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Movie Review: Alejandro G. Iñárritu's Babel (2006)


Babel is a torrent of a movie: slow and meditative one minute and heart-pounding the next. It is a multi-perspective movie, where characters’ stories converge in a space where time and location are irrelevant. We want to scream: stop and think! But we know they won’t do either.

I can’t help feeling this movie is misnamed. Babel is an allusion to the Biblical story in Genesis 11 where the people came together as one and decided to build a tower to Heaven. In order to confound this effort, God created different languages to confuse them and make cooperation impossible. But, in this movie, most of the characters can understand each other fine. That is, they can all speak some common language when talking to the other characters in their scene. A more accurate title might be Not Thinking or I Can’t Say. Most of the characters either make a series of poor decisions or they are afraid to say what they really need or want from people. If there are any barriers, they are cultural barriers of prejudice.

The characters are:
  • Moroccan brothers who are trying out their father’s gun for fun
  • A nanny from Mexico who wants to get to her son’s wedding
  • A promiscuous Japanese girl who is deaf and lives with a cold, unresponsive father
  • An American couple on holiday after the death of their newest baby
Doesn’t sound so interesting, does it? But, it ends up the American couple’s trip is in Morocco where the wife gets shot by an unidentified gunman, which is automatically called a terrorist attack. The nanny can’t go to the wedding because she is watching two children, and she illegally brings them to Mexico without their parents’ permission. The brothers get a little too excited about shooting the gun and start pointing at moving objects. The Japanese girl, crazed with a desire to be loved and touched puts herself in situation after situation where she will be rejected.

At the end of this movie, I was depressed. But it is still worth seeing. It gives us an ugly but brutal picture of discrimination that puts the characters into increasingly confined spaces, where they are forced to act exactly in the way outsiders assume they will.

The actors were well chosen, especially the Japanese girl. Her scenes are heartbreaking, and I wanted to cry every time she came onto screen.

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