Babel

16 01 2008

BabelThe human condition spans continents, uniting us despite the gulfs created by distance, language and culture — this is the theme of Babel, the last film by director Alejandro González Iñárritu and writer Guillermo Arriaga. At least, that’s what I think the theme is, yet despite a nearly two-and-a-half hour running time, I’m still not quite sure.

The film follows four (sometimes tenuously) connected stories. In the first, a Moroccan goat farmer gives his two young sons a rifle in order to defend the goats from jackals. The second sees a nanny and housekeeper take her two young (white) charges across the border from the U.S. to Mexico in order for her to attend her son’s wedding. The third story has Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett holidaying in Morocco when Blanchett’s character is suddenly shot through the window of a tourist bus. (See where this is going?) Finally, in Japan we’re given the story of a deaf teenager whose disability isolates her from her peers, resulting in a kind of confused, desperate form of sexual aggression.

There is no doubt that, technically, Babel is an excellent film. The performances are all stunning and González Iñárritu’s ability to place the audience within each environment means that the jigsaw puzzle presented is never confusing or disorienting. His respect for each culture shines through, and there’s a real sense of credibility to the overall flavour and atmosphere presented.

The stories themselves as individual pieces, meanwhile, are all quite gripping and somewhat suspenseful. Individual scenes, when taken in isolation, are fine vignettes that are colourful, dramatic or simply tragic, and at first it’s hard not to be swept away. Yet where Babel fails — and this is crucial — is that the whole seems less than the sum of its parts.

Babel still

There’s a kind of pretentious attitude that runs throughout the film, as if there is some grand statement being made. But what is the real message here? That life is random and tragic? That suffering unites us? These sentiments are more trite than profound, and as each character is shuffled into position for another devastating blow to occur, the end result is one of rather transparent emotional manipulation.

Nonetheless, Babel is well made and well acted. It works best if you don’t actually stop to think about the point being made, instead allowing yourself to be enveloped by its textures. If nothing else, it sustains its lengthy running time.

(star)(star)(star)(no star)(no star)

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One response

7 03 2008
MikeFitz

I saw Babel just two weeks ago and I thought it was brilliant, very moving. I did get the theme that we are all interconnected and our planet is becoming smaller. I felt this personally because I’m fortunate to have travelled to each of the locations in the movie. (Except Tokyo, but #2 Son was there last April.)

The other theme I saw was how paranoia engendered by the US war on terror is hurting individual people. The hardworking and honest housekeeper is deported because of a blanket fear of aliens. There were endless delays in deploying a rescue helicopter to the Atlas mountains in Morocco because of fears of terrorists operating in the area, when all along it was just one kid with a rifle.

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