Babel (2006) / Drama-Thriller
MPAA Rated: R for violence, some graphic nudity, sexual content, language, and some drug use
Running Time: 142 min.
Cast: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Rinko Kikuchi, Adriana Barraza, Mohamed Akhzam, Boubker Ait El Caid, Said Tarchani, Mustapha Rachidi, Gael Garcia Bernal, Koji Yakusho, Elle Fanning, Nathan Gamble, Clifton Collins Jr., Michael Pena
Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Screenplay: Guillermo Arriaga
Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Amores Perros, 21 Grams) and screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga (The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada) finish up their thematic trilogy with another multi-pronged tale told in non-linear fashion, with multiple storylines revolving around one central incident. The incident in question in Babel takes place out in the Moroccan desert, where two young boys are given a rifle to protect their herd of goats from jackals, testing the limits of their newly-acquired weapon by shooting at faraway vehicles.
They soon find out the range of their shotgun when one of the rounds lands in a bus full of traveling tourists, hitting Susan (Blanchett, The Aviator), an American woman on vacation with her husband, Richard (Pitt, Mr. and Mrs. Smith). With no hospital for miles, there's little choice but to head to the nearest village and hope for the best with the local caregiver, which, in this case, isn't adequate for Susan's needs. It's a waiting game for help now, and as Susan awaits the much-needed help from her embassy, the investigation is on for who the culprits of the shooting, as the incident makes national news due to the potential occurrence that it was a terrorist attack.
The repercussions are felt in other parts in the world, as the Susan and Richard's children are taken into Mexico by their nanny, Amelia (Barraza, The First Night), which ends up being a harrowing experience, no thanks to Amelia's impulsive nephew, Santiago (Bernal, Bad Education). We also follow a Japanese teenager named Chieko (Kikuchi, Hole in the Sky), a deaf-mute desperately seeking attention after the suicide of her mother, willing to do anything, including give her virginity to the first person who wants it.
It's not readily apparent how these separate storylines are connected, although they do eventually come together. Though their relevance to a central theme might only seem tangential on the surface, what each story centers upon is how the loss of life affects the remainder of the living, both directly and indirectly. It also is an exploration on the differences between the various societies, not only in terms of language (the title is an obvious Biblical allusion to multilingual confusion), but also in their perceptions of the same incident. Fears and prejudices abound, in everything from the nature of the shooting to the quality of the ice in one's drinks. At the same time, it is also about how incidents have a ripple effect across the globe, many times imperceptible to the person affected. This is a global community -- despite the distance, despite the language barriers, and despite the physical borders -- we are all connected.
Regardless of location, Inarritu paints a bleak portrait of society, where remote villages can be infiltrated by foreigners, and at the same time, in the middle of a bustling city, someone can feel very isolated and alone. When bonds between people who are close to one another -- husband and wife, father and daughter, brother and brother -- break down, what hope is there for the rest of us to understand one another, who live on different continents and speaking different languages, filtered through a media culture that frequently get the facts wrong, or jumps to unfounded conclusions based on pre-existing stereotypes?
Even if the film is about all these things, or none of them, I find it difficult to say with absolute certainty. Sometimes Babel feels like two or three different films that are joined merely out of convenience rather than necessity, exploring things that may or may not have any emotional or thematic resonance to anything else. If the film is about how one bullet changed the lives of several people forever, and the ripple effect that this causes throughout the world, it's difficult to work in the story of Chieko and her quest for a sexual connection with someone in her world. Also, what's to make of the fact that one of the two boys likes to spy on his sister when she bathes? While there may be theories, it's not always apparent as to what Babel is really all about, speaking from a nutshell perspective.
Yet, for all of its confusing qualities, Babel still commands attention and respect, even if it only hits home with a certain segment of the viewing public. Like the world we live in, it's complex, messy, and difficult to decipher, with significance that varies depending on the perspective of the life experience of the viewer. Separate stories that come together to form one story, and this story could easily merge with others to form a larger story -- the story of all of us, no matter where we are from, what language we speak, or what nation we live in.
We might all be connected, but we are far from together.
©2007 Vince Leo