Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Starring: Brad Pitt, Catae Blanchett
Runtime: 142 min
Babel is a powerful, mesmerising and unsettling film. It’s named after the biblical Tower of Babel, the story of God punishing the Tower’s arguing builders by giving them different languages, making it impossible to understanding one another. 21 Grams director Alejandro González Iñárritu brings beautiful lyricism to this multifaceted narrative about the imperfection of human communication and the consequences of one gun.
The film interweaves several storylines, each of which could have been individual films. American tourists Richard and Susan (Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett) can’t communicate with local Moroccan villagers, Mexican nanny Amelia (Adriana Barraza) is misunderstood by American police and young Japanese girl Yasujiro (Kôji Yakusho) is unable to tell a boy she likes him because she is deaf and mute.
Babel opens with a Moroccan merchant buying a rifle to protect his goats. In California, a Mexican nanny is taking care of two white children and desperately trying to find a substitute babysitter so that she can go to her son’s wedding across the border. In Morocco, the children’s parents are attempting to revive their failing marriage.
The innocence of the shepherd’s two sons, who show off by shooting at a lone tour bus on the road below, unleashes a tragic chain of events as a stray bullet hits Susan, asleep on the bus. With no medical supplies and fears of a terrorist attack, it detours to the nearest village. The way the American tourists react to the villagers as all being potential terrorists is frighteningly narrow-minded.
The most fascinating and psychologically painful episode in Babel concerns Yasujiro in Tokyo, the young daughter of the gun’s original owner. Her experience of trying to communicate with a hearing boy who she really likes is portrayed beautifully and Yakusho is a revelation.
Indeed, when she goes with her friends to a local club and the camera films from her perspective, the sudden cut from numbingly loud music to absolute silence is striking. Dancers around her adopt absurd meanings as they gyrate to some unknown beat. It is overwhelming as the viewer realises how she must feel and how utterly misunderstood she must be.
The difficulty she faces is an expansion of the paradox at the crux of Babel. Though humans around the world can be so connected, they are separated by the prejudices that come with speaking a different language and being of a different race, as the Mexican nanny experiences.
The acting in Babel is harrowingly captivating. Yet publicity surrounding the film was misleading, focusing on its Hollywood stars Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, when the film is so much more than them; theirs is the least interesting segment. Though confusing at times, Babel, like last year’s Best Picture winner Crash, is an important film for what it teaches us about the frailty of human misunderstanding. I left the cinema feeling completely dismantled.