BABEL: NOT AS COMPELLING AS IT WANTS TO BE
Babel is the latest from director Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu (21 Grams, Amores Perros). He collaborated with writer Guillermo Arriaga to come up with the idea of the movie. A film that comments on racism, different cultures, the U.S. government, and other debatable topics, it fails to live up to its intentions. It ends up a preachy and slow paced movie.
The film has three stories that are intertwined. Richard (Brad Pitt) and Susan (Cate Blanchett) are a married couple on vacation in Morocco trying to forget the recent death of their infant son. Their other two children, Mike (Nathan Gamble) and Debbie (Elle Fanning-yes, Dakota’s sister) are at home with their Nanny (Adriana Barraza), Amelia. Amelia’s son is getting married and she takes the children to Mexico for the event after her replacement doesn’t show up. And Chieko (Rinko Kikuchi) is a deaf-mute Japanese girl dealing with her mother’s suicide by attempting to be sexually promiscuous.
Babel is defined as “a confusion of voices, sounds, etc.” Unfortunately for the movie, the story is so focused on trying to give the audience its message; we never empathize with the characters or connect with them. You will become antsy waiting for something to happen. And some of the character’s actions are hard to understand. After Susan is shot, Richard has the tour bus they are on take them to the nearest village to get help. When he is told that she needs to go to a hospital, he waits for an ambulance to come and get them. When he is told the ambulance isn’t coming, he decides to wait for the helicopter he is promised. But prior to the tour bus taking them to the village, he is told that the nearest hospital is four hours away. Logically speaking, when Richard is told that the ambulance isn’t coming, he should have gotten his wife back on the bus. But the story is so determined to show us how slow to act our government is that it overrides any coherent thinking. The acting in the film makes it harder to feel any emotion. Brad Pitt only shows exasperation and rage as he is trying to save his wife. There is no range of emotion other than those two. And Rinko Kikuchi’s character Chieko is a gross brat of a girl. She is acting out due to lack of attention from her father and the result of her mother’s death. She is angry and just wants to be loved. She takes off her clothes and doesn’t wear any panties to get attention. But no redeemable qualities are shown to make you want her to get the attention she deserves. And towards the end of her story you see her white cat walking across her home just as she makes herself available to a detective who has come to speak her father. The symbolism of a pure white cat and a teenager with the purest of needs is blatant.
What could have made the film better is apparent. The world today is filled with hate, racism, confused governments, and misunderstandings between countries to say the least. Any person that reads or watches the news knows this. And for those who don’t, they aren’t going to see this film for the commentary. They want to connect with the characters and understand where they are coming from. Not be lectured on what is wrong with the world.
Babel aims to tell us three stories about the people in the world today and how they are being affected negatively because of cultures clashing. Sadly, it stays concentrated on that and never lives up to its potential.