Babylon director, Damien Chazelle, wanted his movie to “ruffle feathers.”
It may seem strange that Babylon director Damien Chazelle, who created the financially-successful and critically-acclaimed films Whiplash and La La Land, would create such a dud as his most recent film. The $80 million movie only made $15 million worldwide, and critics have called it excessive, incoherent, unsubtle, and even narcissistic. Chazelle wanted to upset people, as he stated, “We all knew the movie was gonna ruffle some feathers and get some people mad, and I think that’s good…more movies should do that.”
“It’s good to have something that stimulates conversation and debate and a lot of fierce opinions on either side,” Chazelle added.
Ultimately, Babylon is Damien Chazelles’ exploration of 1920s Hollywood, which Chazelle displays as a time of rampant drug use, material excess, and overall moral depravity. A far cry from his romanticized depiction of Hollywood in La La Land, (a romanticization that won six Academy Awards from the Hollywood institutions it idealized), Babylon portrayed Hollywood as a place where dreams, careers, and people go to die. Portraying the film industry as an intolerant, dangerous, and exploitative place, Babylon seems to claim that the entire premise behind La La Land was a carefully crafted lie.
Ultimately, Babylon shares more in common with Damien Chazelle’s earlier film, Whiplash, than it does with his previous Hollywood-loving film. Whiplash shows how destructive a single-sighted goal can be when those who push you along do not care about your well-being — only your success. While Babylon may not have as tightly focused of a story, it takes a similarly negative view of a highly competitive creative industry.
There’s an interesting scene at the end of Babylon, which seems to have been specifically added to criticize Damien Chazelle’s previous work. After years of deception, hardship, and even murder surrounding his connection to Hollywood, he visits a movie theater that’s showing Singing in the Rain, which moves him to tears. Singing in the Rain is a lot like La La Land: a lighthearted musical that glorifies Hollywood.
The message from Babylon, and perhaps from Damien Chazelle himself, seems to make an accusatory point: that Hollywood will always enjoy glorifying Hollywood, even as its more horrific aspects cause tragedy and strife.
As much as Hollywood seems to like films about Hollywood, it doesn’t seem to enjoy films such as Babylon, even with an esteemed director such as Damien Chazelle at the helm. While there’s certainly an argument to be made that the film lacks focus and that its portrayals of excess are over-the-top, there’s a sense that many critics simply did not like the content on display. Though with a 55% score on Rotten Tomatoes, at least as many critics liked the film as hated it, meaning that some critics saw value whereas others saw garbage.
If Babylon was made to anger people and ruffle feathers, then Damien Chazelle certainly accomplished his mission. It was one of the biggest box office bombs of 2022, making back less than 20 percent of its budget in theaters. If the film gets nominated for any Academy Awards, it’s unlikely to win any, considering how poorly it did at the box office.
Babylon also completely flopped during the Golden Globes, losing in all categories besides Best Original Score, which composer Justin Hurwitz won.