Nocturnal Animals: Turning pain into art

Nocturnal Animals is the second movie made by writer and director Tom Ford. It is a deeply unsettling tale about love, regret, and overcoming painful situations. It uses the feature of story within a story to make a metaphor and reveal the feelings of its characters. The intertwining of both stories is an important comment on human nature and the way we deal with pain.

So let’ take a look at it.

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD

The opening
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The opening scene of the movie is very striking and deserves an analysis of its own. In it we see obese naked women dancing and smiling in slow motion. We then see this presentation is a video from an exhibition in Susan’s art gallery. The opening is meant to show what true freedom feels like. Those women aren’t in conformity with society’s standards of beauty but aren’t ashamed of it. This is a stark contrast to Susan’s point of view, later revealed in the story, and offers us an insight into her personality that is very important to the message of the movie.

But, who is Susan? And what is her story?

The Story –part one
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Susan, as mentioned previously, is an art gallery owner. She is in an unhappy marriage with business man Hutton Morrow, whose infidelity becomes clear to her halfway through the movie. Though she is successful and lives an apparently glamorous lifestyle, her world is cold.

Her job doesn’t give her the satisfaction it used to and her attempts to rekindle her relationship with her husband fail miserably.

One day Susan receives a correspondence. It is the manuscript of a book written by her ex husband, Edward. The movie then follows Susan reading Edward’s novel which causes her to reflect upon their relationship and the metaphor within his work.

The story within the story
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The book tells the story of Tony Hastings, his wife Laura and his daughter India who are on a road trip in Texas. In the middle of the trip they are forced off the road by three men named Ray, Lou and Turk. After some harassment by the three men, Ray and Turk take Edward’s wife and daughter while Lou forces him to drive through the road to supposedly meet his family.

Lou drops Edward at the end of the road and he stays there hiding until dawn when he goes out to find help. The Detective assigned to the case, Bobby Andes, finds his wife and daughter bodies on a red sofa near an abandoned shack. They had been raped and cruelly murdered.

A year later, Bobby contacts Tony to identify one of the murderers, Lou, who is then charged. The detective also informs him that Turk died on a robbery, so they go after Ray. But the evidences against Ray are circumstantial which makes Bobby go to extreme lengths to bring the criminal to justice. He kidnaps Lou and Ray. The detective kills the former, but the latter runs away.

Tony tracks Ray to the shack where his family had been murdered and confronts him. He’s holding a gun but Ray says he’s weak and that he won’t be able to do it. Tony shoots him and Ray falls, but not before knocking him out with an iron bar.

When Tony wakes up he’s partially blinded. He goes out of the cabin and accidentally shoots himself. He dies.

The story- part two
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When reading the story Susan remembers her past with Edward. They were teenage friends who met again in New York and went out together. Over dinner, they talk about their lives. Through this conversation we perceive that Edward is a very romantic idealistic guy who wants to be a writer. Susan, in contrast, is more cynical, or at least she thinks so. She changed her major in the University from art to art history and she claims she’s not creative.

Another insight we get into Susan’s personality is when Edward compares her to her mom. She feels bothered by it since her mom represents to her all qualities she despises. Edward clarifies that their resemblance is in their eyes. Both have sad eyes.

Edward and Susan proceed to plan a life together, which her mom opposes. In her opinion Edward is below her daughter, because he’s a romantic who doesn’t have the necessary drive to achieve his goals. She thinks he’s weak and tells Susan the things she loves about him now will be the things she’ll hate.

Edward and Susan marry anyway, but after a while things start to go downhill. Susan can’t comprehend Edwards’s lack of ambition. She reads one of his manuscripts which in her opinion is not good enough. She suggests he should write about something other than himself. He gets mad and hurt about that.

After sometime, Susan breaks up with Edward, claiming they want different things in life. She starts her relationship with Hutton, who accompanies her to a clinic so she could have an abortion. Edward sees them and is devastated upon discovering about his unborn child.
In the present moment, after finishing reading Edward’s novel, Susan asks him to a dinner. He accepts, but he never shows up.

