Review: Babel

It’s been a while since I saw this – something like the day before Valentine’s Day, which would make it over a month! And well, this weekend might add another film to this list, so today is the day I must do something about it.

So, Babel – what does the title of this film suggest to you? Whilst it can allegedly also mean the ‘gate of god’, probably the most famous intertextual reference comes from the Bible: the Tower of Babel, intended by man to be a tower reaching the Heaven, resulted in mankind being scattered all over the world, speaking different languages and unable to communicate with each other. And in many ways, that’s how one can sum up Babel, wherein the accidental shooting of an American tourist in Morocco ties together four different perspectives. The common idea between them? A breakdown in communication and/or understanding.

What impressed me most about Babel was how our attention was drawn to situations that the majority of us would never think of – what the life of a poor herder in Africa is like, what the world of a deaf person can entail…The consequences of deafness aren’t just that one cannot hear – communication with others is also difficult to establish, as the majority of society is not required to learn sign language. And a life where carnivores preying on livestock comprise the biggest challenges I have to face, besides loneliness… I cannot imagine having to live in those worlds.

This was juxtaposed against two aspects of American life – as a representative of life in Western countries I suppose. One is the life that faces illegal immigrants in the USA, where a stupid decision can wrest away the life one has built because it exposes one to the attention of the authorities. But on the flip side, if Americans like Richard and Susan didn’t engage Mexicans like Amelia to look after their children, who would they hire? Society allows and even aids breaking of immigration laws because it provides them with some form of benefit…but a small mistake can destroy that American Dream. The other aspect the caught my interest is about the paranoia that infiltrates so much of America’s consciousness. Susan is adamant that anything and everything in Morocco threatens her health and that of her husband – she’d choose possible death over a needle sterilised by flame alone. Paradoxically, given the conditions under which most people in developed nations now live, this could well be true, although it wouldn’t be for the people living in Morocco. And it’s not just at the personal level…the reason it took the embassy so many hours to even organise a medical helicopter to the region was because they feared that the incident was a terrorist attack. A single bullet used to hold people prisoner, huh?

I’ve seen Alejandro González Iñárritu’s work before – 21 Grams, anyone? and whilst Babel wasn’t quite as confusing as the other, piecing together the sequence of scenes was another thing to preoccupy the mind of the viewer. It does increase the tension, but sometimes I wonder if today’s filmmakers are overusing this technique. It also left me wondering what the Japanese girl and her father had to do with everything for most of the film, although this was revealed a bit later. It’s almost as if the film is saying…”despite globalisation supposedly tying such disparate lives together, people are losing the ability to communicate with each other”. Despite how contrived it seems, linking those strands so tenuously, Babel is a pretty thought-provoking film. 7.5/10

EL brought up an interesting point about Chieko as a representative of young Asian women, namely that her actions (and those of her friend to a certain extent) suggest an how ‘easy’ Asian women are, maybe because they are insecure about themselves as being loveable. Although Chieko’s isolation and her mother’s death undoubtedly play a part in her increasingly desperate acts, I wonder if there isn’t a large grain of truth in that.

About karice
MAG fan, freelance translator and political scientist-in-training. I also love musicals, travel and figure skating!

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