There’s a lot to unpack after watching Babylon. The first fifteen minutes is utter chaos. I’ll be honest, I rolled my eyes and winced at the sight of all the unprovoked debauchery, shaking my head and all that. Pretty much thought – oh, this is gonna suck. This does suck. And when that happens, I always feel bad; like for the producers, the actors, the extras, the crew – all of them. And I start looking for someone to blame.
But then something happened. And honestly, it wasn’t Brad Pitt. It wasn’t Margot Robbie entirely either, although it was fun to watch her step into what she dreamed about becoming. What I really started to enjoy was the grasping of the plot – of the transition from moving pictures to talking pictures. There’s a scene when they move from on location to a sound stage set and the sound engineer is out of his mind. The pressure, the changes, the need to conform to the needs of this “box” is heavy. At its core, this change and evolution is interesting to me and I was keyed in. Unfortunately the progress was continually clouded with outrageous egos, dirty money, parties filled with drugs and ugly power shifts.
Thank goodness for Diego Calva, who plays Manny Torres – a nobody who moved from an elephant curator to an elevated production assistant to what is essentially a sedative for both main characters while carving his own way through the sinful landscape of Hollywood. It is through him that I decide to care, even if it’s just a little bit. Because Manny has a vision. A vision of what Hollywood can be, should be, and what his place in it will be. He’s a dreamer. And isn’t that what this is all about? Of course he is also victim to love at first sight with Nellie (Margot Robbie) and his love hasn’t wavered, even as she spins out of control. I guess it is pretty much an allegory for Hollywood. And the powers that be are there telling them who to be and what people want to see.
While this movie is far too long, the last 15 minutes of Babylon is a beautiful and poignant homage to talking pictures and all the places they’ve taken us. Poetic and striking as familiar images document the timeline through sound and color, it’s very moving. Like it’s explaining the movie while reveling in film. This is all I needed. The stuff behind the curtain doesn’t always need a stage.