‘Babylon’ Ending, Explained: Did Manny Escape James? What Happened To Nellie & Jack? Where Did Sidney Go?

A defecating elephant before the title credit, a snake fight, a man eating a live rat, and a crocodile all play a big part in Damien Chazelle’s “Babylon.” Don’t worry, though; it’s not a film about animals at all, but the humanity of the people behind films. The grandiose facade of the film doesn’t hide away the underlying social and cultural themes of the entertainment industry in 1920s LA. A fascinating watch that clearly depicts Damien’s love for cinema, especially the silent era and the evolution of film, “Babylon” is an overarching passion project that is polarizing for many viewers. It’s not the first film of the last year that writes a love letter to the industry, but it sure is mighty different from its predecessor, “The Fabelmans.” While Spielberg made a personal ode to his life in the industry, Chazell tells its history through his eyes. “Babylon” is excessive, overwhelming, and, to put it plainly, a “wild ride” that is hard to put in a box. With that said, let’s try and understand what happens in the film.

Advertisement

Spoilers Ahead


‘Babylon’ Plot Synopsis: What Happens In The Film?

“Babylon” follows dreamers Manny, Nellie, and Jack in their pursuit of Hollywood. Manny is a Spanish-American trying to make his way up the ladder of the industry. At the beginning of the movie, he’s trying to bring an elephant into a massive Hollywood party (the kind we can only imagine in our dreams). It’s clear right from the start that Manny is a doer, not a talker. Public orgies and jazz music ensue at this party, where we’re introduced to rising star (self-proclaimed) Nellie LaRoy and silent-movie superstar Jack Conrad. Nellie and Manny cross paths at the party, and Manny is instantly smitten. Jack enjoys the company of many partners, but his life is quite hollow outside of the films. He’s always stuck on the aesthetics and grandness of the films, comparing movies with art movements and proving their importance in culture. His spotlight is dimming with the looming end of the silent era. Black jazz musician Sidney Palmer is playing at the party where a woman who’s playing an important part in a movie to be shot the next day overdoses from the joy of getting her first gig. Her loss becomes Nellie’s gain as her dancing at the party grabs the attention of the producer. Nellie is an instant Hollywood starlet, crying on cue just by thinking about home. A lesbian cabaret singer named Lady Fay Zhu enthralls the crowd with a song. A gossip journalist named Elinor St John sports an English accent, bringing everyone to their knees with her inventive words.

Advertisement

“Babylon” takes us on a wild ride of fame, right from the top, all the way to the underground (with a ‘mad’ Tobie Maguire). It begins with a first act of glory, moves on to a second act of passion, and then to a final act of loss. Manny becomes a studio executive at a massive studio through his diligence, whereas Nellie succumbs to her addiction to drugs and gambling. As the world of sounds enters the cinema, Jack and Nellie become laughingstocks. It is clear that all of these important people are expendable to the enormity of this industry. What, then, is the fate of these beautiful people at the end of “Babylon”?


‘Babylon’ Ending Explained – How Does Manny Escape James Mckay? What Happens To Nellie And Jack? Where Does Sidney Go?

The last act of the film is quite overwhelming and fast-paced. Manny tries to save Nellie’s career when he’s hired by Kinoscope by straightening her up for a bit, but she’s unable to stick the landing at a party with some rich people she’s supposed to impress. Making vulgar jokes and behaving like the “wild animal” everyone calls her behind her back. An honest attack on the rich who speak ill of her because of her background but do actual terrible things. Manny is shaken by the industry trying to change the authenticity of Nellie and later even making Sidney color his face black for a film. With the help of Sidney, Manny was able to rise to the position of studio executive because he gave him the idea of bringing the musicians on screen. Unfortunately, he sees that if Sidney plays with other black artists, he will not be seen as the extraordinary Black Jazz artist, since he would seem almost white on a black and white screen.

Advertisement

Manny is an understanding man at the beginning of the film; he would make anything happen because he feels emotional about it. When the director of Jack’s film lost all his cameras, he was determined to bring the masterpiece to the silver screen. He was bold and righteous, but as he progressed to the top, he became more and more consumed by the massiveness of the industry. Sidney is the one character in the film who doesn’t lose his true self. After he’s made to color his face, he leaves immediately. He’s driven to play his music not by the limelight. At the end of the film, we see him play at a small club happily. It is clear he’s content with where he is after gaining his fame and losing it too. Even at the party where he’s asked about his work, it is clear that he doesn’t care much for the acclaim but just for the opportunity. 

