Tragedy strikes a married couple on vacation in the Moroccan desert, touching off an interlocking story involving four different families.
Year 1, Day 331
BEFORE: Babel is the second film of today’s double-feature and has the honor of bringing me back to par with the film a day part of the marathon. With just over a month to go before the end of the first year, I no longer need to resort to double or triple features to meet my original goal. In terms of Babel, this looks like it will be similar to Crash, and more recently Hereafter, with the telling and eventual combination of multiple storylines. At least that’s what the IMDb plot description makes it sound like.
AFTER: Sure enough, Babel is a film that follows four separate stories as they unfold that at the same time are all connected with each other. I’ve been a big fan of films that have done this and Babel is no exception. It masterfully navigates each story on its own and also provides a reason/purpose for why it’s necessary to tell the story this way. The big question with these types of films is always, “Why have all these stories together instead of as individual films?” Babel can answer that question well and it’s answer unlocks a wealth of entertainment.
The four stories take place in four different countries on three different continents. In Morocco we follow two young kids and other locals as one of them, Yussef (Boubker Ait El Caid) shoots an American tourist, Susan Jones (Cate Blanchett). Her husband Richard (Brad Pitt) then fights to save her life and get help from the U.S. Embassy. Over in North America, we see the Jones’ kids Mike (Nathan Gamble) and Debbie (Elle Fanning) under the care of their nanny Amelia (Adriana Barraza). These three then travel down to Mexico to celebrate Amelia’s son’s wedding. Seems like there’s a lot going on, and there is. But when you watch it everything makes sense. It’s not just these random people you’re following, but it’s a look at different sections of life. Much like Crash was shameless with the stereotypes they portrayed (with a message behind them all), Babel is quite similar. You have quite explicit examples with the Border Patrol being extra forceful with Amelia, her nephew, and the two Jones kids. Then you have the tourists in Morocco scared for their lives because of the people they are surrounded by. But there’s also more subtle examples like the brothers Yussef and Ahmed who are just playing around like the kids they are or Chieko Wataya trying to be like every adolescent teenager.
But what really makes Babel great is how everything comes together. Not only is it amazing how it does logistically, but also what this means as a whole. Yes, it’s quite impressive, and shocking at the same time, when there’s that twist at the end. Alright, twist may not be the right word, more of a unexpected turn of events that gives new light to something earlier in the film. It’s the implications of all this that make it stick. To see all these people in a wide variety of places spanning the globe actually be connected, and affecting one another - however indirectly - is powerful. Despite major differences in a variety of ways (culturally, age, etc.) we are all more alike than we may think. At the end of the day, we are all human and we are all here on the same planet.
This was a great film and also a very interesting one. I very much enjoyed the time I spent to watch this and was impressed by the skill that the director, Alejandro González Iñárritu, and the entire cast - especially the child actors - exhibits. There were some minor issues at the individual story level (primarily with the Japan story) but you’ll notice I didn’t cover these in depth. While they are important to note and did affect my enjoyment of the film, enough to knock off a star, I do want the overall impression of this film to remain a positive one. It’s one that I’d recommend you see and whose problems can be easily overlooked.
RATING: 4 out of 5