Today I watched Babel, directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu in 2006. I think I saw it when it first came out, and I sort of liked it. It was a good movie that I didn't really understand. I liked the stories, but I didn't understand why it was masterful. Later, I watched his entire Death Trilogy, of which Babel is the last, and I sort of got it. I really love this movie. I was shocked when I saw that not everyone likes this movie - it always was really interesting to me, and I could relate to a lot of the characters. I love that it's not just good "morality" stories like Crash (ugggggh the bad one, not the Cronenberg). It's actually a great work of art, full of incredible directing and purpose. The actions of the characters are not as black and white as other morality stories, either, which is what makes this such a powerful movie.
I love Ebert's summary for this film, because he puts everything into chronological order. I'll just quote his, because True Blood is on (don't tell anyone but I like that show enough to buy the makeup line they just put out, oh god). "A Japanese businessman goes on a hunting trip in Morocco, and tips his guide with a rifle. The guide sells the rifle to a friend, who needs it to kill the jackals attacking his sheep. The friend’s son shoots toward a tourist bus at a great distance. An American tourist is wounded. The tourist’s Mexican nanny, in San Diego, is told to stay with their two children, but doesn’t want to miss her son’s wedding, and takes the children along with her to Mexico. Police enquiries about the Japanese businessman’s rifle lead to consequences for his disturbed daughter," (Great Movies III, 39-40).
There are quite a few movies I've seen that tell interlocking stories. This is, by far, the one of the most successful. It's not preachy, or overly coincidental. It makes sense. I love that the stories are their own...things, too. They all could stand alone, I guess is what I mean to say. They don't just exist to beef up the main plot - they all work really well on their own. It just so happens that they are related. It really shows how talented the director became with this medium. He is a total master of the interlocking story. I love the other two films in the trilogy, but Ebert is right - it is in Babel that you can see how perfect he has become at this style.
One of my favorite things about this movie is how all the choices that the characters make fall into such a gray area. In dumber movies like Crash, it's clear that the characters are making A Bad Choice. In Babel, it's not quite like that. When I watch Brad Pitt's character become an asshole American after his wife is shot, I certainly judge him for that and think about what a jerk he's being. I also, though, wonder what I would do in that situation. If it was my partner, would I act that differently? Certainly it seems easy to say that the two boys with the rifle made A Bad Choice, and they did. But what do we expect them to know about how far guns really shot, or their velocity? Was their fate a fair repercussion for their actions, considering the genesis of why they were doing it? The whole movie is full of things like this, and it is so strong and wonderful for it.
Ebert writes something really profound in his essay, saying. "Technically, “Babel” may seem to be an example of the Idiot Plot, in which at many points one word or sentence could clear everything up. But these characters are not idiots, and desperately want to utter that word or sentence, but are prevented because of (a) the language barrier, (b) their cultural assumptions, (c) the inability of others to comprehend what they are actually saying, and (d) how in that case everyone falls into an established script made of prejudice and misunderstanding," (Great Movies III, 42). This reminds of what the film is surely named for - the Tower of Babel. It's a Biblical story, that takes place in a time where all people spoke one language. They started to work together to build a very high tower, one that they hoped would reach Heaven. When God noticed what everyone was up to, he came down and scattered everyone, and "confounded language" so that no one could communicate anymore. This is the main issue of the film.
I want to keep writing about how I relate to so many of the stories - I found myself connected to all of them. I always found myself really understanding what Chieko went through during the film. I remember so much frustration and confusion about myself in high school (sorry, TMI probably), and I always can relate to her experiences. Maybe it's not essential to the plot, but it is fascinating to watch, and for me, just deepens the whole movie. Plus, the whole gray area aspect of many of the choices made is really interesting to me. I like to think about that sort of thing. I consider myself to be very anti-violence, but from my various life experiences, I've often re-evaluated this. I always like to think that ideally, when given the choice between harming someone else or being harmed myself, I would be harmed myself. After some things that I've been through, I sometimes find my answers very different. Sometimes we don't realize how complicated these things can actually be. I love that Babel is basically a whole movie of those questions, and I just feel so engaged in it.
I think it's time for some late birthday champagne and True Blood before I pass out. I hope that if you haven't seen Babel, you check it out. I'm so shocked that it's not more popular, because I always feel like it should be. Maybe it's not because it's more complicated than some other morality based movies. I don't really know. I just love this movie, and I hope that you do, too. :)
Have any thoughts on Babel? Share them in the comments!
Ebert's Great Movie Essay on Babel
Buy or rent it on Amazon