‘Babylon’ Ending, Explained: What Happens to Jack Conrad, Nellie LaRoy, Manny Torres, & Sidney Palmer?


In “Babylon,” Damien Chazelle sets out to tell a tale about Hollywood and the many changes that came over a few years in the 1920s and 30s, in a grand production style. The three-hour-long film presents a set of five characters who live through the transition from the silent to the sound era and the individual struggles and strife they face inside the industry. The film is a nostalgic recollection of the times and a criticism of the industry. Although fairly enjoyable to watch for its production scale, “Babylon” is not the most effective or profound film either.

Spoilers Ahead

‘Babylon’ Plot Summary: What Is The Film About?

The film begins in 1926, in Bel Air, as a grand party is being prepared at the sprawling mansion of a Kinoscope Studio executive. Manny Torres, a young man belonging to a Mexican immigrant family, helps around in this preparation, even partaking in the most difficult task—transporting an elephant to the mansion for a surprise act at the gathering. As evening draws on and guests arrive, this lavish party is seen in its true form—a decadent celebration of life with unlimited drugs and sex. Amidst all this, Manny spots a young woman trying to enter the place without an invitation and helps her out. This woman, Nellie LaRoy, introduces herself as a star even though she admits to having worked in no films yet. As Manny understands, Nellie wants to become a star in the cinema, and he finds an immediate connection with her. He, too, tolerates all these meager labor works and racist comments at the houses of studio executives only to try and get some chance in films.

As the two are by themselves inside the specified drug room in the mansion, Manny tells Nellie about his passion for being involved with something as big, important, and everlasting as cinema. At this party is also invited a renowned star of the time, Jack Conrad, whose very arrival is marked with his current wife asking for a divorce. Jack is no stranger to such a demand, as he is even known in the industry for his many impulsive and short marriages. A cabaret singer of Chinese-American descent, named Lady Fay Zhu, also performs at this extravaganza. Lastly, a Black jazz artist named Sidney Palmer is also present playing with his band, who soon becomes associated with the glamorous world of Hollywood. Over the next couple of hours, we are taken through the journeys of all these characters as they work in film during one of the most important phases of cinema—the transition from silent to sound pictures.

How Does Jack Conrad Deal With His Waning Popularity?

Jack Conrad, played by Brad Pitt, is the most celebrated star in the film, both as a character and as the actor himself. Despite being very good-natured and helpful towards everyone around, the biggest tragedy in Jack’s life is that none of his marriages last. However, it is not a serious tragedy either, for Jack always manages to win the love and attention of women due to his fame. The server at the opening scene party sums up Jack’s charm among many women—she literally pushes herself into his attention. Another struggle that the actor has is alcoholism, although it does not really get in the way of his professional life. Despite being heavily drunk on the sets of his films, Jack somehow magically performs brilliantly when the camera starts rolling. He is often interviewed and asked for his views about the film industry, especially by noted gossip columnist Elinor St. John, and overall, Jack enjoys his position in his profession. He is proud of the fact that he single-handedly changed the perception of people about actors, although, most probably, this is not completely true.

All goes well for Jack until the technology of sound arrives in the medium, and as an established and famed star, he has to fit in with its new demands. As we have seen in many other films portraying this time in the film medium earlier, the transition did not usually go down well with the actors, and Jack, too, faces a similar situation. While he struggles to fit into this changing form, his growing age and the demand for new figures also start to have an effect on the success of his films. After his first feature film is a flop and is ridiculed by audiences, his demand to be cast in new projects immediately drops. Jack experiences this firsthand, too, albeit secretly, when he sneaks into a showing of his film. His scenes of the final kiss, which were extremely praised during the silent era, were now laughed at by audiences after the introduction of sound. Soon, Elinor also writes an article about the waning popularity of the star, mentioning that his time is now over, and Jack confronts her over this. Although he had denied this thought in his mind, it was Elinor’s words that made him realize how true his situation was. Jack Conrad was indeed a star of the past, and, according to Elinor’s words, he would now stay immortal only through his existing works. After this, the man does work a few small roles in films here and there, but it is clear that he does not enjoy such work.

Added to the professional struggle was a very personal loss that happened a few years ago. Jack’s close friend and producer, George Munn, had committed suicide after being ditched by a girlfriend. This thought lingers in Jack’s mind. The fact about his short-lived marriages is initially intentionally presented with a comic tone in the film because, inside the actor’s mind, it is a rather serious worry that keeps getting worse over the years. His friend George was always expressive about the sorrow of losing a companion and partner, while Jack never was, probably because he would get his next partner quite easily. But with age and his waning popularity, the man was troubled by a similar possibility—that his current wife would most definitely leave him someday, and nobody else would fill in that position anymore. Driven by both of these reasons, Jack Conrad ultimately commits suicide in the most personal manner. He leaves a large tip with an attendant at a hotel and then unceremoniously ends his life by shooting himself inside the bathroom.