How things connect
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Edward’s novel is an allegory that shows all the pain he’s gone through in the real life by losing his wife and unborn child. The title of the book and movie refers to a nickname he gave Susan, because she couldn’t sleep. She, much like Ray, is the nocturnal animal who preyed upon his family and destroyed it.

We’re given some hints of the connection between the real world and the novel. Tony’s wife and daughter are found on a red sofa, like the one Susan was sitting on when she criticized his novel. The three criminals’ car is the same one behind Edward in the scene Susan breaks up with him.

It is also interesting to note how when we see the story of the book it is through Susan’s perspective, so she imagines Edward as the main character but doesn’t imagine herself as his wife. Laura is the wife she wishes she was, but could never be.

The novel portrays Edward’s evolution. Many of the criticisms he suffered were for being weak. His main character, Tony, in the end, shows he’s not weak by killing Ray, but kills himself in the process because that person didn’t exist anymore. Edward became a new person by transforming all of his pain into art. And this is his ultimate revenge to Susan.

Susan is even more frustrated because she does not have the power to create. All her feelings build up and she can’t get a creative release like Edward did. She, like her mother, chose a life of superficiality that is also a prison for her. She despises the art exhibition in the beginning of the movie because she doesn’t really believe in the freedom those women have. Her world may seem fabulous for other people, but the sadness in her eyes, referenced by Edward, is always there because she can’t really show her true self and have a creative expression. So she only showcases other people’s expressions.

The difference between Susan and Edward is that the former hides herself while the latter shows himself. Edward can create because he’s not afraid to put his vulnerabilities in the book. Susan, on the other hand, is entrapped by appearances and since she doesn’t show who she really is, she can’t turn her feelings into art. The agony she feels can be represented by the insomnia she has.

So when Edward sends her an amazing book, it’s the connection she needed to break out from her world of symmetrical fabricated balance expressed through the cinematography of the movie. She feels she can reach up to him and have closure but he never shows. He wants her to know he’s over her and that he is an amazing writer.

This is, in fact, a story about revenge, but it offers so much more thematically. It deals with the consequences our choices bring us, especially when these are made out of fear. It was Susan’s fear of failing who kept her from being an artist and maybe saving her relationship with Edward. Another point is the part pain plays into art. The movie makes the statement that Edward could have never written such a masterpiece if it wasn’t for his pain. This, in a way, is related to the movie’s opening sequence, because it shows that art comes from how you choose to deal with your issues.

Furthermore, the movie’s ending can be also seen with a bit of irony. Receiving Edward’s book made Susan somewhat hopeful. This is in contrast with Edward’s new attitude, which’s a lot more cynical since he chooses to be vengeful. So in a way there is a role reversal in the end of the movie. Edward was able to show he’s true self in the book, but in a way he also killed his old self in the process. But Susan arguably went through a shock by reading his book and now there’s nothing holding her back anymore. The truth about the emptiness in her life is in her face.

Could Susan free herself from all that and create art? Or will she be forever melancholic? The movie, like real life, is very much open ended and that is part of its brilliance.

It all boils down to turning experiences into expression, so that ugliness can, if allowed, give way to beauty.

ARTPOP analysis: Art through the popular

Lady Gaga is one of my favorite current artists. The catchiness of her songs, her outrageous looks and her mesmerizing public command during her performances granted her the fame she has today. Still, the content of her work is many times overlooked or not understood at all. This may be a result of people’s lack of care in relation to pop songs’ lyrics or to Gaga’s use of unusual metaphors to express her concepts.
Anyway, today we’re going to take a look at one of Gaga’s most brilliant songs, ARTPOP.

So, what does ARTPOP mean?
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Maybe, the first thing that comes in our minds when we think of the name of the song is Pop Art. This art movement emerged in the 50’s and was all about using art to express the popular. It is an expression of the popular both in the sense of products of our everyday lives and in the way of pop culture.
ARTPOP is not only a reversion of this art movement in the name, but also in the concept. It is Gaga’s attempt to express art through the popular, in this case pop music.

