An American woman is accidentally shot while vacationing in Morocco with her husband. The culprits are two young boys who are playing with a new gun their father recently bought, but authorities believe it to be terrorists. Meanwhile, a Latino woman who is left to care for the American couple’s children takes them to Mexico so she can attend her son’s wedding. In Japan, the deaf daughter of the original owner of the gun used in the shooting tries to deal with her life after her mother’s mysterious death.
Babel is a fractured narrative that tells the story of four groups of people that are all connected through a tragic event. It is most similar to the styles of 2006 Oscar winner Crash and 2001 Oscar Nominee Traffic. It is also very similar to every movie that director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu has made. In 2000 he released his debut feature Amores Perros to critical acclaim as an auto accident brought together the stories of three different groups of people in a local community. In his follow up, 21 Grams, he used the same format on a national level, and now with Babel, he takes his narrative structure to a global level.
Once again, groups of unrelated people are connected through a tragic incident, as a gunshot wounds an American woman visiting Morocco with her husband. The incident is immediately blamed on terrorist actions.
The Americans are Richard (Brad Pitt) and Susan (Cate Blanchett), whose relationship is strained due to the death of one of their children. The two are in Morocco to, in Richard’s words, be alone. It is quite easy to tell that Susan does not want to be there and casts a distrusting eye on all the people around her. The attitude Blanchett gives to her performance hints at built-in racism based on fear and it becomes very hard to care about her character. When she is shot by an unseen assailant while riding on a bus, you really do not feel much sympathy for her. Brad Pitt is spectacular in his portrayal of the husband in that not once do you feel you are watching “Brad Pitt – Superstar.” He disappears into a role that might be his best since Fight Club.
The assailants are not terrorists, however. They are two young boys who are out playing with the rifle their father recently bought. It is this story that is the powerful backbone of the movie. Yussef and Ahmed are played by inexperienced actors who are expected to carry the picture. Boubker Ait El Caid, who plays the younger Yussef, is a wonder as he just falls into the role of the youngster who actually pulls the trigger and sets the tragedy into motion. The smarter and more innocent of the two boys, Yussef plays out the Greek tragedy as the one who pays the darkest price as he comes to realize that his innocent playfulness would be the catalyst that destroyed the lives of his family.
The story in Morocco is the part of the movie that works best. We see the senseless death and violence that is brought among the innocents due to the U.S. War on Terrorism. People are beaten and tortured, guilty until proven innocent, and you really start to care and feel for the people who are simply thrust into the firing lines in both countries’ attempts to bring world peace at any means necessary.
A third story revolves around a Latino woman, Amelia (Adriana Barraza), who is left to care for Richard and Susan’s children while they are vacationing. Her son is to be married in Mexico and she is told by her employers that she cannot leave the children with someone else to see her son married. It is this character that the most sympathy is with and it is her downfall that we care most about. She decides to take the children to Mexico with her, so she can be by her son’s side as he is married. It is on the trip back to the United States that everything goes wrong and it is the downfall of her character that seems the most unfair.
The fourth story is the one I have the most problems with. The most inorganic of the connections centers around Chieko (Rinko Kikuchi), the daughter of a Japanese man who originally brought the rifle that was used in the shooting to Morocco, to begin with. Chieko is a deaf girl who is reaching out in any way she can for satisfaction following her mother’s mysterious death. She is a very sexual girl and seems to believe that sex is the means she needs to follow to get what she so desperately wants. This storyline has nothing to do with the overall movement of the plot, yet does maintain a small similarity to the stories’ overall theme.
Babel was named after a community where everyone spoke the same language. The people built the large community into a type of utopia until, as legend says, God looked down on them, saw they were trying to be gods themselves and punished them by making them all speak different languages. The theme of Babel is the difficulty people have in different societies. It is not only through the language barrier, but through social and economic differences as well. Whether it is Richard and Susan’s difficulty dealing with the strange culture they were thrust into, the troubles of the family who is attacked due to the fears of terrorism, the Latino woman who finds that she cannot get back to the country she called home for sixteen years, or the deaf girl who cannot even enjoy some of the more simple things due to her handicap, people cannot seem to cope with the differences between themselves.
The movie has been called heavy-handed in much the same vein as Crash the year before, but Inarritu is attempting to tell a story that shows the realistic consequences of the split in the cultures. When left with the choice of whether or not he should go against the Hitchcock theory that you should never kill a child on screen, he chose to break the taboo because it is something you hear about but never see. The movie is a brave one that seems to only fail in the fact that it is trying to be an overachiever. If the Japanese section were removed it might be a better movie than it already is. It is already better than many people give it credit for.
This is a Collector’s Edition but the only difference is a second disc added to the case. The first disc remains the same as the original release with a beautiful 16:9 widescreen presentation. The picture is crisp and beautiful and every scene that talented cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto shot comes across as beautiful as any scene you might see this year. The sound is also pristine, with a Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 Surround in English and a 5.1 Surround in French. It also includes English and Spanish Subtitles and a trailer.
The reason to buy this is the second disc which includes the feature-length documentary Common Ground: Under Construction Notes. The documentary clocks in at almost an hour and a half and is full of great stuff. However, it is not a documentary that you can just throw on and listen to while doing something else. Since the movie is a multi-national affair, it jumps between English, Spanish, Arabic, and Japanese. Inarritu does a great job of explaining the choices he made throughout the movie but the fascinating parts are watching the filming in the different locations. In Japan, they were threatened with arrest if they continued to hold up traffic. In Morocco, we see the effects the filming had on locals and the recognition in their faces at the horrors that the movie portrayed. The easiest part of the shoot was in Mexico, naturally, where Inarritu felt most comfortable. The disc is a great watch for any fan of behind the scenes information and raises the score of this package.