificing everything else. The audience is left with the question: How good do you want to be? Seriously. Because becoming the greatest requires everything.

That is not an easy question to answer. However, I also do not think that it is necessarily the right question to ask either. The more fundamental question is at WHAT do you want to be great. While different people have different answers, I am reminded of a quote by 19th century philosopher Soren Kierkegaard:

No one who was great in the world will be forgotten, but everyone was great in his own way, and everyone in proportion to the greatness of that which he loved. He who loved himself became great by virtue of himself, and he who loved other men became great by his devotedness, but he who loved God became greatest of all…Everyone shall be remembered, but everyone was great wholly in proportion to the magnitude of that with which he struggled. For he who struggled with the world became great by conquering the world, and he who struggled with himself became great by conquering himself, but he who struggled with God became greatest of all.”

The greatest of all is someone who is perfect, in every sense of the word. Someone who sacrifices themself and everything they have and becomes the greatest, but does not make the infinite leap of greatness for a finite motivation like pride. No, the one who is greatest sacrifices with greatest motivation: love. Not just love for those who love him, but love for those who hate him, for everyone.

With this criteria, the only person who could ever be the greatest is the Son of God, Jesus. The greatest thing we can do is follow his example and love God with all you have and love other people with your thoughts, actions, and words. Remember that may not be easy, but it is the greatest thing anyone can do.

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