What Finally Happens To Nellie Laroy In The End?

Nellie LaRoy’s story is one of gaining fame and recognition and then losing it and herself by the end. When Nellie first goes to the studio executive’s party at the beginning of the film, she is just another aspiring actress looking for a chance to prove herself. It is only immense self-belief and confidence that she has with her and perhaps fortune, too, as she suddenly lands a role on that very night. As the young actress overdoses at the party, the producers need to look for a replacement immediately, and Nellie’s passionate dancing grabs their attention, along with everyone else’s at the place. When she is called for work the next morning, Nellie surprises all with her versatile expressions and attitude. It is almost like Nellie was indeed born to entertain. Soon she becomes a popular star in silent cinema and is considered the next It girl. Her family, which had always doubted her dreams, were now back on good terms with her, especially her father, Robert, who turned into Nellie’s business manager. Once again, with Nellie, too, the first few films go brilliantly, but things shake up with the advent of sound cinema. She struggles to match up with the new demands, and what was once considered her sex appeal on screen is now being looked at as cheap obscenity.

There is also a hint towards changing mentalities and moral perspectives in “Babylon” with regards to Nellie’s fame, especially around her romantic relationship with Lady Fay Zhu. With these new criticisms, and the popularity that she was still getting, Nellie goes down the spiraling path of drugs and gambling. She focuses on living her life to the fullest for as long as she can but keeps losing control of it. The deepest relationship she makes in the film is with Manny, who falls in love with her on that very first night. Over the years, Manny does keep trying to help Nellie, but none of it ultimately works out. By 1932, the woman had been pushed aside by the industry, and all hopes of reviving her public image were lost. Any normalcy in her life is also tossed out the window as she gets cornered by a dangerous gangster group over her huge gambling debts. Manny helps her out with this too, and finally, he expresses his love for her. Nellie also agrees with his proposal of getting married and settling down in Mexico with a family of their own, but the ultimate outcome is very different.

Nellie did have a difficult time settling in with the industry and the people that surrounded her during this time. For her, the parties of high culture were as pretend-play as her acting performances in the films. Such a situation is also very explicitly seen when Manny tries to revive her career, and there is an attempt to give her a public image facelift. Taught to not drink, express very little, and speak French only to sound cultural, Nellie can’t take the fakeness of the whole affair for long. She shouts out and returns to her usual form. Although the film does not seem to focus much on it, there is a sense that Nellie struggles to fit in at any place or in any crowd. It is also perhaps this same thought, this belief that had grown in her over the years, that makes her leave Manny. There is also the fact that Nellie actually never changes her ways, even after being wanted by criminals for gambling debts. She keeps indulging in heavy drugs and only wants to enjoy life. It is almost like the woman herself realizes the impossibility of her settling down, and so when Manny goes to fetch things before they are about to drive away to Mexico, Nellie leaves the car and the scene. She walks into the darkness at the other end of the street and is lost in this void forever. It is revealed sometime later through a newspaper clipping that Nellie had been found dead in her apartment, having died from a drug overdose.

How Does Manny Make His Way Into Hollywood?

Manny Torres rides the transition to sound cinema as a wave of opportunity instead of being drowned by it. The young man’s life took a slight turn on the very night of the opening party scene, as he was given the task of driving a drunk Jack Conrad home. While Manny could never get a chance to serve the studio executives, it was clear that as an immigrant, his role was only that of a private servant; meeting Jack was a very different experience. Jack helps him with his interest in cinema, and Manny gets the chance to work as an assistant on set. It is true that the man works incredibly hard to secure every chance, too, and the same happens when he realizes the potential of music in emerging sound films. It is at this time that he uses his ideas and gets the chance to direct films. Despite his success in the professional field, Manny seems stuck with one idea that is more important than his work—his love for Nellie. Thus, whenever he gets the chance to help his beloved out, Manny tries his best. Even when all attempts to officially relaunch Nellie fail, Manny sticks with her and decides to help her out. He takes help from another struggling actor known as the Count to get hold of the money that Nellie owes to the gangsters. Manny and the Count take it to this gangster, James McKay, but as it turns out, the money is a fake movie prop, and the two somehow save their lives in the situation. In the end, when a man sent by the gangsters kills the count and his roommate, Manny begs for forgiveness and is determined to leave not just Los Angeles but the country itself. Not finding Nellie around does shock and sadden him, but the man goes away to Mexico to ensure his safety.

