Written and directed by Damien Chazelle, and starring an ensemble cast of Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Diego Calva, Jean Smart, Jovan Adepo, Li Jun Li and Tobey Maguire (who is also Executive Producer on the film), Babylon follows multiple people as they chase their dreams in 1920s Hollywood–a hub of excess– and navigate the transition from silent films to sound.
The main characters in the film allude to wanting to be a star or “part of something bigger” than themselves. The film starts off with the ‘innocence’ of those desires as the characters begin their careers bright eyed and optimistic, wanting to do something good for themselves, their families, or the world; and then shows how those dreams become more tainted the longer our characters spend in the industry because of the access, work, and its competitiveness. Babylon showcases the stressful, so-chaotic-you-have-to-laugh, cut-throat nature of filmmaking, and highlights the lengths people go to maintain/ deal with their positions at the top.
The film goes on and we see our characters’ pursuit of meaning become more rigorous, seeking it wherever they can, as their careers spiral and ‘meaning’ becomes increasingly elusive. But for whom?
There was an interesting scene in the film where an actor is basically told that they are not their film. The scene insinuates that their films have already achieved, or will achieve at some point, the ‘meaning’ the actors so desperately seek. It reminds us that art will travel through space and time, bringing meaning to people many years removed from the people who created it; something I had coincidentally already been thinking about because it is a sentiment that rapper, RM, shares about his song, ‘Still Life,’ on his new album ‘Indigo’ (shoutout to the President). For all intents and purposes, they are a part of something bigger than themselves, and I can testify to that as someone who got inspired to move countries and pursue a career in the media because she liked watching television. The question then is, if being a part of something bigger is the goal and that goal has been met, why is there still the feeling of lack?
The not-so-pretty lives of the people creating this meaning, inspired by the real lives of actors in 1920s Hollywood, are explored, revealing the importance of what I call ‘hold down-ers’ (yes, I made that up). ‘Hold down-ers’ are things and/or people who, as the name implies, hold you down. They’re the people who can call you out, who you don’t have to pretend to be around and who will be your support if you ever venture into a whirlwind in life; the things that you do just because they give you joy; the spaces where expectations are ripped off and you can just be. I believe we find internal meaning there and I honestly think that’s such a good space to create from, so that your art travels and inspires other people, but not to your detriment.
The summary of this is the final thought I had at the end of the film where it shows the glam and dirt, and highs and lows of cinema: it means nothing…
and yet, everything.
Babylon is available in theatres on Friday, December 23rd, 2022.