‘Babylon’ and the future of cinema


Damien Chazelle, award-winning director best known for the critically acclaimed films “Whiplash” and “La La Land,” recently released the three-hour epic “Babylon.” The movie tells the story of an ensemble of characters in Hollywood throughout the 1920’s and ‘30’s, when the film industry was evolving from silent films to movies with sound. Despite a star-studded cast and a promising story, the film released last month to a failure at the box office, losing millions of dollars. Critics and audiences gave it polarizing reviews, criticizing the film for its disjointed, overwhelming story and controversial sexually explicit themes. Despite all of this, some feel as if this harsh reaction to “Babylon” was all but deserved. 

“It is Chazelle’s riskiest film by far. [He] left the crowd-pleasing moments from his other movies out, which I personally enjoyed, but I can imagine that the average viewer –after seeing so many simplistic movies—was dissatisfied with how ‘Babylon’ turned out,” Stephen Wilson, junior, said. 

“Babylon” is filled with exciting moments, beautiful cinematography, sometimes immature but hilarious comedy, clever thought-provoking themes on film as a medium, and a bombastic, jazzy soundtrack to top it all off. The themes in particular regard breaking new boundaries in film and any art form at that. While the film itself is not based upon a true story, the characters resemble common tropes of actors and directors across Hollywood’s history, showing how while the past stars may be forgotten, the legacy that they have provided for cinema’s evolution will live on. 

“It is a really well- made great movie. The themes might insinuate that there are many things behind the scenes that a lot of people do not realize could lead to either a disaster or a successful career,” Ben Furman, senior, said. 

Poor advertising, long runtime, and competition could be to blame for “Babylon’s” commercial failure. Chazelle insisted on using his namesake to advertise the film, and although his film “La La Land” was a hit with audiences and critics alike in 2016, one could argue that he is not yet a household name. For a standalone film, a 189-minute-long runtime may seem like a waste of time to the average viewer, especially since “Babylon” was released only a week after the massively successful “Avatar: The Way of Water,” which has since earned over $2 billion in the international box office. 

“I think there are a lot of reasons ‘Babylon’ flopped; the length is one, but also the movie is undeniably bold. ’Babylon’ looks at the past of Hollywood, condemning the industry and glorifying the stars of the past, present, and future cinemascope. In a world of Marvel films and similar spectacles, which are typically built off franchise, there is no room for movie stars. ‘Babylon’ could be the last of its kind for all we know, a film about film, a film about real magic,” Luke DeGrendel, senior, said. 

Many highly-praised, boundary-breaking films in the past have failed to perform well commercially and critically, only to be retrospectively named classics, such as “The Big Lebowski,” “The Shawshank Redemption,” and ”Fight Club.” Only time will tell if “Babylon” will receive its respect as a cult classic in the coming years or if it will be forgotten in a sea of failed blockbusters.