There seems to be a feeling that Manny has turned into the very studio worker that he once was exploited by. While there is no expression on his side against any of these exploiters, it might be that Manny was ready to do whatever it took to get into the movie business. At one point, he mentions that he does not keep any contact with his family, probably because they do not want him to waste his time trying to be in Hollywood. But Manny had chosen films, driven out of an almost illogical passion, and he did eventually succeed. Therefore, it is perhaps not too strange that he becomes the direct and indirect reason behind Fay Zhu and Sidney Palmer moving away from the film industry. Just like on his very first day on set, when Manny drove away the revolting extra actors by threatening them with a gun, he drove away whoever his executives tell him to exclude.

What Happens To Sidney Palmer And Lady Fay Zhu?

Both representatives of minority communities, which were not given any serious consideration during the times, Sidney and Fay had to deal with impartiality in their own ways. Sidney Palmer’s existence was never noticed by the white studio and workers, and he would just keep playing music in the corner of the room at parties. It is only when Manny casts him in a film that Sidney’s exceptional musical talents are acknowledged by people. Along with this recognition came fortune and wealth, but he also felt his self-respect slipping away. The final nail in the coffin arrived when Sidney was asked by Manny to darken his skin with makeup to ensure that racist audiences in the Southern states would also watch the film as a sort of freak show attraction. Although Sidney did abide by this order during the shoot, this became his last work in Hollywood, and since then, he has moved away from films.

On the other side, Lady Fay Zhu’s humiliation was not because of her race but because of her sexual orientation. It was well known that she was homosexual, and this was kept a part of her acts too. At one point in time, when she and Nellie meet at a party and have a dance, there is an instant spark between the two. This turns into a romance that very night when Fay sucks out the venom from Nellie’s snake-bite wound, thus saving her. It is hinted that the two had an affair following this, and gossip columns were also written about it. But then times changed, and Nellie’s image as a bad girl was also being turned into a graceful and cultural figure. For this, the studio executives wanted Fay to be as far away from Nellie as possible, and they ensured this through Manny. Fay had been working as a title writer for the studio too, and she was now relieved of this job. The idea of same-sex relationships, especially among women, was considered extremely indecent at this new time, and Hollywood needed to protect its own image too. Finally, in the end, Fay tells Jack that she has received calls from Pathé in France, and she is moving away to Europe.

‘Babylon’ Ending Explained: What Does Manny Experience In The End?

Even though he had forced himself away from the studio, Manny seemingly did not end his love of cinema. Many years later, in 1952, he returned to Los Angeles along with his wife and daughter. Wanting to show them the place he used to work at, Manny takes them to the studio entrance gates and then goes to watch a film by himself. Seating himself in the gallery, the man watches “Singing in the Rain” play on the screen. The iconic film, which is exactly about the transition of Hollywood from the silent to the sound era, portrays the exact struggles that Manny, Jack, and Nellie individually faced during their times. Don Lockwood’s repetitive expression of love is exactly like the scene with Jack which the audience laughs at. The high-toned voice of Lina Lamont was how Nellie’s voice had sounded on the tapes. All these recollections led Manny to experience a breakdown, and tears rolled down his face. As he keeps looking at the screen, we are shown the party scene from the beginning, in which Manny had excitedly explained why he wanted to be a part of the movies, and then short snippets from various films, old and new, are shown. Beneath everything else in “Babylon” is, of course, Chazelle’s own love for cinema and its rich history. It is a grand reminder of the many remarkable points of the art form, from ‘Un chien Andalou’ to “Avatar.” Whether this montage of shots was necessary or was tacky seems to be the raging debate about this film, and personally, I think it is perhaps not as impactful or moving as it was intended to be. “Babylon” finally ends with the shot of Manny back inside the cinema theater as “Singing in the Rain” comes to an end. With tears still rolling down his eyes, Manny smiles with wonder at the moving history of world cinema.

See More: ‘Babylon’ Themes, Explained: Damien Chazelle Unpacks Old Hollywood But Is His Anger Misplaced?

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Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya keeps an avid interest in all sorts of films, history, sports, videogames and everything related to New Media. Holding a Master of Arts degree in Film Studies, he is currently working as a teacher of Film Studies at a private school and also remotely as a Research Assistant and Translator on a postdoctoral project at UdK Berlin.

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