February 20, 2007

Film recommendation: Babel

I watched Babel the other night and have been reflecting on it ever since. I highly recommend this one. You'll particularly enjoy it if you like loosely intertwined multi-narratives (a la Traffic).

Babel offers excellent commentary on human carelessness and fallibility and how modern society is unable (or unwilling) to accommodate these shortcomings. People just go about their business, doing their jobs and what's expected of them. Blind institutions have usurped interpersonal connections and any sense of compassion. And even when empathy is established, people are constrained by their job obligations or societal expectations. The various stories include,
  • A woman is shot by accident while traveling in Morocco, which in turn causes an international row that prevents help from actually getting to her.
  • Unable to find someone who can watch the kids, or to obtain permission to take the day off, an illegal alien caregiver takes two children with her as she travels in Mexico for her son's wedding.
  • A depressed and sexually confused deaf-mute Japanese teenager tries to cope with her mother's suicide.
  • Carelessness during shooting practice goes horribly wrong for two young boys.
In each of these narratives, people make mistakes or become victims of their inherent imperfections and foibles. And in each story, society fails to properly help them.

Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, Babel is gut-wrenching and Kafkaesque (I'm thinking of Josef K's bureaucratic nightmare in The Trial) -- but where Kafka provided dreamy surrealism, Babel only offers the hard truth and bitter reality. It's a hard watch, but it never degrades to the point of complete hopelessness and cynicism.

If anything, you'll feel a bit more connected to your fellow man.


Anonymous said...

I recommend it too. Excellent film.

The soundtrack was quite good too.

--Michael Graham Richard

Unknown said...

I have come away from the movie unsure what message there is. While there were guards/police/bureaucrats rather brusquely doing their jobs in most cases, there were others trying to help. It seemed that people were failing to understand others' experiences or, simply, had no window to appreciate others' stress and difficulties.

I'm not sure what better society we might hope for based on the film, or if the filmmakers would necessarily want a more careful, caring society.

What has me confused is the phonecall that bookends the film, the children and nanny getting a phonecall from a parent (as seen from the children/nanny's end of the conversation), and near the end we see from the parent, Pitt's, end of the dialogue. It throws the threads of stories out of parallel time and injects a flaw in that nanny and kids are wholly unaware of the international incident that arose when Pitt's wife, Blanchett, was shot and aid for her was delayed.

I also don't understand why the audience to the movie is left with uncertainties about what was going on with the troubled daughter. We don't know the content of the note she gave the policemen, for example. Perhaps, this is the filmmaker putting the audience in a place, like that of many characters, where we, too, cannot understand what is going on. [Thus giving it a Kafkaesque booster shot at the end?]

Peter Clothier said...

I thought this was a powerful movie--the best of the year, so far as I'm concerned, streaks above "The Departed." I did a piece on it in my own blog, The Buddha Diaries. I'd be thrilled if you'd check it out at http://thebuddhadiaries.blogspot.com/2007/02/movie-and-hike.html Would you consider an exchange of links? Cheers, PaL

Melinda said...

Great recommendation. I enjoyed this film!