‘Babylon’ Character: Nellie Laroy, Explained: What Did The “Wild Child” Of Hollywood Crave For? Is She Dead?


Written and directed by Damien Chazelle, “Babylon” introduces us to many characters in showbiz who are entangled in their own mess and trying to cope with life. Clara Bow, a silent-era film actress, is believed to be the inspiration behind the character of Nellie LaRoy, though Damien Sayre Chazelle and Margot Robbie have taken many creative liberties and, by analyzing the lives of many other celebrities, gave Nellie her own unique character traits. Just like our protagonist, Clara also had a terrible childhood, and she took care of her ailing mother, who was suffering from psychosis. Clara died at the age of 60 due to a heart attack, and it is believed that she was able to adapt to the form of cinema that had started incorporating sound. Contrary to Clara’s experiences, Nellie struggled in life, and it was not an easy transformation for her when silent era films gave way to what was referred to as the “Talkies.” 

Nellie LaRoy was a force of nature and potentially catastrophic in ways and means that people couldn’t imagine when she first arrived at the scene. It felt like she would join the infamous “27 Club,” of which Jim Morrison and Curt Cobain are notable members, but she was able ditched just by a few years, though her lifestyle and manner of death were analogous to those of the members. She came like a sandstorm and departed pretty much the same way. She made sure that people knew she had arrived, but she tried to make her death as inconspicuous as she could. She came to Don Wallach’s party, where she met Manny Torres for the very first time. There are people who believe that they could be stars and make it big in the showbiz industry, but Nellie was a bit crooked and different from the rest. She believed that a person is born a star, and if they lack those mystic and obscure qualities that she was referring to, then no matter how hard they tried, they could never reach the sky. In the beginning, it felt like Nellie didn’t care about what others thought of her. It felt like she was free and liberated, and she went in whatever direction life took her. But those first few minutes deceived us completely because the more we got to know her, the more we realized how convoluted and insecure she felt on the inside.

Actors have insecure veins, but Nellie’s traumas and vulnerabilities stemmed not only from her profession but also from her childhood. The lady luck shone on her that night at Don Wallach’s party, and out of nowhere, she got a role in Constance Moore’s “Maid’s Off,” as the girl who was supposed to do it had probably died due to drug overdose. The next day on the shoot, there were two things that came to be known about Nellie: firstly, she was a fabulous actor who had extreme control over her mind and body, and she could make them act in sync almost effortlessly; secondly, she was broken and wrecked in ways one couldn’t perceive when they saw her upfront. In response to her director’s question about how she could cry at will, she said that whenever she needed to feel sad, she thought about home. Nellie rose to prominence in the industry, but exposing oneself in public had consequences for which she was unprepared. It is pretty normal for people to form judgments and criticize each and every star. Seasoned players were accustomed to it. But Nellie wasn’t, and she took everything to heart.

It was as if somebody had triggered her insecurities and she had an extreme need for validation. She needed that push, as self-doubt was her constant companion. Opinions and judgments affected her, and she was not somebody who could show faith in her own abilities when the world was going against her. She needed people on her side who could tell her that whatever she was doing was right. Nellie had all the ingredients to make her life into a classic tragedy. Doom was inevitable, and Nellie postponed it as much as she could, but even she knew that a time would come when nothing would make sense, and she wouldn’t be able to deal with herself or her surroundings. Nellie’s father had done nothing but create obstacles for her throughout her entire life. He was a liability that needed to be taken care of. Her mother was probably suffering from some chronic illness or disorder, and Nellie used to pay a visit to her once in a while. Even after her parents ruined her childhood, she never left their side. She tells Manny that she had made her father her manager, and though he was extremely bad at it, she kept him because she knew that he wouldn’t have anywhere else to go. In life, it is important to learn that you are not here to prove anything to anybody. Yes, I agree that there is a constant need to improve and learn from one’s mistakes, but one should strive to be their best version and not think about changing oneself because somebody isn’t happy with the way you look or conduct your business.

At a party, Nellie overheard people badmouthing her and mocking her acting skills, and it had such an adverse impact on her that she almost ended up losing her life after being bitten by a venomous snake. Nellie always ran away from confronting her emotions and her past, which is why the stack had become rather large. Nellie always claimed that being alone was easier for her because she had been so since childhood. Trusting and loving somebody scared her and that is why she abstained from having any expectations whatsoever. Manny was probably the only person who loved her for who she was, but she knew that she had come too far and that leading a normal life, having children, and going on vacations was no less than a figment of her imagination. Towards the end of the film “Babylon,” we see that Manny tried his best to revive her career, but she was already knee-deep in mud, and pretending to be someone else at that stage of her life was not possible. She had realized that there was only one way to end her misery, and at the age of 34, she was found dead in a run-down apartment by the police authorities. People suspected foul play, but the fact remained that the silent era had ended, and with it, the lives of many who couldn’t leave behind their past.

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Sushrut Gopesh
Sushrut Gopesh
I came to Mumbai to bring characters to life. I like to dwell in the cinematic world and ponder over philosophical thoughts. I believe in the kind of cinema that not necessarily makes you laugh or cry but moves something inside you.

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