The 2006 film Babel, directed by Alejandro Gonzales Innarito, was written by Guillermo Arriaga from his own story idea. The film stars an ensemble cast, including Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Gael Garcia Bernal, Adriana Barraza, Elle Fanning, and others. The music features an Academy Award-winning original score by Gustavo Santaolalla, featuring both incidental music and original songs.
This film is a straightforward, gritty drama, which takes place in many different countries, including the United States, Morocco, Japan and Mexico, demonstrating several characters’ seemingly interrelated lives and conflicts in the present day. In Morocco, an American couple (Pitt and Blanchett) are traveling when Susan, the wife, is hit by a stray bullet accidentally fired by a pair of young Moroccan boys. The event escalates into a perceived terrorist act, the political ramifications rising to a disastrous level. Meanwhile, in Japan, a teenage girl starts to demonstrate her sexual awakening while seducing a detective investigating her mother’s suicide. In the United States and Mexico, the American couple’s nanny (Barraza) takes their children to Tijuana to care for them during her son’s wedding, her nephew Santiago (Bernal) taking them. This leads to a harrowing encounter with border patrol, and her own fate in the country in the balance. The plot is told through nonlinear, alternating scenes of the multiple storylines, often thematically joining together in a seamless whole.
The main characters are all of varying social and economic classes, from the poor nanny to the rich American couple, and the middle-class Japanese family – the effect is to demonstrate the disastrous effects individual actions can have on people. In the Morocco storyline, the main characters are Richard and Susan Jones (the American couple); they are fairly affluent, normally living in California with their nanny and their children. At the time of the film, they are in very dire straits with their marriage; they are frustrated with each other and themselves due to their continual loss of children to SIDS. The vacation to Morocco was intended as a means to repair their relationship, but that is set aside in order to care for the injured Susan.
In Japan, the main character is Cheiko (Rinko Kikuchi), who is a deaf teenage girl living in Japan. Her mother had just committed suicide, and so she is very distraught. This, combined with her burgeoning sexuality, leads her to take very provocative actions and attitudes. She flirts with one of the detectives, and continually attempts to find a place in which to belong. She is fairly well off, given her father’s wealth, but this leads to further malaise and depression, due to her condition and her own issues with her body.
In the US/Mexico storyline, the film follows Amelia, the nanny (Barraza), and the nephew Santiago (Bernal). They are both very poor, and very committed to family; this is why Amelia risks deportation and the transportation of the Joneses’ children to Mexico to attend her son’s wedding. However, she also tries to be responsible, doing whatever she can to get the children back home safely. She is virtuous and resourceful, and committed to the children.
In conclusion, the message of Babel seems to be the influence of interconnected events that spiral out of control – Cheiko’s father gives a rifle to a Moroccan, whose son then shoots Susan Jones with it. Amelia is the nanny of Richard and Susan’s children. In all four countries, there is an incredible amount of violence, and everyone simply attempts to navigate their way through the chaos. The film is somewhat nihilistic, with no real hope and very few happy endings; however, this drama is powerful and gripping in its sadness.
These themes are very similar to Innaritu’s previous film, 21 Grams. In this film as well, there is a very nonlinear portrayal of interconnected lives, which are then ruined by crime, violence and anguish. Sexuality is also a heavy theme of both films, with parallels between Cheiko’s sexual liberation and Naomi Watts’ character Cristina engaging in an affair with Sean Penn’s Paul Rivers. In both films, life seems cruel and unusual, and people seem to struggle to find ways to make peace with themselves. Violence is the norm among the individuals and societies depicted in these films, and forgiveness is not often found.
In my opinion, these films are rife with powerful drama, and can accurately portray the seedy underbelly of an increasingly cynical and desensitized world. In Babel’s world, there is seemingly no way out of the chaos – Cheiko is implied to have killed her mother, Richard must find a way to save Susan’s life, Amelia is trapped in Mexico for attempting to go to her son’s wedding, and no one comes out the other side with any sort of satisfaction. These are incredibly intense and gripping dramas, but I feel as though there must be answers to these problems of crime and poverty, which must be reached in a real world context. The senseless depression of Inarritu’s films are fascinating, to say the least, but the lesson must be taken that these films present scenarios that must be fixed at all costs, instead of merely accepting the world as the bad place it is.
Innaritu, A. G. (Director). (2003). 21 Grams [Motion picture]. Unites States: Focus Features.
Innaritu, A. G. (Director). (2006). Babel [Motion picture]. United States: Paramount Vantage.