Babylon (2022): an unfinished tale of Hollywood’s depravity and destruction

The newest movie by Damien Chazelle, Babylon takes place in the early days of Hollywood, depicting the Roaring ’20s (as of 1920s, of course). The two lead characters are played by Margot Robbie and Diego Calva. Meanwhile, a significant portion of the plot is occupied by Brad Pitt portraying silent film star Jack Conrad who’s struggling to maintain his relevancy in the transition era to talkies. Pitt’s performance feels personal at times.

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The plot provides intrigue with a twist, even though you realize how it will end, exactly. Margot Robbie plays a Hollywood starlet Nellie LaRoy, born on the wrong side of the tracks and trying really hard to make it. Robbie lives through her role, and her acting is just as good as the movie itself is less than appealing. Diego Calva is portraying an aspiring producer Manny Torres who’s willing to do anything just to get in the game. The movie opens with obscene footage of Manny trying to deliver an elephant to the huge ‘insiders’ party’ that all gossip columnists brag about.

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Babylon lasts for over three hours and is overfilled with repetitive and explicit details. After three hours of mostly raw and naked footage, it all ends symbolically — in Hollywood of the 1950s, at the premiere of Singin’ in the Rain. By that time, Manny Torres has left the industry completely and never ever looked back. Until that premiere. The movie ends with him bursting into tears watching Singin’ in the Rain on the big screen. And while the act feels open, raw, and honest, it still doesn’t ‘click’ on the other side of the screen.

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When questioned about his choice of ending, Chazelle explained that “it’s a bit of the idea of someone, in this case, Manny, reflecting on his life, and through that reflection, reflecting on his place in the bigger scheme of things. And his place as being, in some ways, one solitary frame in the infinite reel of celluloid that is the history of this art form that he was a part of, and then the history of the moving image — and I do think that’s a history of death and rebirth.”

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Chazelle says this is why it was so important to him that Babylon be “merciless and brutal.”

“Hollywood is a machine that chews people up and spits them out — it’s the great equalizer,” he says. “There’s a brutality that comes from that. But it’s inextricable from the rebirth that follows.”

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The movie’s current ratings are floating around 50%. As a viewer, you seem to share that feeling of mixed emotions. So, now comes the main question. Should you watch it? The answer is, it depends.

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If you are a movie-loving person, you will most likely enjoy all of the technical and emotional experiences the industry had to go through to bring us sound. Also, if you’re just generally fond of the ambiance of that era, you should definitely give Babylon a try. Perhaps, it’s the rawest and most down-to-earth depiction of the Roaring ’20s in modern cinema. If you enjoyed The Great Gatsby (2013), you should also watch Babylon. Just be prepared that it will not be as glamorous and light. However, if you happened to read The Great Gatsby novel or other books by F. Scott Fitzgerald, you will notice how accurately Babylon portrays that era. Is the movie worth your while? I’d say yes, but be careful with your expectations.

Babylon is currently playing in select theaters with a wide release scheduled on January 6, 2023 in the US and January 20, 2023 in the UK.

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