The greatness and vice of Hollywood: what is the essence of the musical Babylon. The meaning of the film Babylon (2022) plot summary, explanation of the ending, essence, similar movies.
Genre: Drama, Comedy, History, Musical
Year of production: 2022
Director: Damien Chazelle
Cast: Margot Robbie, Diego Calva, Brad Pitt, Tobey Maguire, Jovan Adepo
tagline: “Always make a scene”
Awards and nominations: 2023 Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score, 2023 British Academy Award for Best Production Design, Oscar nominations.
The new creation of the creator of the brilliant “Obsession” and “La La Land” Damien Chazelle stands out for its pretentiousness and at the same time is full of black and vulgar humor. It seems that this is another declaration of love for music and cinema, but why so much sarcasm and even hatred? Due to the inconsistency and constant confusion in the frame, there is a risk of not capturing the true meaning of the film “Babylon”. Let’s try to figure it out and give an explanation of the ending.
What is the movie about
USA, California, twenties. We meet one of the main characters, a Mexican American named Manny Torres. He delivers a real elephant to a crazy and luxurious party, which includes movie stars and a whole jazz orchestra, and which is somewhat like an orgy.
Diego Calva as Manny Torres and Margot Robbie as Nellie LaRoy. Frame from the film.
There, Manny meets a heroine named Nellie Lara, who dreams of becoming an actress. Silent film star Jack Conrad, cabaret singer Lady Fei Ju, and jazz trumpeter Sidney Palmer are also in the crowd at the party. To the music of the latter, Nelly dances like a real movie star. She is immediately spotted and hired as a replacement for a young film actress who is unconscious from a drug overdose. Manny falls in love with Nellie and tries to express his feelings, but she is completely consumed by her luck.
The morning after the party, Manny drives a drunken Jack Conrad home. Upon arrival, he talks about the meaning of cinema. Jack says that people go to watch movies so they don’t feel lonely and they need to be constantly given something new – progress does not stand still. On the same day, Manny gets the job he dreamed of – at the suggestion of Jack, he becomes an assistant on the set.
The Kinoscope film studio, where Manny and Nellie are staying, is located in the open air and is a huge collection of people, props and scenery. There are both local shootings, limited to one tent, and large-scale shootings of battles, in which some participants receive real injuries. One even dies from being hit by a spear. Shooting an epic battle also causes the cameras to break. Manny is sent into town to rent another one and film the final scene of the film before sunset.
Meanwhile, Nelly is filming her first film. Her acting talent is immediately noticed by the director, and the frantic energy and lack of any constraint in vulgar scenes attracts everyone present. Nellie is not even embarrassed by the fire that has engulfed the nearby scenery. She plays the whole range of emotions, obeying the director.
The role of Jack Conrad was played by Brad Pitt, and Li Jun Li played the role of Lady Fei Zhu. Frame from the film.
The idea of replacing the camera for shooting the finale of the historical film succeeds – for this, Manny made his way through traffic jams in an ambulance. Reeling from all-day alcohol, Jack Conrad is pushed to the top of a hill. But after the director’s command and the first chords of the symphony performed by the orchestra, he instantly transforms into a stately leader of mighty warriors who meets the love of his life.
The shooting day smoothly turns into another party, where Nelly is again in the spotlight. Next, we see a film with her participation. The girl becomes a recognized star, as she wanted. In the competitive struggle, she deftly bypasses other actresses.
A few years later, a new era begins – silent films are being replaced by sound films. Upon learning of one of the first such films, Jack Conrad directs Manny to New York for the premiere. Near the cinema, the guy meets Nellie, surrounded by a crowd of fans. In the car, young people talk heart to heart. Nellie takes Manny with her to a psychiatric clinic where she visits her mother. Later, the girl talks about her old life, before gaining fame. She and Manny have a lot in common. Both, it would seem, are close to their relatives, but they see no reason to get close to them, experiencing total loneliness.
A year later, Nelly is filmed in a sound film. Filming is going on very hard, because the attendants have not yet learned how to fully manage the equipment necessary for such a movie. The actress, accustomed to the old format and freer behavior in the frame, is also burdened with many mandatory work conditions. Only one of them, the lack of noisy air conditioners, makes you suffer from the heat in the room. The technician, who is in a cramped closet, suffers the most from this. After a large number of takes, ending in swearing and even physical assault, in the end it is possible to make a successful one. A technician who could not stand the heat dies from it right in the closet.
