‘Babylon’ Shows the Ultimate Depravity of 1920s Hollywood

Ulises Duenas


There’s something about watching films of gross excess and hubris that’s fascinating, especially when it’s created with a high budget. Maybe it’s because the audience always knows there’s a crash incoming or maybe it’s just witnessing the depravity that people are capable – which most of us would not indulge in. “Babylon” is one of those movies, and its blend of drama and comedy fits the setting of Roaring Twenties Hollywood very well.


The opening scene does a great job of setting things up. Manny is an immigrant from Mexico who does a lot of backstage work on Hollywood sets, and he’s tasked with bringing an elephant to a depraved party full of sex, drugs, and bodily fluids. This scene is also a good test of the audience’s tolerance because if that’s too much to stomach, then “Babylon” might not be the best film for them.



As the scene goes on, Manny meets the other core characters of the movie: Nelly, a burgeoning starlet played by Margot Robbie; Jack, a veteran of silent movies played by Brad Pitt; and Sidney Palmer, a popular jazz musician played by Jovan Adepo. Each of these characters is brought to life wonderfully -- with Margot Robbie as a highlight of the entire film.


The absurdity of the scenes is often complemented by the portrayal of the characters who are deeply flawed human beings, and only have showbusiness as an outlet. Each character’s arc shows how someone’s humanity will clash with the hungry beast that is Hollywood, and Manny’s transformation in particular illustrates this. He becomes Americanized and swallowed by the system as he falls in love with Hollywood and adopts its shallow norms, while his cultural identity is slowly eroded away. 



While the movie is largely a criticism of Hollywood, both old and modern, it also shows a deep love for the movies that it creates. There are several monologues where characters talk about the magic of Hollywood and what they provide to the world in the form of fantastical entertainment. It shows that even though the cruel machine of show business comes with a heavy cost, it still creates art that the public loves.


The movie’s long runtime could be a deterrent for many viewers, but the pace and scale of the  plot make the time fly by. It’s a shame that “Babylon” has been largely overlooked, because it has all the ingredients that make for a great film. It’s not perfect and it’s not for everyone, but fans of stories that involve tremendous heights and tragic falls should watch “Babylon.”


Author Bio:

Ulises Duenas is a senior writer at Highbrow Magazine.


For Highbrow Magazine


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