If you watched Babel and came out feeling indifferent to the film, chances are that you probably just lost the plot.
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu comes up with a cleverly crafted complex ensemble, layering his paradoxical portrait of mankind with the kind of diversity and the sameness that divides and brings together people across continents.
Yes, just like the complex construction of that sentence takes away from what it tries to say, Babel too, could do with a second reading.
Especially, when the tag-line goes: If you want to understand, listen.
The filmmaker who made ‘Amores Perros’ and ‘21 Grams,’ uses his trademark non-linear episodic narrative connected by one incident, this time around, to explore the politics of communication and the factors that keep the human race divided in an increasingly volatile world.
Yes, it helps to understand the Biblical context before you head to the hall. In fact, it is that context that ties everything up in a film that’s subject to varied interpretation.
At the surface, Babel merely seems to be the story of an American couple holidaying in Morocco, whose world is shattered, moments after a goatherd kid pulls the trigger to prove to his brother that the rifle (originally belonging to a hunter in Japan) given to them, could hit distant targets. In a remote village called Tazarine where surgeries and anesthesia are unheard of, the couple awaits medical aid.
With the parents stuck in Morocco, the Mexican nanny taking care of the American kids, is left with no choice but to take them along to her son’s wedding across the border with an eccentric, reckless nephew.
And far away in Tokyo, the Japanese hunter has a deaf-mute daughter who has a difficult time making the boys understand her quest for love.
But, as you catch and connect instances of weapons, lust/love (it once used to be the same thing as the director implies) sometimes manifested through incest (the censoring of a critical portion towards the end does take away a significant layer from the film) and the most primal needs of man (to hunt, to love, to endure and survive) scattered across the four stories, and, traces of all the needs in each of the stories (watch closely), you see the larger picture emerging.
The characters in the film suffer because they cannot understand each other. They have to deal with barriers of language, borders, moral codes, attitudinal differences and technological disparities to understand that in spite of the differences of how they live, they still are the same.
Characters in each of the four stories are primal at some level, they all get violent at some point, they are all animals looking to mate or looking out for their mates and children, they all are fiercely territorial and guarded about people of other races and yet, at some level, they are all still capable of survival, bonding and in understanding each other, if they tried.
The fact that Brad Pitt stars in the film is rendered irrelevant by uniformly first-rate performances by the entire ensemble, especially the raw talent from Morocco. Technically, the film, though not as stylised as his earlier works, is heart-wrenchingly credible in its portrayal of people with the docu-style cinematography and minimalist background score.
Pure cinema, it is.