Jovan Adepo starred as Sidney Palmer. Frame from the film.
And another party again. It has the same faces. Jack Conrad has a new passion, and Nellie has an entire football team as lovers. Participates in the party and Lady Fei Ju. She shows signs of attention to Nelly. Escaping after a passionate dance, the latter hides in the toilet and hears a discussion of the film with her participation behind the partition. Judging by the description of the producers, it turned out to be terrible – the girl constantly spoiled the takes, and her voice reminded them of the voice of a slaughtered pig.
Nellie is crying. Anger takes her, and she decides to arrange a crazy adventure. The company goes to the desert, where rattlesnakes settled. Nelly orders her father, who is her manager, to fight a dangerous reptile. However, he falls unconscious from drinking alcohol. Seeing this, the girl encourages other men to “take the fight” with the snake. None of them expresses enthusiasm. Then Nelly herself takes the snake in her hands, and she bites her in the neck. Mani tries to help the girl, but is knocked out by her tail and falls to the ground. Panic and chaos reign. Smoking a cigarette, Lady Fey watches him calmly. Finally, she approaches Nellie, cuts off the snake’s head with a knife, pulls out fangs from the skin and sucks out the poison. The girl comes to her senses and kisses her savior.
Jack is filming a musical with the rest of the singing cast. But the musicians who create the entire accompaniment remain behind the scenes. Manny, now a full-fledged producer, comes up with the idea to fix this and shoot separate inserts with members of the orchestra. Thanks to this, trumpeter Sidney Palmer becomes famous.
Meanwhile, Nelly’s career is close to failure. Her outrageousness is now taken for vulgarity. Her romance with Lady Fey adds fuel to the fire. The girl is still rampant in the use of drugs and alcohol. In addition, she lowers all the money in the casino. No one can cope with the presumptuous actress. And only Manny decides to help her by becoming her producer and starting to work on her new image of a pious lady.
Frame from the film.
Jack is sad – his friend and producer George shot himself after an argument with his girlfriend. He was the first who saw talent in a novice actor and, according to him, saved his life. A distressed Jack makes a row with his wife, who, before telling the sad news by phone, gave advice on stagecraft. He shouts that the cinema is in many ways superior to the theater, of which a woman is an actress. For example, a hundred thousand viewers who came to a production on Broadway is a colossal success, but for a film it is a complete failure. According to Jack, the audience, standing firmly on their feet, sees in the cinema a real beauty that is not in the theater.
The thirties are coming. The former parties, full of debauchery, are being replaced by social events with a claim to sophistication. Nelly, who, under the influence of Manny, tries to comply with this, at some point can not stand it. She arranges a real dressing down for the public, swears, tells a vulgar anecdote, smears herself with food and, on top of everything, vomits right on the carpet and even on the owner of the house himself.
Manny continues to work with trumpeter Sidney. On one shooting, it turns out that he looks lighter in the frame than the rest of the black members of the orchestra. Manny persuades him to wear black makeup on his face. Sidney does not like this, but there is no other choice – otherwise he will deprive the fee of all the other musicians. The trumpeter complies with the request and plays the program, but then leaves the film industry.
Jack Conrad’s career is heading for the abyss. Films with his participation fail one after another. Jack’s old friend Eleanor St. John, based on an interview with him, writes in a magazine a kind of obituary for the faded star of his talent. Angry, Conrad bursts into her office, trying to get an explanation. But the woman says that he can only accept everything as it is: Jack’s time has passed and he is not to blame. There have been and will be hundreds more. It remains to be consoled by the fact that the work of the artist is captured on film for centuries. After a while, the viewer will see literally ghosts or even angels in the old film – actors who have long been dead.
Nellie disappears for a while. One day, she breaks into Manny’s house, begging for her help. The girl lost fifty thousand dollars and now the owner of the casino threatens her with violence. Manny is angry. After all, Nelly was always not indifferent to him, and he tried his best to help her. However, she constantly rejected him, while taking advantage of the benefits provided. And yet the guy agrees once again to help out his girlfriend. Manny and his buddy go to meet crime boss James McKay with a bag of money. However, already in the den of bandits, the guy learns with horror that the bills are not real – they are just props for films. At first, the gangsters, unaware of the trick, invite guests to a country underground club full of wild and depraved entertainment. And that’s where the deception comes in.