How is the concept expressed in the song?
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The first stanza represents art singing to pop.
Come to me
In all your glamour and cruelty

In these verses, pop is characterized by its glamour and cruelty, referencing the media’s treatment of pop culture and our perception of it.

Just do that thing that you do
And I’ll undress you

The undressing may be related to the sexualization present in the mainstream medium. But it is also a way of saying that art can strip pop to its core, as a way to find deeper meaning in it.

Keep it tight
Sometimes the simplest move is right
The melody that you choose
Can rescue you

Here, Gaga outrights claims that less is more by “saying that the simplest move is right”. The extravaganza that comes with the pop genre should be put aside to make the content shine. She also references the power that melody has over people.

A hybrid can withstand these things
My heart can beat with bricks and strings
My ARTPOP could mean anything

In the pre-chorus the hybrid is meant to represent a kind of work that contains the qualities of both art and pop. It is able to withstand the test of time because it appeals to mass audiences and an intellectual need. The idea of bricks and strings reinforces it. Two opposite things working together; we don’t have to choose one or the other.

The last verse of the pre- chorus is meant to show that art has multiple meanings. ARTPOP has an objective meaning, which we explored earlier, but it can be so much more for different people. The perspective of the viewer gives new meaning to the work of art.

We could, we could belong together
ARTPOP

Again, the chorus states that art and pop can be together to form something greater than the two alone.
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The second stanza represents pop singing to art.

Come to me
With all your subtext and fantasy

Art is, here, characterized by its most prominent mechanisms. The fantasy, which is the outlet for creativity and the subtext, which is what, many times, hides the deeper meaning of the work.

Just do that thing that you do
In a perverse hue

Hue means the shades of a color, but here it is a metaphor. It represents the shades of meaning that set the tone of a work of art.

Lover’s kites
Are flown on beaches
For public sight
The color palette you choose
Can profit you

The color palette is referenced in a similar way the melody is in the first stanza. The color palette, when well used, can provide different feelings to the audience. The color palette represents the visual and the melody the audio. They’re complementary to create an audiovisual transcending experience just like art and pop.

Could try to sell you out or I
Could show you all the reasons why
My ARTPOP could mean anything

This pre- chorus represents the choice people in the musical industry have. They can sell out and only care about the profit in detriment of art or make a meaningful work and showcase its concept to the audience.

Brushes with darkness won’t help you create
Your destiny of self but ARTPOP could mean anything
Anything

This part of the bridge talks about how we can try to paint an image of ourselves, but it doesn’t change who we are or our destiny. ARTPOP, on the other hand, can mean anything, thus it is the perfect medium of expression for any person and concept.

I try to sell myself but I am really laughing
Because I just love the music not the bling
Music not the bling

Here Gaga talks about selling herself and laughing because although she is a mainstream icon, she’s not only that. She is a real artist who loves the music and not the bling, which is the money.

Free my mind, ARTPOP
You make my, heart stop

Here it is shown that art has the power to free our minds. But ARTPOP even more so, because it crashes our pre- conceived ideas of what art and pop should be like.

Conclusion
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ARTPOP is a brilliant song in which Lady Gaga advocates for a new comprehension about pop and art. They are complementary forces that can generate all kinds of artistic expressions.

Weren’t it for you

You make me feel stupid
Because I care
For irrational things
I would never dare
To feel and speak of
Weren’t it for you
If you didn’t make me
Feel the way I do

                                                                                                      Written by Marjorie Soares

American Beauty: Breaking out of the prisons of our own making

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD

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One of the things most people tend to work to keep is appearance. They construct it like a persona that seems to grow more and more and take a life of its own. Such it is that the line dividing this persona and our actual selves is really blurred and soon fiction starts to overlap reality. Most times people aren’t aware of it, thus the image we created to be in conformity with society’s ideals or the achievements we think we must have repress our real selves, trapping us in a state of frustration and oppression.

