[Paragraph 1] Babel begins in a small mountainous village somewhere in Morocco. We see a man enthusiastically selling a high-powered rifle to Abdullah (Mustapha Rachidi) a goat herder, who then hands the gun to his two young sons Ahmed (Said Tarchani) and Yussef (Boubker Ait El Caid) with the instructions to shoot at jackals. The two boys take turns shooting the gun, finding much entertainment in a land where we see there is none. The boys shoot the gun skimming rocks, realizing this isn’t exciting enough; they single out a tour bus, aim, and shoot. The tour bus shakes and shutters to a stop. We are anxious to see who inside the bus is the victim. But then, instantaneously, the scene changes from rocky stark land, to the interior of a well designed home, where a middle-aged Mexican woman, Amelia (Adriana Barraza) feeds breakfast to two small white children (Elle Fanning and Nathan Gamble). We are confronted with a new story, spliced into the action of the first story even before we have a chance to digest what just happened.
[Paragraph 2] Director, Alejandro González Iñárritu in collaboration with screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga, have toyed with the use of this stylish genre, which, for the purpose of this review, I will call ensemble drama. This technique uses multiple stories woven together, to create a larger concept. Most memorably was their usage in the movies’ “Amores Perros,” (2000) and then again in, “21 Grams” (2003). But their newest movie, “Babel,” uses this technique, but is less successful forming a cohesion structure, causing it to be difficult to comprehend how the stories are related. This makes it virtually impossible to fully grasp Iñárritu’s message on the universality of human suffering.
[Paragraph 3] Babel is a well-made catastrophe because it does not follow what I understand to be the rules used to create an ensemble drama, which in short is just finding a way to connect the stories together. Only through speculation we understand that all the characters suffer thus making this the theme of the movie. In order for this movie to have worked in a way that we understand why we are watching these four stories the characters must be linked together through its formation. This should be done through any of these three ways: 1.Characters must be linked together through each of the story. 2. Through an accident, which introduces a character from one story to another character in a different story. 3. Connecting a scene where a character enters into another scene in a story that is revealed later in the movie. What ever the link might be there must be some cinematic connection shared in all of the stories.
[Paragraph 4] Though the movie lacks the kind of clear cinematic connection that is needed in this type of genre, it does show us that through the theme of the stories suffering happens to all mankind no matter what class, race, or age. We see this through his many portrayals of grief whether it is caused by isolation, death, or coming of age. There are many variations of pain in this movie seen through the hardships of the main characters. In the story about the Southern Californian couple, Richard, (Brad Pitt) the stoic husband makes no successful effort to heal his wife Susan (Cate Blanchatt), who is grieving over their infant son’s death of SIDS other than taking her to Morocco to be alone. Pitt natural aging look with his newly developed grey hairs and face full of wrinkles really adds on to the painful expression that his character goes through while waiting for help to arrive after Susan’s shot to the neck by the goat herder’s son’s bullet. Richard is also dealing with the other impatient tourists who are selfishly complaining about being delayed on their vacation from this incident. In this story we see how from the suffering from the accident causes the couple to become closer and be able to grieve the lost of their baby together.
[Paragraph 9] Meanwhile, the tension from the police thickens with Abdullah and his sons. They must run and escape the raft of the police who believe this incident is a terrorist attack. We see the despair of the family when the father realizes that his son is the culprit of the crime. Their suffering is intensified when we see the son being shot at the end of the movie. This story runs parallel with the story of Susan and Richard. Even though the incidents are connected through the theme of family suffering the stories remain not in the same frame throughout the entire movie.
[Paragraph 10] In another instance, we see Iñárritu attempt to abstractly attach the Moroccan story to the Japanese story by the news. The Morocco incident is inaccurately broadcasted as a terror campaign on an American tourist. This incorrect news story makes its way on television screens all the way across to Japan, where a teenage girl named Chieko (Rinko Kikuchi) (the main character of the Japanese story) is watching it on television.
Although the Japanese story is the most detached from the other three stories, Cheiko’s story of suffering is by far the most engaging. Cheiko is deaf; she is starved for attention and acts out with some intense scenes complimented with other entertaining scenes of her adolescent attempts at flirting. Cheiko’s story is mainly about her grief from her mother’s suicide and her disengagement from her disability. The detachment between Cheiko and her father is somewhat intense especially when he attempts and falls short to be a part of her life. His effort at being a good parent is rather painful to watch. In one scene, Cheiko and her father sit in a car; the father changes the subject of her mother’s death to remind her of her dentist appointment. The next scene we see is that of Cheiko trying to shove her tongue down her dentist’s mouth and then being thrown out of his office. Even though, Iñárritu tried to make the stories equally appealing, the strength and the development of Cheiko’s character through her struggles for attention are powerful. The viewer really sees Cheiko’s displacement when we are taken to an ear busting Tokyo club, the sound goes dead, so we hear nothing like Chieko. Iñárritu helps us sympathize with her even through all her attempts to seduce men in the movie with her Japanese schoolgirl outfit.