Frame from the film.
Manny escapes with a friend. He is going to urgently go to Mexico, taking Nelly with him. But she believes that there is no point in running away – it’s all over for her. Nellie continues to throw drugs and have fun. In a desperate attempt to pull the girl out of the vicious circle, Manny proposes to her. Nelly, feeling guilty, at first agrees, but eventually runs away from the guy. Manny leaves the country without her.
Jack Conrad, sitting in a restaurant with another passion, meets Lady Fay. Jack remembers the old days with her and calls the city where he built his film career the most wonderful place in the world. His constant romances and divorces were also part of something big and important. But now he is tired. After the conversation, Jack goes up to his room, allegedly for cigarettes, and commits suicide by shooting himself with a pistol.
Trumpeter Sidney Palmer now plays with his orchestra in small clubs. To his music, we see Jack’s funeral, and then a newspaper article about the death of Eleanor St. John. Frames are changing, capturing the bright events of the era. Articles flit by, the content of which tells about the new achievements of the film industry, and among them – a small obituary about the death of Nellie Laroy, who died at the age of thirty-four.
In the end, Manny, twenty years later, with his new family, comes to the city where he spent his best years – to Los Angeles. He looks up at the majestic gate at the entrance to the Kinoscope studio grounds, then heads off to the cinema. There, looking at a new, more technologically advanced cinema, he recalls how everything was before and how everything has changed. Tears spill from Manny’s eyes. There are words from his first dialogue with Nelly: the guy says that he wants to get into the film industry because he wants to be part of something big and important.
Frames of old films flash by, then graphics and frames of paintings from the eighties, nineties and zero. Multi-colored paints are mixed, the piercing sound of a raging jazz orchestra grows, turning into a cacophony. Manny cries and smiles.
The meaning of the film Babylon
Despite a solid number of awards and nominations, Babylon failed at the box office. The reason for this is probably deceived expectations. Most of all, the audience was discouraged by obscene and repulsive scenes that, in the mind of the average person, are poorly compatible with ideas about the film industry of the early twentieth century. However, the events shown in the film, according to the director, are not too far from the real stories that took place in the vicinity of Los Angeles. Although many moments, of course, exaggerated for greater effect.
Most of the characters have real prototypes, although almost every one of them is a collective image. So, Jack Conrad looks like a Hollywood star of the twenties, John Gilbert. For a time he was the highest paid actor at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. And just like Brad Pitt’s character, he had problems with women and alcohol. With the advent of sound films, his career began to collapse. John Gilbert died at the age of 38. True, the cause of death was not a shot from a pistol, but sleeping pills and alcohol.
The character of Nelly Laroy is woven from the images of actresses Clara Bow, Joan Crawford, Alma Reubens Jean Iggles. The first was known as a sex symbol of the United States, her mother suffered from a mental illness, the second loved extravagant outfits and crazy parties, the latter had a drug addiction and died from her.
Manny Torres is inspired by the Cuban expatriate actor, producer and director René Cardona. Lady Fey is an interpretation of Chinese-born Hollywood actress Anna May Wong. The character of critic Eleanor St. John is based on one of the main gossips of Los Angeles in the twenties, Louella Parsons, as well as Adella Rogers St. John and writer Eleanor Glyn. From the names of the last two, the name of the heroine is collected.
Diego Calva as Manny Torres and Brad Pitt as Jack Conrad. Frame from the film.
The death of the young actress at the beginning of the film is a reference to the death of silent film star Virginia Reipp. The circumstances of what happened to the actress at the last party in her life are shrouded in mystery, and many saw a clue in the involvement in the tragedy of the fat actor Roscoe Arbuckle.
“Babylon” is engaged not only in the interpretation of real events and personalities, but also interprets many cult films in its own way. In many ways, the plot of Chazelle’s painting is an homage to the cheerful musical Singing in the Rain. In the final, Manny watches it. It also tells the story of the transition from silent to sound films and the protagonist’s adaptation to this. In “Babylon” all this is turned inside out to show the dirty ins and outs of those events.
