Babel is the third film in a trilogy from Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. The other two films, Amores Perros (2000) and 21 Grams (2003), both have connectedness in their story lines, just as Babel does. The term “hyperlink film” has been used to describe these kinds of films, as the feature film is made up of short films.
In these kinds of films, the stories unfolding before us are interlocking stories. There is a connection – visible or invisible – between the short stories and the broader story of the film. A well-known example of this would be 2004’s Crash, which won Best Picture Oscar. Babel is a better version of this interlocking than Inarritu’s earlier films. And, I think, better than Crash.
I will try to avoid spoilers, because I think you should see this film. Even if you’ve seen it before, you should see it again. Chronologically I will piece it together. A wealthy Japanese businessman-single father goes to Morocco on a hunting trip. He tips his guide with the rifle he used. The guide’s neighbor has a problem with jackals. The guide sells the rifle to the neighbor to protect his sheep. The man’s sons take turns learning to fire the rifle. One of the sons shoots the gun, aiming at what he thinks is just a car. It is more than that, it is a tour bus, and an American woman is wounded. The American’s Mexican nanny is in San Diego taking care of the two children. The nanny’s son’s wedding is that weekend in Mexico. Unable to find someone else to watch the children, she takes them with her. The police investigation into the Japanese businessman’s connection to the rifle unveils just how disturbed his teenage daughter is.
As connected as we say we are in the 21st century with things like Twitter, Facebook, and Skype, there is still the possibility of a case of misperceptions. Culture does not easily translate across the internet. Until we are living side-by-side those of different cultures, do we begin to understand what the “other” may be experiencing.
The film is a reminder that there is a connection across all of humanity. One action in Morocco has consequences in Japan. Roger Ebert wrote, “When we are strangers in a strange land, we can bring trouble upon ourselves and our hosts.”
The tourist on the tour bus and strangers in a strange land. The two American children at a Mexican wedding are strangers in a strange land. The Japanese teenager, who is deaf, is a stranger in her own land.
Differences are seen too often as a curse instead of a blessing. In a film like Babel, we search and search for the villain. In the scenes where the Mexican nanny is lost in the desert on the US side of the border, we want the Border Patrol officer to be the villain. But we have to except that he is just doing his job. Does that make the nanny the villain? She was striving to do what was best for the children in her care as well as for her own son. Unfortunate for her, each attempt to do what was best for the other leads to something going wrong.
How true is that for us?
One boy in Morocco made one decision in one moment. In that moment everything called for four different families, in Morocco, United States, Mexico, and Japan. That is all it takes. A moment. How many moments have we had where we have made split second decisions without any thought to the consequences they may have on others around us?
Yet, we search and search for the villain in our situations, when in many cases, our own decisions and actions have caused the chain of events that have gotten us here. No villain in sight, just life. That is why starting with Ash Wednesday, Christians enter into the season of Lent.
Lent is a season of remembering. While confessing our sins and remembering the grace of God in our lives, we remember those who are suffering around the world. A film like Babel, challenges us to remember our own roles in the suffering of those around the world. It encourages us to wander in the desert, searching our hearts, and confessing those things that have caused separation between us and God and us and the rest of humanity. We confess the things that break the connection we have with the world.
While interlocking our stories is a major theme of this film, another theme is love. There is a reason why all the world’s major religions have a focus on love. There a few touching scenes of vulnerability and love. Richard (Brad Pitt) and Susan (Cate Blanchett) are the American tourist. They do not see eye-to-eye on things. When Susan is shot and awaiting help in a village near by, she needs help going to the bathroom. Richard gets a pan, and lifts her just enough for her to go. For the first time in the film we see this married couple kiss. The Japanese teenage girl exposes herself to other men, seeking for affection. Finally, when her father comes home, he finds her on the balcony, nude after attempting to seduce a detective. She holds her father’s hand, and then hugs him.
We all need love.
The director leaves us with this final message as the film concludes: “To my children . . . .brightest light in darkest night.”