The spectacular cinematography in Alejandro Gonz퀨͌�lez I퀨͌�퀨͌�rritu’s third feature film Babel carries the viewer through a succession of depressing events that unfold in four seemingly disconnected cultures.
In the opening scene a rifle trades hands, instigating a disastrous series of events that are a result of horrendous decision making combined with the ill fortune of I퀨͌�퀨͌�rritu’s characters. With four different countries as his backdrop, screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga depicts a universal language that is spoken by people of all cultures: pain and suffering. Indicative of our times, this film riffs on current events to pull the audience on a journey in which one constantly feels that most of the characters are on the verge of dying.
In an outdoor restaurant in Morocco, Cate Blanchett’s character makes a cynical entrance into the film with, "So why are we here?" This scene sets a thematic tone in which I퀨͌�퀨͌�rritu’s characters are constantly in the wrong place at the wrong time.
There is a persistent feeling that individuals are outsiders wherever they are, whether it’s due to a handicap, tourist identity, or status as a migrant laborer. In this film the Tower of Babel seems to be a metaphor for the superficial advancements of globalization, leaving us no closer together despite our increasingly rapid interactions with people all over the world.
With the barren desert as a backdrop for two of the subplots in his film, I퀨͌�퀨͌�rritu sets an emotionally desolate ambiance that appears unfit for humans. Recurring throughout the film is simultaneity where events click into place in an instant. For example, a chicken’s head is chopped off at the same moment that Brad Pitt witnesses his wife getting shot, and just as a fight breaks out between two Moroccan boys a wedding in Mexico is pumping into a climactic party. In these sudden moments of synchronicity we are given a glimpse of the dark fate that awaits almost all of the characters in this film.
I퀨͌�퀨͌�rritu has proclaimed the main subject of this film to be the essential painfulness of the human condition. This film is replete with suffering in four cultures: a Mexican nanny who is struggling to make it to her son’s wedding, an American couple who are stranded in Morocco, a deaf Japanese girl who is struggling to figure out her sexuality, and a young Moroccan boy who gets himself into a load of shit. At the very least, I퀨͌�퀨͌�rritu paints a vivid picture of life in other cultures, without relying on stereotypes and familiar innuendos.
The languages spoken by the characters are different, and despite the fact that most dialogues are translated when necessary, a theme of cultural alienation recurs throughout the film. As our contact with other cultures increases rapidly due to globalization, I퀨͌�퀨͌�rritu is critical of the depth at which cross-cultural interactions occur, leaving us to ponder a disarray of fleeting encounters.
The fact that I퀨͌�퀨͌�rritu broke into the film industry doing soundtracks is readily apparent in the dope soundtrack that he has laid out for the film. As both producer and director he has full artistic license with the musical ambiance and subtle tone for his films. From J-pop club scenes to Mexican parties, I퀨͌�퀨͌�rritu knows how to rev up a scene, yet he is not afraid to insert long segments of silence in order to captivate the deaf Japanese girl’s world-within-a-world.
Babel reveals the dark side of human nature, leaving little room for characters to redeem themselves from the perpetual wheels of misfortune and agony. I퀨͌�퀨͌�rritu shows that pain unleashes a person’s innermost disposition in a transparent fashion where there is little room for censorship.
The characters in this film are trapped by their own ignorance and brashness, operating on a primitive level where self-preservation supersedes morals and ideals. Everyone seems to be digging themselves into an abyss of sadness, except for a fortunate rescue for the Americans, who miraculously escape from the whole ordeal free from blame.
Ending the film with the Mexican, Japanese and Moroccan characters shouldering an unfathomable weight of death, sadness, and blame is culturally irresponsible on the part of I퀨͌�퀨͌�rritu. Despite this, the awkward closing scene reveals a more universal side of human nature.
It takes place in Tokyo, with Koji Yakusho returning home to find his daughter naked on their balcony, in a moment of bittersweet union that unveils an inextricably personal side to the painful interconnectedness we all share.
Opens Friday, Nov. 10, at Pioneer Place Cinema and other locations.