Movie Reviews

Why Babylon's Ending Is So Divisive (Is It Really That Bad?!)

Warning: This article contains major spoilers for Babylon.

The ending to Damien Chazelle’s Babylon has proved incredibly divisive with audiences. Starring Margot Robbie, Brad Pitt, Jovan Adepo, and Diego Calva, Babylon centers on the rise and fall of four characters in Hollywood in the 1920s-30s as the film industry evolves into the sound era. In stark contrast to his sophomore film, La La Land, an almost hagiographic musical about filmmaking and jazz, Damien Chazelle’s Babylon explores the seedy underbelly of Hollywood. It chronicles the sheer levels of exploitation that many film studios relied on to make their films at the pace and budget they wanted. Babylon also exposes the racism that abounded behind the scenes of these productions.

Contrary to the rest of the film’s content and themes, the experimental montage that takes place at the end of Babylon can be interpreted as presenting some far more hopeful ideas. This, in part, could explain the incredibly divisive response to Babylon overall. Chazelle’s film received an incredibly mixed response from critics, and audiences in large part stayed away. Babylon made just $3.5 million at the box office on its domestic opening weekend, against a reported budget of $80 million, which doesn’t include the promotion costs. However, just because Babylon‘s ending montage is divisive with audiences does not mean that it is not ripe for analysis. Here’s exactly why Babylon‘s ending is so divisive.

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Babylon‘s ending montage is incredibly striking, clashing with much of the style of the rest of the movie. It is precisely because of this incongruity that the montage at the end of Damien Chazelle’s Babylon has proved divisive with audiences. The rest of Babylon is an expertly crafted period piece exploring the dark side of the Golden Age of Hollywood while the ending montage transcends time and shows examples of films across its entire, century-long, history. This includes shots of the T-1000 from Terminator 2: Judgment Day, the eye-slitting from Un Chien Andalou​​​​​, and the Na’vi from Avatar.

Babylon‘s ending montage depicts important imagery of films that broke important ground and remain timeless. The montage shows Hollywood’s ability to adapt and evolve with the times while highlighting a seminal technological breakthrough in the industry. The montage takes place as Manny Torres (Diego Calva) returns to Hollywood after two decades and watches Singin’ in the Rain, a musical about Hollywood’s transition to sound, which Babylon was heavily inspired by. Singin’ in the Rain moves Manny to tears, and Babylon‘s ending montage attempts to transfer this feeling to the audience with its collection of inspiring film imagery.

The inspiring imagery contained within Babylon‘s ending montage can be seen as conflicting with much of the rest of the movie’s themes and messages. Babylon pulls no punches when it comes to depicting the darker side of filmmaking. One scene in Babylon shows the struggle that many crews had when they made the transition to sound. Nellie LaRoy (Margot Robbie) struggles to make her mark and say her line in a manner that the microphone can capture it properly. Following a dizzying amount of takes, a cameraman dies from heat stroke, having been placed within a hotbox so that the sound of the camera does not interfere with the microphone.

This is but one example of Babylon‘s exploration of the abuse prevalent in Hollywood’s Golden Age film productions. With Babylon highlighting the darker aspects of filmmaking, the moving imagery contained within the film’s ending montage can be seen as conflicting with the rest of the movie. However, one scene in Babylon highlights exactly what the montage is actually doing.

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During the scene in question silent film actor Jack Conrad (Brad Pitt) confronts gossip columnist Elinor St. John (Jean Smart) over her cover story revealing his fading star power. Elinor explains to him that although Hollywood has moved on without him, Jack Conrad’s image will be immortalized forever through his films. The ending montage explores many of the images that Hollywood has immortalized, including one of Pitt’s Jack Conrad, while also highlighting that the film industry will leave many behind in favor of newer stars and technology. Thus, although it seems at first that the ending montage conflicts with the rest of Babylon, the meaning behind the montage does not.

Babylon‘s provoking ending montage has produced many strong responses from audience members and critics alike. For example, Chris Edwards at The Independent called the scene “the most sickening in film history” for its attempt to reconcile the beauty of the imagery with the scale of abuse that was used to create them. Damien Chazelle himself stated that he wanted Babylon‘s ending montage to feel “on the verge of kamikazeing itself” in an interview with Vulture. Babylon‘s ending is an inappropriate ending to an entirely inappropriate movie – the intention was always to provoke strong emotional responses, which is exactly what has happened.

Babylon‘s ending montage intentionally moves past the period setting that the rest of the film inhabits. This controversial creative choice fits perfectly with a movie that splatters the screen with bodily fluids. Though the scene can be viewed as a celebration of film, despite the abuse that the rest of Babylon depicts, it actually heavily focuses on turning points in film history. VFX shots from Tron and Terminator 2: Judgment Day immediately follow a title card reading “fin de cinema“, which can be translated as “end of cinema“. Babylon is about the changes that the film industry always faces, and how the industry discards those it previously found useful.

Despite the many strong reactions to the ending arguing that it does not work, Babylon‘s ending secretly continues the themes of the rest of the film. Director Damien Chazelle’s intention with the ending montage was to provoke, which it certainly achieves. Although it is possible to read the montage as a simple celebration of cinema, Babylon‘s ending works hard to depict major turning points within film history, continuing the movie’s major theme of industrial abandonment. The experimental aspects of the ending may take the audience out of their immersion within Hollywood’s Golden Age, but that is exactly the filmmaker’s desire. As such, Babylon‘s ending montage is not necessarily bad, but it is undeniably provocative.

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