A movie that captures this situation and shows us everything that is lost when we insist on keeping the lie is American Beauty. The 1999 movie explores the themes of materialism, appearances, control, denial and the search for meaning and beauty. It follows Lester Burnham, a middle age man whose relationships with his wife and daughter are deteriorated. When he sees Angela, a friend of his daughter, performing as a cheerleader in the school’s game, he becomes entranced. His fascination with Angela as well as his overall dissatisfaction with his life, specially his wife over control, prompts him to make a big change in attitude that affects his life in all manners possible.

Meanwhile, Lester’s new neighbors are dealing with problems of their own. Colonel Fitz is a conservative homophobic man who lives by the ideals of discipline and order and tries to control his son’s life, Ricky Fitz, through these same ideals. Ricky is a confident guy who’s not entrapped by illusions of appearance and conformity and has a fixation on filming his interests with a camera. One of those interests is Jane, Lester’s daughter.

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American Beauty is a character driven movie. The arcs these characters go through are the means through which the movie makes its statements. Every revelation in the movie corroborates the fact that each person in this narrative is repressing their own feelings for the sake of keeping up appearances. Those appearances are needed to supposedly fill the holes in each character’s life by helping them dissociate from the idea of imperfection or inadequacy provided by their own nature.

Lester and his wife, Carolyn, are keeping up the appearance of a perfect life. They have jobs that pay well, a good house, a car, but none of this seems to be sufficient. Carolyn is an ambitious realtor who’s not quite satisfied with her success rates. She starts an affair with her competitor and tries to exude an image of success in hopes that she will feel successful. None of this is enough since the affair doesn’t provide the real connection she needed and all of the material things she has cannot make her feel more satisfied.

Colonel Fitz is the perfect archetype of masculinity, at least in appearance. He’s from the army, thus he’s an example of discipline and order. His homophobic nature is later revealed to be a manifestation of his own repressed homosexual desires. Angela seems to be super confident. She’s the archetype of beauty, blonde and thin, but in reality she’s insecure. She fears she’s ordinary and to hide that she is arrogant to others.

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The only characters that don’t keep a facade, at least not in the same way the others do, are Jane and Ricky. Jane has an awful relationship with her parents and is insecure about her looks. When Ricky starts to show interest in her, though, she begins to change and grows the courage to feel good about whom she truly is. Ricky knows exactly who he is, so he’s not shaken about the pressures from society. Ironically, the only facade he keeps is the one that permits him to be himself. To prevent his father from interfering more in his life, he maintains different posture with him that doesn’t really show his true opinions.

Ricky is portrayed as what people must seek to achieve. He is free from the necessity of building a persona to keep up appearances. He’s not interested in general classifications of beauty. Through his camera he films every moment he deems interesting as a means to see the beauty in the world, which can be found anywhere. He goes as far as filming a plastic bag and saying it is the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen. This shows he’s not trapped by classical ideals of beauty, but rather he sees the true beauty of things, which is in life itself.

The film conveys a message of the futility of our society and how it shapes our lives. By trying to repress our true selves in order to portray an image which we think fits best society’s standards we’re in a way killing ourselves. Lester states this when in the beginning of the movie he says he would be dead in a year, but that in a way he was dead already. The characters in the movie don’t truly live but actually go through life sustaining a fantasy that doesn’t really help them feel better.

This fantasy is fueled by materialistic mentality or inflexible ideals. Carolyn holds on to her possessions to keep the lie. Col. Fitz does the same through the attachment to discipline and Angela by using the standard idea of beauty to her advantage. Lester’s rebellion against this way of living brings change to everyone around him, since his actions directly and indirectly lead the people in his life to confront their own lies.

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The end result for each character is vastly different. Lester gets to a point where he feels free and really enjoys his life. Angela and he almost have sex, but after a display of her insecurities, he instead comforts her and they share a meaningful connection. Jane, with the help of Ricky, frees herself from the appearances entrapment. Col. Fitz, though, after having a sexual attempt rejected by Lester, decides not to face his demons but to make the embodiment of his distress disappear. So he kills Lester.

