Here is an analysis and an opinion on the film Babylon. As with every fiction, everyone will have their own idea. But here are some understandings that can help you see more clearly.
The chaos of cinema.
At the beginning we see multiple films being made in the same place. We see battle scenes. It's disorder, chaos, cinema tries to touch everything, in every way.
The elephant that is used to entertain the crowd while they take out the young woman's body and the fire on the stage show that the cinema continues to work no matter what, ignoring the multiple accidents and scandals along the way.
There is a parallel between the kiss scene in the silent film and that of the talking film, we go from the sublime to the laughable. But we also go from laughable fiction to deep reality when Manny reproduces the "I love you, I love you, I love you" by declaring his love to Nellie ("Te amo,te amo, te amo").
The first kiss scene is grandiose, but it's actually the most horrible because the least authentic, Jack Conrad has trouble climbing the hill, he is about to vomit just before the scene. The kiss comes true after multiple violent and bloody fight scenes. The second scene, Jack puts more effort into his acting, it's a love story, but the end result doesn't measure up. The last kiss is one of the only real kisses in the whole film, but it's ultimately a mirage since Nellie disappears into the night, and probably doesn't share the same feelings.
In the end, it's the magic of the first kiss scene that resonates the most.
There is also the kiss between Nellie and Lady Fay Zhu (Li Jun Li) after the snake scene. The fight with the snake is the metaphor of the fight against self-censorship, prohibition and the dominant public morality in Nellie who finally dares to kiss Fay Zhu.
Regarding Jack Conrad we can imagine that he succeeds the first kiss because he is in love with silent cinema which he masters and knows well. He misses the second kiss because he does not have this love with this new cinema which undoubtedly requires more work on oneself to seek authenticity, but he has never really been in love with a woman, going only from conquest to conquest. Nor does he make the effort to tend towards acting, as his companion, a theater actress, suggests, which could have greatly helped him.
The one-sided romance that Manny projects on Nelly is also a love fantasy of a certain image inspired by cinema.
The vices of cinema.
Manny keeps making chords. With each agreement, he sells his soul a little more.
We see the 7 deadly sins:
Envy: Nellie LaRoy (Margot Robbie),
Pride: Jack Conrad (Brad Pitt),
Sloth: Nellie's father (Eric Roberts),
Greed, lust, gluttony: everyone,
Anger: James McKay (Tobey Maguire).
Also, at each stage, participants in the films die, showing that a part of oneself dies along the way.
The dawn of cinema and its revival.
Babylon shows that each film cycle has an end, with a transformation or a rebirth.
Jack Conrad represents the cinema which does not understand why it stops, the journalist Elinor St. John explains to him that this is how nothing can be done about it, that it is not due to his game of actor, neither to the story, nor to the film.
Jack Conrad is devastated when George Munn (Lukas Haas), his lifelong friend, dies. It is the loss of the memory of the suspicion of innocence that remained in him. Throughout the film, he tries to maintain this friend, to restore his morale. When he disappears, he realizes that he is empty and that he is only a shadow of himself.
There is a parallel between the elephant scene and Jack Conrad. With the difficulty of getting the elephant up the hill, the effort required to get Jack Conrad up the hill. Then the moment when the elephant begins to relieve itself and when Jack Conrad is forced to make films of poor quality.
Principles and Morals.
Jazz musician Sidney Palmer (Jovan Adepo) is the only one to emerge unscathed from the ordeal of the cinema. He thinks of stopping the cinema while he still has principles and ethics, doing again only what he loves, ie music. While all the others remain until the end and are victims of a violent death or almost.
The dark side of cinema.
James McKay (Tobey Maguire) represents the devil, the infernal part of cinema, greed with money, he leads Manny into the obscure past of cinema, its ancestor: the "circus" with its monsters. What cinema is sometimes: a demonstration with monsters, without a story. A denunciation of blockbusters who are content to make a visual show or pure action films where we only see muscular characters. It also represents the spectator who throws money without thinking towards these "monstrosities".
Initially, James McKay offers ideas for scenarios in which reality is disguised to the extreme, highlighting the exaggerated deception of certain stories.
The human cost of cinema.
At the end we see Manny in a movie theater who sees the beauty and the magic of cinema but who is also aware of the price that must be paid to achieve this result, with all the beings who are crushed by the mad machine of cinema and which disappear on the course. "Singing in the rain" sums up the situation well.
The scene of the fight with the snake is also a hymn and a call to the audacity to fight against this machine of cinema which abuses, exploits and crushes human beings. Jack Conrad has tears in his eyes seeing this spectacle, realizing that he never had the courage to face this creature and seeing the bravery of Nellie. Estelle (Katherine Waterston) then pushes him to action, he has trouble hearing and freezes for a moment.
The end of the film resonates with the beginning of the film. Manny says at the very beginning that no matter how bad things get, you can watch a movie and get away from reality for a while. After reminiscing about his old comrades, he continues to see films and in the face of magic, he forgets for a while the horrible memories associated with their making.
At the very end, the mix of artifice and color with Manny's crying face, it seems to beg the question if it's all worth it. Manny's last smile answers that question. This silent response is ambiguous, as it would also be asking whether all the abuse, exploitation and discrimination, including racism and misogyny, are worth it.
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