Damien Chazelle likes protagonists who have one defining goal. They are driven and they are ready to sacrifice in order to achieve their goals. Their ambitions are jealous gods and don’t allow for any other gods beside them. Relationships? Happiness? Love? These take a backseat. Chazelle’s characters’ pursuit of excellence requires them to be singleminded. You don’t get there by being good at many things, you get there by being excellent at the one thing that gets you there. And there’s a price to singlemindedness.
Looking at it differently, you could also say this: Damien Chazelle’s protagonists are frightened, of their feelings and responsibilities – and if you want to run away, what better destination than the moon?
Years ago, I went to see the stage version of The Lion King in London. As the lights went down and people stopped talking, knowing that the show was about to begin, a kid one or two rows in front of me piped up. “I don’t like lions!” Well, tough, kid, you’re going to get lions, whether you like them or not.
Most people like lions, if they keep their distance and don’t attempt to eat you or your loved ones. What many people don’t like? Musicals. Some people don’t like action films, others aren’t really into horror movies, but I don’t think there’s a single genre that as many people claim not to like as musicals. To be honest, though: until a few years ago, I would have said the same, though I may have qualified it a bit more – I don’t like the Platonic ideal (i.e. the pretentiously formulated stereotype) of a musical that people may think of when the genre comes up. At the same time, some of the films I liked best growing up were musicals, such as Hair or Jesus Christ Superstar. I’ve even rewatched some musicals that didn’t click for me when I was growing up, like West Side Story, and I’ve come to greatly enjoy them. Similarly, “Once More With Feeling” is one of my favourite episodes of Buffy the Vampire Killer, and I’d defend its artistic merits as much as I would those of my favourite less jazz-handy episodes.