Lester’s death hits Carolyn hard, who cries embracing his clothes, maybe seeing for the first time how the feelings she repressed made her waste time in her life. Every character’s approach to Lester’s death is different, but serves a purpose in the confirmation or insisting denial of their self discovery arcs. Our main character doesn’t feel frustrated about his death, since it came about in the moment he finally could see life as it is, stripped of all labels and expectations.

When Jane and Ricky find Lester’s body, the latter approaches it with his camera to register the moment. He’s able to see the beauty in unexpected places, and that shows us we have a choice: to keep repressing oneself or to truly be who you are and, in this way, truly live.

The prisons we live in are of our own making. We get so caught up by big ideas and expectations that we forget to pay attention at the small things. We also forget that everybody acts in a way that is a reflex of their own insecurities. The catharsis Lester goes through the film is one we must experience if we want to be comfortable in our own skin and live life how it’s supposed to, without control. Only then we’ll be able to see the underlying beauty of life.

Undefined


I can’t get this feeling right

I don’t know if I ever might

I can’t rip it from inside

I can’t fight against the tide

So long I’ve been longing for

This need, I can’t let it go

It’s so much a part of me

As everything you can see

                                                       Written by Marjorie Soares

The truth about creativity

Due to the rapid expansion in technology development and its influence in every field of expertise, the professionals of the 21st century must shine through somehow. They must be individuals able of impressive critical thinking and expressive creativity. The latter is one of the most intriguing qualities of the human mind. Numerous books have been written about creativity, but we still see it as something foreign, under the control of few geniuses.

The reality of the matter couldn’t be farther from the truth. We have this vision in our minds that creativity is some kind of gift. You either have it or not. But, if we look back at our childhoods we’ll see we all had great capacity of imagination. So what’s the deal?

 Bottom line is, we’re all creative. Some factors in our lives and how we respond to each one of them are what shapes our creative ability in adulthood.

The most striking factor is school. When we are small children, all we ever do is ask.

Why is the sky blue?

Why chickens don’t fly?

Why…?

We know nothing of the world and we want to learn everything about it. Such curiosity is an intrinsic part of creativity. The problem is that when we get to school we are discouraged to keep asking such questions. We are taught how to answer objective problems. These problems have a definite answer, so instead of going out of our ways to find a solution for it, we just memorize a formula.

Above all else, we have to follow rules. Questioning the Modus Operandi is something only the problematic students would do. So most of the students just go on memorizing things they won’t be able to remember years later. They have no idea of their creative potential.

Thus, creativity becomes this concept not understood by most and associated only with artistic endeavors. Even in the artistic field there’s often an attempt to rationalize creativity and develop a perfect means to achieve it. This, of course, is impossible. Creativity is something that cannot be put into a box and must be out of control to truly be.

The importance of creativity is in our every day lives. It is in the great enterprises, STEM fields and artistic ones. Coming out with unique solutions and correlating ideas that seem to have nothing in common is essential to new discoveries. But if creativity cannot be expressed by method, how is it developed?

Through curiosity.

Curiosity makes us ask questions, which in return make us look for answers. These answers have the power to change paradigms in every possible field of life. To find these answers, though, we have to look at things in every imaginable and unimaginable ways possible. Being creative is a matter of perception. Changing your point of view affects the outcome of your investigation.

The so called creative people are the ones who dared to think differently and look things from another perspective. And even more importantly, they stood by their ideas and invested in them.

If we want to attend the demands of the 21st century jobs, as well as make people’s lives more productive we have to change our way of thinking and talking about creativity. This must not be ignored at school, or treated as subject that follows a methodology. Instead, we just have to feed the natural human curiosity and proportionate an open space for talking and developing different perspectives. The product of creativity will come naturally.

So if you were wondering if you’re creative or not, now you have your answer.

It is all a matter of perspective.

The La La Land effect: Why do so many people love this movie?

La La Land received a lot of buzz from critics and audience alike. It received a total of 14 Oscar nominations and won all of the seven categories in which it was nominated in the Golden Globe. It also got 10 times the amount of its budget in the box office. As a result of all this praise, many wonder what is the reason behind all that.

Before dissecting what makes this movie so great for a lot of people, we need do understand some things.

