It took many famous directors decades to finally be recognised in the cinematographic industry, but Damien Chazelle seems to have a flair that has already brought all of Hollywood’s attention upon him. He first started directing and writing feature films almost 10 years ago, with the release of Whiplash (2014), an incredible movie that was praised by both fans and critics, following up with La La Land (2016) and First Man (2018) in a three-film run that brought him a lot of nominations and prizes, including the Oscar for Best Director for his sophomore film. The fourth movie in his portfolio, Babylon (2022) finally arrived in UK theatres in January. Ever since its release in the US, it has been receiving a lot of mixed reviews.

Babylon is indeed a very experimental and controversial project, but it does encapsulate most of Chazelle’s well-established trademarks: the hectic and chaotic atmosphere of Whiplash, the overwhelmingly crowded sets and over-the-top costume and production design of La La Land, the rapid-fire edits, and (of course) his collaboration with Justin Hurwitz, the genius composer who has worked on all of Chazelle’s movies. Bringing together massive names like Margot Robbie and Brad Pitt, the stars of Babylon were carefully cast and the whole ensemble had a very energetic chemistry.

The entire movie is centred around the early days of Hollywood, the late 1920s, which was marked by the transition from silent films to talkies. The actors portray fictional people from the movie industry of that era. These characters are complex and are shown to embrace the excessive decadence and depravity of those years. The story follows the lust for popularity through the eyes of two characters, Nellie LaRoy (Margot Robbie), inspired by the outrageous and controversial actresses of the time, and Manny Torres (Diego Calva), an immigrant who worked his way up the social ladder. The lives of these two characters intertwine on several levels throughout the movie, not only being romantically involved, but also culturally and spiritually connected. They meet at different stages of their lives, both living completely different stories that intersect in definitive moments, but turn out to have unexpected endings. Although they fall in love and seem to be connected by destiny, they do not end up together and are forced to go their separate ways, another signature trope of Chazelle’s.

There is no doubt that this movie does not hold back on depicting the highest of highs and the lowest of lows of the Hollywood industry, but this excessive and exaggerated approach seems fitting as this is indeed, at its core, a movie about movies. The film carries us through a turbulent mixture of genres, switching between them in a series of quick, flashy scenes that tend to shock with their intensity. Babylon definitely excels in its humour, with comedic elements making their way into every character interaction. At the same time, the film contains emotional dialogue, a ton of action shots that keep the viewer breathless and surprisingly, a gruesome and terrifying act that manages to find its way into this movie, owing to an unexpected performance from Tobey Maguire. 

In my opinion, another aspect that makes Babylon so wild and dazzling is the soundtrack, beautifully produced by Hurwitz. The music does such an amazing job of creating the atmosphere of the scene and just completes the rush and adrenaline so well.

However, it seems like many movie critics did not really enjoy the film, and are extremely critical of it. Not only did some critics have a hard time watching Babylon, the movie also bombed at the box office and could not attract a large enough audience.

After sitting a little over three hours in a movie theatre, I must admit that Babylon is definitely not for everyone and is the type of movie to separate the audience into lovers and haters. Although the film definitely has some flaws, mainly because too much was packed into the last hour of the film, I have to say that I am totally a lover of this exhilarating, big screen experience. Damien Chazelle puts out a tale of outstanding ambition and does not hold back from contradicting every critic that has called his movies “too romantic”.

Brave, ecstatic, grand, and most importantly authentic, Babylon does a great job of keeping the viewer engaged throughout the whole movie. From ridiculous and absurd scenes to romantic and emotional interactions, Babylon is aware of its impact and does not hold back in any way. Definitely a mesmerising marvel made for the big screen, I recommend watching Babylon by embracing its chaos.