By itself, the entire plot and story of Babel probably don’t make for really interesting reading. Added to this is the fact that this is probably one movie which I will really find hard to review considering the deftness with which it has been made. For lack of a simpler term to explain the screenplay, I will restrict myself to describing it as ‘multi-linear’ with a qualification of ‘multi-chronological’ thrown in. Just to describe these terms further, when I say ‘multi-linear’ I am referring to a screenplay which does not deal with just one story at one time, and ‘multi-chronological’ is used to refer to a screenplay which does not necessarily depict events in the order in which they would have probably logically occurred. Having said that, here goes.
The movie begins in Morocco where Hassan Ibrahim sells a Winchester rifle and cartridges to his friend Abdullah, a goatherder. Abdullah’s young sons Yussef and Ahmed while testing the rifle accidentally wound an American tourise Susan Jones (Cate Blanchett) who is travelling with her husband Richard Jones (Brad Pitt) on vacation. The chain of events following up to this incident is what forms the crux of this movie.
The movie itself keeps shifting between three locations –
Morocco, where Richard desperately tries to get medical aid to Susan, and where the scared boys distance themselves from the firing incident
America, where the Jones’ twin children are left under the charge of Amelia who in turn has to attend her son’s wedding in rural Mexico
Japan, where the story of Chieko Wataya, a deaf-mute teenager is told. Her only link to the rest of the characters is that her father Yasujiro Wataya, a game hunter was the one who originally gifted the Winchester to Hussain Ibrahim on one of his hunting expeditions.
The screenplay keeps flitting between these three locations intermittently without necessarily following the logical sequence of events. Viewers are pretty much kept unknown about the fact that the children in America are the Jones twins until one of the last scenes in the movie where Richard is shown talking to them over the phone and viewers are able to tie this back to one of the early scenes in the movie where one of the twins is shown talking over the phone to his dad. It is small twists and incidents like these that make Babel one of my must-watch movies. I personally have seen the movie thrice now and will probably require at least two more viewings to fully appreciate the art of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, the director. Another point to be noted is that this is the last one of his Death Trilogy, which also includes Amores Perros and 21 Grams, both must-watch movies in their own right.
Almost all the three sub-stories are reasonably intense which makes this a movie only for serious viewers. And each of them have their own graphic depictions of reasonably violent and sexually intense sequences, which once again makes this a movie strictly for adults. However, the message (which the director has mentioned in one of his interviews) – lack of communication is an universal one. His words “On a conventional level (and conventions are sometimes useful to tell stories,) it can be said that BABEL is about miscommunication, but for me, at the bottom line, the film is about how vulnerable and fragile we are as human beings and when a link is broken, it’s not the link that is rotten but the chain itself.” speak volumes for what the movie is trying to communicate. And this is why this movie has to be seen at least once by all serious cinema fans.
The production notes read thus – “In an instant, the lives of four separate groups of strangers on three different continents collide. Caught up in the rising tide of an accident that escalates beyond anyone’s control are a vacationing American couple , a rebellious deaf Japanese teenager and her father, and a Mexican nanny who, without permission, takes two American children across the border. None of these strangers will ever meet; in spite of the sudden, unlikely connection between them, they will all remain isolated due to their own inability to communicate meaningfully with anyone around them.” And if words like these do not pique your interest in this movie, well, what can I say.
Some scenes which stand out in my memory are the ones involving Chieko, where the director smartly turns off all the sounds in the movie only depicting the visuals. These are intended to give the audience a feel of what a deaf person feels in this world. Despite the brightly laser-lit surroundings, and the huge crowd of people who are grooving to the DJ’s music, Chieko is still lonely and lost in this crowd. The stark contrast to the joy and ebullience around her to her own loneliness makes for one of the most cinematic enduring images in my mind.
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