a review by Tom Condon, OP
I missed this acclaimed film during its initial run last fall. However,
in the wake of its Golden Globe Award for Best Picture-Drama, and
several Oscar nominations, it has returned to theaters and I had
a chance to see it. It’s hardly a perfect film, but
is certainly well worth seeing.
three stories across nations and continents. Events are set
in motion in Morocco when a man buys a rifle to keep jackals away
from his heard of goats. While away, the man’s two sons
shoot at a tour bus on a road in the distance, never imagining they
would hit the bus, much less do any damage. Unfortunately,
the bullet hits and severely wounds Susan, an American tourist (Cate
Blanchett) while her horrified husband Richard (Brad Pitt) sits next
to her. Richard then has the daunting task of seeking medical
attention for her in the Moroccan desert.
Meanwhile, Richard contacts Amelia, a Mexican nanny for his two
young children back in San Diego. Richard asks Amelia to stay
with the children an extra day during the crisis. Amelia tries
in vain to get someone to keep the children so that she may attend
her son’s wedding across the border in Mexico. As Amelia’s
nephew comes to pick her up, she has no other option but to take
the children to the wedding with her, promising she will bring them
back home that evening. As you might guess, Amelia’s
plans to return the children back home are prevented by a border
guard at the crossing.
third major story line involves Chieko, a deaf-mute teenage girl
in Japan. Chieko lives with her father after her mother has
committed suicide. Hindered in her ability to communicate her
need to grieve and her need for attention, Chieko begins to act out
sexually. The connection between the Japanese story and the
others becomes evident late in the film.
Acclaimed Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarrito has
created a unique film with a truly global scope. As we sit
in the comfort of our homes watching news from Iraq and other far-away
nations, what we see seems very distant and removed from our daily
lives. In Gonzalez Inarrito’s vision, nothing is isolated,
everything is connected. The random rifle shots of boys in
Morocco have direct links to families in three different continents.
Even though humans may share connections across the boundaries of
nations and cultures, our inability to communicate keeps us separated. Chieko’s
deafness prevents her from communicating her needs to her father
and friends. Suspicious border guards will not listen to Amelia. Richard
is hampered in his ability to get medical attention for Susan due
to his lack of knowledge of Moroccan language and culture. Despite
the fact that we can get news instantly from all over the world, Babelsuggests
that we still are not far from that Biblical image. With all
our modern technology, we still do not understand one another. It’s
true within families as much as it is across cultures.
Gonzalez Inarrito does a great job capturing each particular culture: from
the fast-paced life of Tokyo to the slow meandering life of the Moroccan
desert. The cross cutting between stories is also very effective. Babel’s greatest
weakness is in the connection between the stories, particularly the
Japanese story line. For much of the film, the audience is
frustrated because we don’t know how the Japanese story relates
to the rest of the film. Even when we finally discover the
connection, it’s a weak link at best.
I should also note that the Japanese story has some disturbing elements
in it, as Chieko experiments with her sexuality in order to attract
attention from others. Yet, I felt for her, especially as the
film progresses, as Chieko tries desperately to reach out in the
only way she can imagine. Japanese actress Rinko Kikuchu deserves
the accolades she has received, including an Oscar nomination, for
her performance as Chieko. Also Oscar nominated is Adriana
Barraza for her fine performance as Amelia.
Despite its flaws, I found Babel to be an engrossing and
moving experience. I applaud Gonzalez Inurrito for his global
vision, marred by an inability to communicate. As members of
a world wide order of preachers, Babel encourages us to
continue to work hard to break down barriers so that we may learn
to communicate truth to our sisters and brothers across the globe.
Tom Condon, OP