Is Babylon based on a true story?

babylonParamount Pictures

Is Babylon based on a true story? Damien Chazelle’s new movie sets the scene for cinema in the 1920s, but is there a true history behind the film?

Damien Chazelle’s Babylon, starring Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie, is the newest movie on the block, and while it hasn’t made much of a splash at the box office, people are still talking. Often about when the film took place, the 1920s, which makes one wonder if there’s a historical re-enactment element to this period piece.

Article continues after ad

Now, some may raise their eyebrows at this claim – Margot Robbie’s outfits don’t exactly scream 1920s flapper – but audiences have wondered if there really is some truth to the story, or the history behind it.

Well, the answer is a little complicated, so let us explain. But first, warning! Slight spoilers ahead for Babylon…

Is Babylon a true story?

While Babylon isn’t a straightforward biopic telling the true story of a real person, there is definitely real history behind the film, and our main characters are loosely inspired by real figures.

Article continues after ad

See, the 1920s was a revolutionary time for cinema. Films were silent until The Jazz Singer was released in 1927, making it the era of the “talkies.” Now, you may think that this would open a world of opportunities, but this change was actually the death of many actors’ careers.

Be it due to their manner of speaking, or their accent, many once big stars were deemed unfit for the talkies, and thus Hollywood was shaken of its talent.

Article continues after ad

This is ultimately the backdrop of Babylon, and the main anxiety of our characters. Brad Pitt plays Jack Conrad, who is loosely based on John Gilbert, and Margot Robbie’s character, Nellie LaRoy, took inspiration from Clara Bow.

Similar to Jack Conrad watching his stardom vaporize after talkies become the thing, 1920s leading man John Gilbert fell from grace as, apparently, he had too high-pitched a voice. Despite starring in flicks such as Queen Christina with Great Garbo, his films began to stumble at the box office, and it was clear he wasn’t set to last.

Article continues after ad

“His whole style and look didn’t work in the early ’30s,” sad film scholar Jonathan Kuntz to the LA Times. “It’s hard to maintain Hollywood stardom even without the transition to sound. They may have felt that the Clark Gable type – down-to-earth guys that spoke more in a snappy voice than John Gilbert – signified changing styles.”

As for Robbies’ Nellie LaRoy, she is a gifted and popular flapper, and easily reflects the trajectory of Clara Bow. Bow was also an “It Girl,” a vivacious and “Bad Girl” star of Hollywood, but she struggled to stay relevant as the 1920’s came to end an end, and Hollywood began to change.

Article continues after ad

“That moment where the bad girl went out of style is certainly part of what confronted Clara Bow and wound up screwing her ascent,” said the film’s director, Damien Chazelle. “Once these changes were in the air, she became more and more aware of the parties she wasn’t being invited to anymore.”

Film is currently at another crossroads. With recent global restrictions having shut down cinemas for months, streaming may be the only future for film. Therefore, its easy to assume that Babylon is attempting to evoke similar feelings of our current time.

Article continues after ad

However, Chazelle doesn’t see death for the cinematic experience: “I guess I remain an optimist that the core thing of people getting together in a dark room to communally experience a movie, that will continue to survive.”

Babylon is available to watch in cinemas now.

Related Topics