Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (21 Grams, 11'09"01-September 11) is nothing if not consistent. When you take in one of his films you know you will not be getting anything light or fluffy every one of his films has been dark, pondering and intellectually stimulating. His films are not for everyone. Some may find them too dark or existential, but no one can claim that they are ever of the 'throw-away' variety.
Babel is the third film in his trilogy and this one looks at racism, boundaries and, once again, parent-child issues. The film certainly demonstrates how small our world really is and yet how small distances can still seem so huge. It happens in four different locations (Japan, Morocco, United States, and Mexico) with four interweaving stories. There are four languages spoken during the film (English, Spanish, Japanese, and Arabic). The cast is made up of huge stars and unknowns. Each actor and part of the story is just as important as the next and equal screen time is given to each. The story is the star. The actors are the players. It truly is an ensemble film with no one actor emerging as the lead, though the two young Moroccan boys and the young female Japanese actress were amazing. What is really paramount in the film is the amazing script by Guillermo Arriaga (The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, Amores Perros), who is able to make this story that happens on many different continents feel as if it could have happened anywhere. We can all relate to what is going on onscreen. He takes you through a gamut of human emotions from fear to tension to sadness without it being too much. You are maybe mentally fatigued when you leave the theatre, but in a good way.
American married couple, Richard (Brad Pitt – Fight Club, Troy) and Susan (Cate Blanchett – The Aviator, Elizabeth), are vacationing in Morocco. There is obvious tension between them and it almost is as if they are on the vacation in order to try and save their marriage. At home in an affluent section of San Diego, their two children, Debbie (Elle Fanning – Because of Winn-Dixie, The Door in the Floor) and Mike (Nathan Gamble – first film), are with their Mexican nanny, Amelia (Adriana Barraza – The First Night). Not being able to find anyone else to watch the kids, Amelia and her nephew, Santiago (Gael Garcia Bernal – The Motorcycle Diaries, Y Tu Mama Tambien), take the kids to her son's wedding in Mexico. In Morocco, a family of goat herders purchases a rifle from a neighbour, Mohammed (Mustapha Amhita – first film). The two young sons, Yasira (Fadmael Ouali – first film) and Jamila (Zahra Ahkouk), use the guns to shoot at jackels who prey on their goats. In Japan, Chieko (Rinko Kikuchi – star of a few Japanese films) is a deaf-mute teenager whose mother has committed suicide and lives with her father. Father and daughter are quite distant. Because of her disability Chieko finds herself feeling cut off from the world.
The film is not an easy one. To watch at times or understand at others. We are always wondering what Inarritu is trying to tell us. At times during the film you will feel almost the same way you did reading Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness". Everything seems dark, doom seems always just around the corner and you are hesitant to go any further. But my advice to you is see it through; it is definitely worth it. If you are willing to spend the just over 2 hours of the film thinking and wondering then you will be amply rewarded at the end. It is a brilliantly shot haunting film that will cause you to think about it for a long time afterwards.
– Common Ground: Under Construction Notes