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La La Land and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Theory

Updated: Sep 11, 2023

Because of the fascinating music, appealing photography shots, and the intricate theme of the struggle between ambition and love, "La La Land" became my favorite movie. The movie relates how a young couple, Mia and Sebastian, pursue their dreams and maintain their relationship, helping each other attain self-actualization but inevitably fall apart.

Their process of developing their relationship, striving for their ambitions, and eventually becoming better versions of themselves connects deeply with Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs Theory. Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs Theory is a psychological framework proposed by a psychologist named Abraham Maslow in 1943. It hypothesized that individuals possess a hierarchy of five needs: physiological, safety, social, esteem, and self-actualization. Moreover, people can only strive for a higher hierarchy of needs when the more basic ones are fulfilled.

The movie "La La Land" effectively illustrates Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs as it portrays the journey of the two main characters, Mia and Sebastian, as they progress through various levels of the hierarchy.

At the beginning of the film, both Mia and Sebastian are struggling to maintain their basic income in Los Angeles. Mia worked as a barista, while Sebastian played piano at a cocktail bar but got pranked and unemployed. Mia dreamed of becoming an actress, while Sebastian was passionate about rejuvenating Jazz music. However, being swept along by reality, they were doing careers they disliked to make a living and fulfill their physiological and safety needs.

As the story windingly unfolds, Mia and Sebastian meet. They discerned their differences but also resonated with each other due to their mutual ambition to obtain their goals. Their relationship fulfilled their social needs for emotional resonance and companionship. With opportunities showing up, both of the young couple get the chance to realize their dream: Mia's short play at the theatre wins recognition from a casting director, and Sebastian accepts Keith's, his old acquaintance, invitation, starting to play pop jazz with his band and winning success.

However, Sebastian's choice to play in a popular music band diverged from his passion for jazz. This decision led to a rift with Mia, who questioned his choice. Sebastian, in an attempt to be a good partner and meet Mia's expectations, found himself at odds with his own passion. This shift in their relationship left Mia dissatisfied as they parted in a quirky mood. The following day, the act of Sebastian missing Mia's drama premiere due to work commitments imperiled their relationship and made Mia deeply disappointed in both her career and her love life. At this point, an audition opportunity emerged, and Sebastian encouraged Mia to pursue it, despite foreseeing her future success and their imminent separation. This phase in their journey represents the pursuit of higher-level needs, such as esteem and self-actualization, after the fulfillment of basic physiological, safety, and social needs. It underscores the human tendency to continually strive for higher-order needs once the lower-order needs are reasonably satisfied, with higher-order needs becoming more prominent in their lives.

The movie's conclusion brought Mia and Sebastian back together, this time in a bustling jazz bar that Sebastian had always dreamt of opening. Mia had risen to become one of the most celebrated actresses in the industry. Amidst the cacophony of the crowded bar, with flashing lights, they stared at each other across the crowd. As they stood there amidst the pulsating energy of the jazz bar, the look they exchanged was not one of regret but rather a silent acknowledgment and celebration of their individual achievements. It was a moment of relief as if to say, "We made it." While Mia and Sebastian didn't end up together in the traditional sense, their story was far from a sad one. Love had been a theme, but it wasn't the core. At its heart, the story was about two individuals relentlessly pursuing their dreams and seeking a sense of belonging in the bustling metropolis of Los Angeles. In the end, they had both achieved what they set out to do, making it a delighted ending in its own unique way.

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