Jack’s end is rather sad, especially for a superstar of that stature. His charismatic face starts to wither with his spotlight as he also loses his dear friend George.

Advertisement

Finally, when his first talking film fails, he has no one to be completely honest with him like George. He sees everyone laughing at his picture in the theater. He visits Elinor to ask her why she wrote about his dying flame. Elinor tells him that it’s always out with the old and in with the new in this industry. There have been many before him, and even after he’s dead, his legacy will live on. He calls her a cockroach, to which she responds that in a burning building, the only creature that survives is a cockroach because they hide in the dark. Jack is the burning fire himself that diminishes with time. According to his last conversation with Fay, wife after wife, film after film. Fay has decided to move to Europe, leaving her wasted talent behind. He cannot take the loss of everything he has—his passion, his art, and his friend—leading to him taking his own life, just as George did too.

Nellie makes a huge mess and owes money to a man named James McKay. She comes to Manny’s doorstep to apologize to him for everything she’s done. He’s the only one who has ever been nice to him. Manny, who first screams at her, remembers his love for her before she becomes a starlet and decides to help her out. Manny’s got a huge heart, and Nellie has always broken it. He manages to get the money from the “pill guy” on set. They head to James’ home to give him the money. These things go absolutely berserk when Manny’s told by the pill-guy that the money is actually “prop” money. He freaks out and wants to leave the place immediately, but James has other plans for him. He tells Manny that he wants to make movies with him and takes him underground, where there are many entertainers doing strange things. James tells Manny that Hollywood has lost its charm and doesn’t understand true entertainment anymore. Finally, they arrive at a room where a crocodile is tied up, leading to James’ show-stopping act. Inside, a man eats a live rat whole. Manny watches in dismay as James throws his fake cash to the stage, asking for more rat-gobbling.

Some water droplets fall on the note, and James realizes the money is fake. Manny kills James’ bodyguard in an instant and runs away. He breaks open the crocodile chains, leaving the men in the basement to be croc food. When he escapes, he tells a coked-out Nellie that they need to run away to Mexico immediately. They pack and get out, dropping the pill guy off to get some supplies. They go to get gas when Nellie gets out of the car to run to a party. At the party, she realizes she’s done for, telling Manny this is it for her. Manny tells her it isn’t so and confesses his love to her yet again. He tells her they can live together happily in Mexico, and she agrees, telling him they’ll have kids together. Manny is thrilled as they dance together, unfortunately, for the last time. A cameraman takes a video of them as the screen turns to a black-and-white motion picture. They dance and kiss in a truly romantic moment. When they get back out, Manny goes to pick up pill guy. The pill guy and his roommate are shot to death in front of Manny. Manny begs to be left alive, and the man obliges, telling him to get out of LA fast.

Outside, Nellie has danced her way into the darkness, leaving Manny forever. Manny calls for her a couple of times before driving away to his freedom. Nellie was able to bring Manny out of the industry because of his love for her. If she hadn’t needed the money, he might have lost his humanity entirely to the cruelty of being an insider. Nellie ends up dead a little while after Manny leaves. The world keeps changing, and films go from black and white to color. Manny gets married and has a child in Mexico, returning to LA to show his family where he used to live. Enough time has passed for no one to recognize him. He is nostalgic of the past and visits a theater to watch a film. As the motion picture begins, he falls asleep. When he wakes up, he sees Nellie’s life played out on screen as a comedy. He’s moved to tears as the scenes change, showcasing his past- how the motion picture became a talking picture with Jack on his mind. As Manny cries, the camera pans to a crowd watching the film, old and young—onlookers of the new kind for brand new cinema. Manny’s cinematic meeting with Nellie plays out with the conversation they had about becoming a part of something larger than life. A montage of revolutionary pictures in the past, including “Psycho,” “Avatar,” “Singing In The Rain,” “The Wizard Of Oz,” “Jurassic Park,” “The Matrix,” and more, wraps up the film with a bow of gratitude. In the end, cinema keeps progressing, and even if the spotlight dims, the art continues to shine bright.

Advertisement

“Babylon” is a 2022 musical drama film directed by Damien Chazelle.

Ruchika Bhat
Ruchika Bhat
Ruchika, or "Ru," is a fashion designer and stylist by day and a serial binge-watcher by night. She dabbles in writing when she has the chance and loves to entertain herself with reading, K-pop dancing, and the occasional hangout with friends.

Latest articles