Babel (Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2006)


The title ‘Babel’ has biblical origins. It was the name of the tower built by the post-Flood people to glorify man, help reach the heavens and symbolise the power of humanity when unified in one location with a single language. God, so the story goes, disapproved. He destroyed the structure and scattered the population across the world, creating alternative cultures and ensuring linguistic confusion would result for eternity. If the Lord indeed did this and intended to do it, then Babel shows he succeeded in various subtle ways.

The lives of people from four different races are weaved together by accidental and largely unblameworthy acts. A Japanese man donates a rifle to an Arab hunter, who in turn provokes a chain of events leading to the death of an American and the deportation of a Mexican. We thus scan the world, flicking from the desert land of Morocco to the bustling streets of Tokyo, as innocents unnecessarily clash and become victims of circumstances beyond their control.

We see cultural misunderstandings in the midst of all of this: the reactions of American children to the Mexican norm of ripping a chicken’s head off and watching it run around blindly; the sexual frustrations and communication problems of a deaf-mute Japanese girl who is alienated by her isolation and yet finds herself in (silent) nightclubs booming with j-pop. Boys responsible for guarding their father’s goats in the deserts of Africa must resort to spying on their sister to experience any sort of desire-fulfillment. Police in the various countries go about their jobs in their respective ways.

The profound differences between races and their individual lifestyles is thus highlighted, whilst we are reminded of their interconnectedness and similarities despite all of this. We end up sympathising with everyone. Babel has no villains. All of its characters act as humans would be expected to, and they all seem the slaves to cruel, naturally-arising circumstances. This probably explains the final image we are left with in the film: Iñárritu dedicates Babel to his two children. He describes them as ‘the brightest stars in the darkest night.’ Babel is so powerful because it explains how that darkness arises largely unprovoked by any evil on man’s part, however tragic this may be.

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