Dear Damien Chazelle

Dear Damien Chazelle,

A few weeks ago in December, right before the semester ended for Winter Break, two of my friends and I went to watch “La La Land” in Kendall Square. We were so excited about it that we bought tickets online a week in advance. In the theater, throughout the entirety of the movie, we periodically clutched each other’s hands and sank into our seats. At the end, while the credits rolled and the rest of the audience began to file toward the door, we sat in our seats, totally silent, shell-shocked.

I sometimes joke that learning how to review movies has ruined my movie-watching experience, because instead of simply enjoying a film, I’ve trained myself to evaluate every aspect, and my mental “reviewer” voice doesn’t know how to shut off when I’m not on assignment.

But while I was watching “La La Land,” I found that my internal critical voice fell silent, and I was completely immersed in the world that you built so deftly and portrayed so beautifully. Everything about the film—the acting, dancing, music, cinematography—was carefully tailored to create such a moving and poignant piece of art. Before “La La Land,” I had never seen a movie that completely rewrote the way I thought about film, about love and work and dreams, about what it means to be an artist.

I realized, over the course of a few weeks, that the film affected me more profoundly than I had at first perceived. I have aspired since childhood to make a living as an artist of some kind—a novelist, a filmmaker, a screenwriter—and those aspirations only intensified upon coming to Harvard. Suddenly those aspirations existed as more than abstract future possibilities, and became more focused into real, potential career paths. Somewhat ironically, while on Christmas vacation in Los Angeles, I found myself watching screenwriting tutorials and film analysis videos, Googling filmmakers, trying to understand how great movies are made.


However, as I have been reminded time and time again, life as an artist is characterized prominently by risk. It is a life heavily shaded by cynicism, cloaked in the very real possibility of failure. I saw that in Mia and Sebastian’s story as I watched their respective careers unfold. I see it in my favorite filmmakers, actors, musicians, and writers. Despite the fact that I am fortunate enough to attend a prestigious liberal arts institution that supports the arts in education, I still feel as though the potential for failure extends discomfitingly far.

At the same time, though, I know I would regret being resigned to a more typical desk job if it meant sacrificing the pursuit of my passion. As “La La Land” has demonstrated to me, if dreamers can create great art, then there seems to be no question that creation is worth all the risk in the world. Briefly put, art matters, and so too do artists—perhaps now more than ever.

I understand that you are incredibly busy, especially in the midst of a buzzing awards season (congratulations on your recent Golden Globe win! I was rooting for you from my couch and giddily texting my friends). However, I wanted to reach out to you and let you know how deeply your film touched me, and how it has likely changed the course of my personal career and my life, irrevocably.

I wish you the best of luck with “La La Land” and all of your future endeavors.


Caroline Tsai