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD

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La La Land tells the story of Mia – an aspiring actress – and Sebastian –a frustrated jazz musician who wants to open his own club. An amount of unexpected circumstances leads them to crossing each other’s paths more than once. In one of these situations Mia enters a restaurant only to find Sebastian pouring his heart out playing a song of his own. Mia is instantly enchanted and when she tries speaking to him he outright ignores her. That is one of the many moments in the movie where the script plays with our expectations and that’s an important aspect of understanding how an arguably cliché story differentiates itself.

The initial animosity between them fueled by this encounter soon turns into love. The movie then follows the pursuit of their respective dreams and the struggle that comes with at the same time trying to maintain a relationship.

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Ryan Gosling an Emma Stone have an undeniably amazing chemistry. This along with the amazing soundtrack helps create empathy for the characters. Despite the exaggerated nature that comes with bursting out songs and dancing out of the blue, every musical moment is delivered in a seamless manner. The songs feel like less of a distraction and more of an important way to showcase the characters emotions through the power of art.

It also helps that the soundtrack can be both fun and extremely beautiful and touching at the same time.

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One often forgotten aspect of the movie is the characters’ resolution, especially Sebastian’s, to find true art. Sebastian wants to open his own jazz club because he thinks this genre is an art form worth preserving. When he enters Keith’s band he loses his sense of self. Mia sees this, which makes her wonder what happened to the man who convinced her to write her own play and didn’t care about public opinion.

Similarly, Mia’s journey is one of a young woman finding herself through her art. She goes from aspiring actress, auditioning for stereotypical roles to casting directors who couldn’t care less about her, to a true artist, capable of expressing genuine emotion in her roles.

In one of the most emotional scenes of the movie, Mia auditions to some people, one of them who actually saw her perform at her play. She draws emotion from a personal experience. For the first time she is really doing that for herself, not for others. She’s ready. So is Sebastian, who’s now free from the illusion of success and willing to pursue his real dream.

Our protagonists are on a crucial moment of their lives. So, what happens now?

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Mia gets the part she auditioned for, so now she has to move to Paris. She and Sebastian talk, and he insists she must accept the role. Though uncertain of their future, they profess they will always love each other.

Five years later we see that Mia achieved success and is a famous actress. Soon we find out she’s married to another man and has a daughter with him. One day they go out and stumble on a Jazz club, that happens to be Sebastian’s club. Mia sits amidst the crowd, and

Sebastian sees her. After delivering an anxious speech, he starts playing their song.

At that moment Sebastian speaks through their music about all his feelings and wishes. We see a retelling of their lives as if everything had worked out and they were still together. Mia and Sebastian look at each other and smile, both recognizing the love they had for each other.

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La La Land is a movie about hopes, dreams and love. It pays homage to the musicals from the Golden Age of Hollywood. Many point this as the reason of its success, naming nostalgia as the key factor for it.

The movie’s success is not purely based on nostalgia. Many movie viewers couldn’t even feel this, since they had no contact with old school musicals. The real secret lies in its themes of dreams and the choices we have to make in life.

We all dream. That is what keeps us moving forward. Dreams are what makes us fight for ideals with the potential to change our lives and the world forever. That is why Martin Luther King’s Speech “I have a dream” is so iconic. It relates to this intrinsic part of being human.

To free ourselves from external expectations and succeed in that which we truly love is what every single person wants. La La Land shows us that dreams are possible, but they almost always come with a price.

Choice is a part of life. We make choices everyday that define the direction of our lives in both small and big ways. The characters not ending up together works as a means to show that we rarely, if not ever, get everything we want. Even if we are extremely successful we can look back and find something we wanted but could not have. The feeling of being in conflict with your own choices and absences is a universal one, and that is what touches so many people deeply.

In the end we must be able to look at our past, like Mia and Sebastian did, with a smile. We must see that every choice we made at the time was the best we could do. So, the movie presents a final choice. Will we dwell on our past and be miserable about it? Or, will we be grateful, smile and dream even more than we dreamed before?