Love it or hate it, “Babylon” is a film that proves Damien Chazelle’s love for cinema doesn’t just lie in its glamour (as shown in La La Land) but also in everyone that helps a film reach the silver screen. “Babylon” is debaucherous and definitely not for the faint of heart, but in its spirit, it doesn’t lose the magic of cinema, giving us memorable characters and unforgettable performances. It’s not easy to keep an audience attentive for three whole hours, but it manages to bring out a smorgasbord of emotions in the viewer with no time spared for boredom. The ensemble cast is at the top of its game, with everyone delivering once-in-a-lifetime performances drawing us to the charm of the roaring 20s, even with all its darkness. It seems to us that spectacle has become a recurring theme in the world of Hollywood, and we’re excited to see what comes next. “Babylon” is chaos, but Damien gives an excellent introduction to all its main characters in the first act of the film in the form of an extraordinary party that could only be imagined in one’s dreams. Who, then, are these characters, and why are they so memorable?
Jack Conrad: “Immortality Is Not A Success In The Industry”
Jack, played by Brad Pitt, seems to be a really personal role for the veteran actor. The melancholy of fame fading out is especially close to his heart as he gets older, consumed by the largeness of Hollywood. Brad’s role may remind many of his brilliant work in “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood,” but the truth is, this time around, he’s truly vulnerable on the screen, moving us to tears as he decides to kill himself. Jack is a famed silent-era actor who is willing to change with the times. Although he is enthusiastic and always keen on being the big thing, he faces imposter syndrome. Jack seeks honesty, the one thing he doesn’t get until the end, especially after his friend George’s death. He realizes how expendable he is as an outsider once all the elite moviegoers ridicule his accent as his “voice rises” in talkie films. Ironically, once Jack’s voice is heard, his mysterious image and charm are lost. In his conversation with Elinor, it is clear that Jack chases immortality and stardom. He may be passionate, but his need for love from the crowd is what drives him to be the best. Once that is lost, everything is lost. Although he achieved that immortality by being a huge part of the silent era of films, he doesn’t feel fulfilled. His fear of obscurity leads him to take his own life tragically. Amusingly, when Manny first takes Jack back to his house after his drunken grand soiree, Manny sees Jack as the brilliant man he is, but he falls into his pool from a great height- a kind of prediction of how his life spirals in the end.
Nellie LaRoy: “You’re A Star, Or You’re Not”
Nellie LaRoy is the perfect example of the “Hollywood dream.” Margot Robbie delivers a career-defining performance as the small-town girl with big dreams. Nellie’s career rides on her being coked out, giving her the kick to be exploited in the terrible darkness of the film industry. Nellie’s worth lies in the opinions of others. All her life, she has been told she is worthless and will amount to nothing. Her character’s entry in the film foreshadows how fast her stardom will crash, like she crashes her car into the massive party- terrible but beautiful parallels. Nellie’s addiction to coke and gambling showcases the sad reality of becoming an instant superstar. When Nellie enters the industry, she’s praised for her gorgeous appearance and brilliant acting. But just like Jack, when she’s supposed to be a part of the talking picture, her accent makes everyone realize she’s a “lowlife,” bringing out the hypocritical nature of moviegoers. Nellie tries hard with the help of Manny to become a “posh” woman, almost like Audrey Hepburn in “My Fair Lady.” When she visits the “elite” party, we see how exploitative the people with money are of the desperate ones. Sick of the prejudice, she lets go of her inner “beast,” becoming, in the end, the crass animal that she’s always been seen as.
Sidney Palmer: “Do Not Lose Yourself To Fame”
Sidney is brought to life by actor Jovan Adepo, who shines in his last “show” on the silver screen as he tears up through his forced “black face.” Sidney is the perfect example of not losing yourself in showbiz. Jack and Nellie are Hollywood superstars at the cost of their lives. Sidney doesn’t really seek the spotlight; he only suggests to Manny that the “cameras are pointing in the wrong direction.” To him, it makes sense that if music is what they’re trying to sell, then the musicians are the ones who need to be “seen.” In a world of xenophobia, Manny, the colored person who conceives this idea, is the one who brings it up to the “white producers” of the industry. To begin with, it goes wonderfully. Just as it did for Jack and Nellie, but when Manny succumbs to the industry’s pressures and starts to view things in ‘black and white,’ asking Sidney to apply ‘black face’ on himself. He realizes his compromise and makes sure it’s his last performance in Hollywood. Never going back down again. In the end, he is seen playing his beloved jazz music at the kind of place that truly appreciates his talent (which is too good for Hollywood).
Elinor St. John: “Cockroaches In The Dark Always Survive”
Elinor is the crowds’ eyes and ears in Hollywood. She’s everywhere all at once, bringing to “ordinary” people the extraordinary stories of the entertainment industry in wild LA. She brings to the table what is true, but in a manner that lights fires in the lives of those she writes about. When Jack’s career is spiraling, Elinor interviews him for a magazine and then leaves him high and dry in the article. According to her, Jack’s spotlight is dimming, so Hollywood plans on spitting him out just as it swallows him whole. Elinor, too, is in many ways consumed by Hollywood’s insanity. Her work reaches high peaks with others’ losses. When Jack calls Elinor a cockroach, she takes that positively, too, stating how cockroaches are the only survivors of a burning building. She’s the only person who is truly honest with Jack after George’s passing (pretty great for a gossip columnist). She dies naturally, fizzling out to make way for a new Elinor.
Manny Torres: “Becoming A Part Of Something Bigger Than You”
Manny is a delightful protagonist, played enticingly by Diego Calva. Manny’s dream is to make it big in showbiz, but he never planned what he would do there. He never wanted the “spotlight,” just the need to be a part of something that brings joy to so many people in the world. Manny lives big, hustling his way through everything. He is like a magician at the beginning of his career, making everything work out for everyone who needs it. At the beginning of the movie, he smoothly gets the massive elephant to the party, facing all the roadblocks head-on. Manny is an outsider, a minority, but he is able to convincingly move up the ladder by pleasing everyone who is someone in the industry. We support him and his actions until it is he who forces Nellie to remain in the nasty place when she clearly doesn’t want to. Our last straw is when Manny convinces Sidney (or maybe it’s himself he convinces) that it is okay to do black face just for the lighting. He doesn’t even realize how far he has gone until the incident with Nellie brings him back to the ground. Manny escapes the grasp of Hollywood, rather by fluke, because of James McKay, driven by his “true love” for Nellie. After he goes to Mexico without Nellie, he sticks to becoming a regular person, getting married, and starting a family. He returns to LA when it’s safe to show his daughter the place her father found success. He is nostalgic for the past, but he realizes how the industry churns the same pot repeatedly to attain “success.” On the big screen, as he watches “Singing In The Rain,” he remembers everything that happened to him and his friends because of the all-consuming nature of the industry. Fortunately for him, he was able to escape it at the right time, unlike Jack and Nellie.