This story is connected across four countries and represents the vitality of communication. It’s not told within its correct time line, but within one that builds each storyline’s drama together.
In Morocco, a rural family buys a rifle so they can kill jackals that try to eat their goats. The two brothers, around the ages of fourteen and twelve, try to see how far they can shoot and hit an American woman on a tour bus.
The American couple (Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett) is trying to get away for a while after their baby dies. Morocco doesn’t seem to be the best destination for a woman who doesn’t trust the ice, asks what foods don’t have fat and constantly reaches for the Purell. When she’s shot, the culture shock escalates when a hospital is four hours away and she’s stitched up on a dirt floor with no drugs.
Back home in San Diego, the couple’s children are being taken care of by their Mexican housekeeper (Adriana Barraza). When she can’t find anyone to take care of the children, she decides to take them to Mexico with her to her son’s wedding. As we all know, it’s much easier to get into Mexico than it is to get out.
In Japan are a father and his deaf-mute teenage daughter (Rinko Kikuchi). Their connection isn’t revealed until the end. We see the daughter’s struggle for acceptance in a fast paced, colorful, sex driven culture built for the young.
At least five different languages (including sign language) are spoken throughout the film. They create the barriers and isolation. Translation is constantly needed, whether it’s a bilingual person or a pad of paper. Some have found new ways to communicate despite the different languages. The deaf girls use video phones to sign to each other. The two children seem to understand most of the Spanish their housekeeper speaks to them. Perhaps the next generation will have fewer barriers between them.
Like I said before, the whole film is about the importance of communication. It’s needed to get the children back into America, to get the wounded wife into a hospital, to understand who shot her and where the rifle came from. More important than the logistics that put this puzzle together are the less tangible things that can be understood in any language. The expressions of fear, desire, pain, desperation and the need for acceptance are the universal languages that help each culture bind together and find solid ground within all the babble.
This is the artsy film for 2006. We’re given images with the sounds of a guitar being plucked or some sort of ear buzzing noise. Each culture is portrayed differently; Morocco is shown through dirt, rocks and mountains. Mexico is a colorful, cheap party. And Japan is full of bright lights and skyscrapers. Besides a few minutes within their suburban home, America is shown through the children and their parents.
I’ll warn you, if you’re put off by subtitles, this will be a long film for you. If you expect action through red-blooded explosions and fist fights, this may be too much drama. This was my second viewing of Babel, my first being nearly three years ago, and everything became much clearer the second time, though it isn’t necessary. It’s hard to pinpoint this film to any certain people, but I enjoyed it and believe it’s worth the time.
“They look at us like we’re monsters.”