Many episodes, including Manny’s meeting with the crime boss and what followed, refer to Boogie Nights. This film is dedicated to the transformation of the porn industry in the transition from film to digital. The party at the beginning contains references to Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut and Fellini’s La Dolce Vita. And there are a lot of such references in Babylon. Especially at the end, where we see footage from The Terminator, The Matrix, Avatar and other contemporary films.
It turns out Chazelle subjected to a thorough analysis of the real history of Hollywood in the twenties and thirties and the mythology associated with it, and on this basis created a kind of hybrid of cult works. In this explosive mixture, everything works in contrast. Drunk as hell and spoiled by the attention of women, Jack Conrad in the frame turns into a romantic knight without fear or reproach, dreaming of his only one. The eccentric Nelly Laroy, at the command of the director, can instantly become a refined nature. These transformations do not leave anyone indifferent. On the one hand, we see a moral decline, on the other, something beautiful that will be imprinted in eternity.
Frame from the film.
The entire film is a reference to the real Babylon and the legend of the Tower of Babel. This is a hidden meaning, to which many implicit hints are given throughout the development of the plot. The name “Babylon” is translated from Semitic as “Gate of God” (remember the “Kinoscope” gate at which Manny stands). The ancient city was a real metropolis, in many ways similar to modern large cities. Babylon made an indelible impression on the Jews who were forcibly resettled here. They called it the city “great, the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth” – also because of the large number of various kinds of entertainment establishments. In the film, Los Angeles is clearly compared to him.
At the same time, this is a city with many religious buildings, with the help of which people sought to “reach God with their hands.” The prototype of the Tower of Babel, the Etemenaki ziggurat, was a structure about 185 meters high, consisting of several towers erected on top of each other. The legend of the Tower of Babel tells how people were filled with pride. They imagined themselves equal to God and decided to show it by building a grandiose structure. The Lord, seeing this, became angry and made the proud speak in different languages so that they would not understand each other.
With the help of cinema and other arts, people also strive to “reach out to God.” By doing something beautiful, they feel they belong to something bigger, to something great. Let’s remember Manny’s main motivation, which is voiced at the beginning and at the end of the picture.
Frame from the film.
The essence of the film can be expressed as follows: cinema is the same Tower of Babel. At first, it looks primitive, but it already impresses an inexperienced observer. Then the “builders”, striving for perfection, make it more majestic – cinema becomes a complex technological process. “Priests” (actors, directors, producers) replace each other. Someone is in the center of attention, someone – on the contrary, is forgotten forever. Someday cinema will “fall” and give way to a new art. But for now, the celebration of life and at the same time the religious mass continues.
The film “Babylon” is quite different from the previous musical films of Damien Chazelle. “Obsession” and “La La Land” were about a dream, trying to make it a reality. “Babylon” also talks about those who did it quickly enough. But none of the main characters managed to permanently gain a foothold at the top. The film industry ground them down, they were replaced by new idols. As technology improves, former stars have become outcasts.
Babylon Ending explanation
The meaning of the ending of the film “Babylon” is in the very feeling of belonging to something greater. Those who, like Manny, Nellie and Jack, got to the top of the “Tower of Babel” and were able to “touch God” are real lucky ones. They had everything one could wish for. How they used it is up to them. However, the great ziggurat of cinema continues to grow. More and more floors appear on it, on which the former stars can no longer climb. Once-famous actors become mere ghosts on the screen, but are still part of great art.
Frame from the film.
- “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” (USA, China, UK, 2019): Quentin Tarantino’s declaration of love to the cinema of the sixties and seventies;
- “La La Land” (USA, Hong Kong, 2016): a great musical with a deep meaning from Damien Chazelle;
- Singing in the Rain (USA, 1951): a cult musical that is heavily referenced by Babylon;
- Artist (France, Belgium, 2011): stylized melodrama in the entourage of Hollywood in the twenties;
- Mank (USA, 2020) is another stylized drama inspired by the biography of screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz, who worked in the twenties and forties;
- “The Great Gatsby” (USA, Australia, 2013): free film adaptation of the novel by Francis Scott Fitzgerald with Leonardo DiCaprio.