Saturday, February 03, 2007

Babel (Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, 2006)


Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's "Babel" (2006) is excellently directed, I think; what I'm not sure of, even when the end credits have started rolling, is exactly what it's directed at.

Is Inarritu trying to make some kind of statement about communication--the more connected we are, the more isolated we've become? I thought Kurosawa Kiyoshi in "Kairo" (Pulse, 2001), for one, has delved into that issue on a far more metaphysically and metaphorically imaginative level. Was he trying to show us the impact the United States and its citizens have on other countries--how an incident involving two American tourists can create a firestorm of social and political turmoil on one hand, and how a vast American construct (its fenced and guarded southern border with Mexico) can dash the hopes and dreams of a humble illegal immigrant on the other? If so, what's the Japanese storyline for? A tenuous link is proposed, but it's a laughably farfetched one: you come away with the somber if headscratching moral: "guns do not good presents make."


Anonymous said...

hi Noel,

I think the movie is about "communication." Although it is loosely based from the Babel story in the Bible.

I haven't really read the that part of the bible but i was told that it was how God punished people for their pride by making them not being able to communicate from each other.

However, though the contriveness of making all the different stories come together is somewhat evident, I think the individual stories are powerful and the whole movie speaks of our individualistic preconception of each other and how we make prejudices.

I think the movie can be looked at it so many levels. The gun issue is one. Immigration is another. Race is glaring.

The Japanese story is how it all started when an "innocent" gift to a third world friend was misused....and all our preconceived notions of that country (Afgahnistan) made us point
finger to them, until we are shown that the Americans' (Pitt and Blanchet) bias has no basis because at the end of the day the same people that they thought would harm them are the same people that actually help them.

On the contrary, the Mexican woman who practically spent most of her life looking after the American kids is not protected by the American father (Pitt) when she needed it most. She was eventually deported.

I thought it is really really clever on how the director had the conversation of the mexican woman and Pitt's character where shown on two different ocassions. One at the beginning where you see the mexican woman talking to the children's father on the other line and the second time, towards the end of the movie where Pitt is talking to the mexican woman on the other end.

You can see that both scenes happened at exactly the same time but because they were edited and shown at different parts of the film, the effect is different and will send chills down your spine when the same guy (Pitt) who asked a huge favour (looking after his kids )to the mexican woman (at the expense of her own family affair) will never return the biggest favour to her when she will need it most.

I dare say that movie is almost anti american with American characters pushing their way around. Note that the same pride almost killed Blanchett's character because the american helicopter cannot get into Afgahnistan border.

In other words the walls and barries that we made are the ones that actually hinders us to actually know each other.

Personally i like the film. It's a great one. It makes you think way way after the credits.

rodel sm

Noel Vera said...

"Babel" instantly puts to mind the story of miscommunication, but when you really think about it, what does miscommunication have to do with Brad and Cate's story? They're not miscommunicating so much as hardly communicating. And any thoughts of marital communication problems fly out the bus window when she's shot--then their problem is one of transportation, not communication.

We hear that there's politics involved in having a US copter fly into Morocco (not Afghanistan, there are no American tourists in Afghanistan), but we don't see any of that, even if it would have more relevance to the 'theme.' I suspect because Inarritu knew it's easier and more dramatic to show the result (helicopter not coming, American woman dying) than it is to show the bureaucratic screwups involved.

And where does miscommunication come into the story of the two kids? That they misunderstand the cops' demands to stop? But anyone anywhere in the world knows that a cop is bad news, no matter how innocent you are, and these police officers have already proven that they're less than kind to suspects, much less guilty criminals.

As for themes, I mentioned before that what spoke out loudest to me in the three storylines is "USA, she outsized, her impact is all over the world." From where I'm sitting it drowned out "miscommunication" as an overall theme, and renders the fourth one pretty much incomperehensible, as in "what's this doing here?"

I'd mentioned I thought the character of the girl in Japanese segment was a fantasy conceit (neurotic girl strips for our viewing pleasure)--actually I thought the whole segment feels false. I can't believe a Japanese officer would have the gall to mention some intimate detail in a man's life, even if it is to offer condolence--the Japanese are too tight-lipped and reserved to do that sort of thing. Unless the cop meant to provoke the man, test his reactions, and there's no evidence that that's the case.

Plus having that gun tie the Japanese story to the rest is a real eye-roller--so what? Where's the miscommunication there? It's a grotesque coincidence.

About that phone call bit, Inarritu's done that before, as mentioned, in Amores Perros and 21 Grams, and it's been used as far back as Kubrick's The Killing back in the '50s, where the same event is replayed, with varying significance. Personally, I much prefer the way Kubrick does it.

RSE said...

I agree, the link is too farfetched, it actually ruins the whole movie experience for me.

Noel Vera said...

Multiple stories--Paul Thomas Anderson did that with Magnolia, Soderbergh with Traffic (from the British TV series), Altman with Nashville and Short Cuts, Ishmael Bernal with Manila By Night, Mario O'Hara with Babae sa Bubungang Lata. Bernal and Altman and O'Hara I thought succeeded because 1) they didn't go to the well too often (Altman did, but used wildly varying locales and sources--Los Angeless and Nashville, original script and the stories of Raymond Carver; Bernal did this only once; same with O'Hara).