[Paragraph 12] Iñárritu left the story of Susan and Richard’s children and their nanny, Amelia completely unrelated to the Japanese story failing in following the rules of ensemble drama. If any connection could be drawn it is only in the mind of Iñárritu, which he decided to leave out in showing his viewers. We are expected to understand that this chapter of the story is happening simultaneous to the incident in Morocco. Amelia’s failed attempts to find an appropriate baby sitter for the children complicates her bigger crisis of how she is going to be at her son’s wedding in Tijuana. She decides to take the children illegally to Mexico accompanied by her rough and carefree nephew Santiago (Gael García Bernal). Because the characters in this story are the least developed out of all the stories, it is also the least engaging.
[Paragraph 7] It is important for Iñárritu to give at least one character depth in each of the story being developed, which we see he doesn’t accomplish. We see that the most engaging story is with Cheiko because of the way we follow her throughout her day and get an insider’s view of how she feels. In the Mexican story, we don’t see any of the characters achieve this richness of depth as we see in Cheiko’s story. In order to enhance this argument lets consider a movie that uses the ensemble drama technique very successfully.
[Paragraph 6] For example, Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 dazzling gangster film, “Pulp Fiction” does this devilishly well even though the movie does not have a strong theme; Tarantino gets away with it by having a balanced structure. Each of the story lines he uses are equally engaging and fulfilling to watch. By giving us the most dramatic scene in the beginning of the movie the results is knowing this climatic point gives us a great interest in what will happen to the characters at the end of the movie. This is done along with intriguing scenes that lead to an overall absorbing story. The stories come together in a tight well-linked package. We know even before the movie comes to an end that the story lines will connect and we will be left with an understanding of what Tarantino wanted to show us.
[Paragraph 7] Where as Pulp Fiction is an exercise of formation, “Babel” doesn’t focus on formation, but instead on connecting its characters emphasizing on showing how human’s suffer. Iñárritu focuses so much on this theme it may be the reason there is a lack of structure in the movie. Susan is the victim of the bullet from the goat herder’s sons. Richard and Susan are the parents of the small children in the San Diego story. Though these stories seem connected, the Japanese storyline is unrelated to the other storylines. The only puzzle piece that connects the stories together is through the subject of grief and its relation between parent and child. This turns out to be the only clear translation that we are left with in the movie.
[Paragraph 14] The biblical story of Babel reveals what Iñárritu was trying to convey in the universality of human suffering. Although Babel is set thousands of years after this biblical story took place, it is important to understand it, even in brief. The legend starts out at one time all people lived relatively close together and spoke one language. This all changed when some overly ambitious men tried to reach heaven by building a tower. God punished all mankind by devising different languages. In its result— a world of miscommunication and human suffering.
[Paragraph ] If this movie were a puzzle the pieces would have to be forced into their frames for them to fit. Every character in this movie is lost in places they don’t understand. Some of these horrific circumstances happened just out of bad luck while others are involved in highly politically charged fallouts. Through these stories we see how carelessness and human stupidity repeatedly grow. Even though, some of those characters we see how bad decisions and fate can also bring them together.
[Paragraph 15] “Babel” takes on the big concept of what it means to be a human and to suffer, and for the most part succeeds in what it does. The lack of structure is where the movie fails. The stories should conclude in a nice round about way like in other movies that use this technique. For instance in the movie, “Crash” the characters in this multicultural cast come in full circle with each story connecting each character in its completion. In “Babel” the characters don’t nicely come together at the end and we aren’t left feeling like there is a greater understanding to human suffering. But perhaps, that is why “Babel” works, it is real to life. Real life doesn’t always come nicely together.
[Paragraph 16] Even though, the movie’s attempt to use this technique of ensemble drama falls short, it does succeed in leaving you moved by its vivid human interactions. We are set in a position where we sympathize with the suffering of a family in Morocco, see how life changes after a death for a family in San Diego, and then shaken into identifying with victims of Bush’s immigration policy. All pulled together, in a nonsensical order, Iñárritu shows all of us how to understand and care for people outside our on personal sphere, this in itself is an applaudable accomplishment.