SYNOPSIS: A shot rings out in the Moroccan countryside as two boys, practicing with their father’s rifle, unintentionally fire on a passenger bus. In the U.S., an immigrant nanny is torn between attending her son’s wedding in Mexico and watching over the two American children under her care, so she takes them across the border with the hope of safely satisfying both issues. Chieko, a deaf-mute Japanese girl, struggles with emotional isolation brought on by others’ acceptance of her condition as well as the suicide of her mother years earlier. Americans Richard and Susan are vacationing abroad on a tour bus in the deserts of Morocco, when a bullet comes from out of nowhere and critically wounds Susan.
With no doctor in sight and the U.S. government refusing to send help until they thoroughly investigate any potential of terrorist involvement, the two must depend on each other and the few members of a small settlement until aid can arrive. All of these events are brought together to show the contradictions and similarities inherent in all people regardless of their culture or nationality.
Babel easily met my better expectations despite a few shortcomings. Every performance was richly dramatic in a very natural way that you just don’t see often. The director gave each story equal focus instead of allowing widely known actors like Gael Bernal, Brad Pitt, or Cate Blanchett to dominate screen. That lends meaning to the underlying theme of people from different walks of life equally suffering the same disparity of understanding, be it emotional, cultural, inter-personal, or taken literally and applied to actual forms of communications.
In the case of the American couple (played by Pitt and Blanchett) the more obvious cause of their plight is direct and physical in the form of the gunshot, but has greater weight by forcing the two to set aside any grief relating to the crib death of their infant and once again find unity in order to save Susan’s life. Chieko’s struggle is one of acceptance. She feels socially exiled because of her disability and struggles for any acknowledgement of her sexual identity. The other featured characters have a great amount of depth that plays out equally well and makes for a fine experience. The way that the different cultures are portrayed also has a strong sense of honesty. I got the impression that director Alejandro Iñárritu was very specific about displaying the country and culture very openly, for what it means to the characters.
On the down side, some of the inter-character connections and developmental circumstances of the different plots end up in fuzzy territory. It’s difficult to apply negative labels for those plot elements but they probably weren’t the best options available. One such situation is the relation link from Chieko to her father to the rifle her father gave to a Moroccan man to the rest of the characters. I think Chieko’s story is a good one, but I found her connection to the others just a little weak and convenient. Maybe I just missed something.
Despite any negatives I can mention, this film is still worth watching. It’s not one that demands a theatrical viewing, but does include some strong (especially facial) acting and sharp images, the details of which may be lost on a smaller screen. If you have the time and money, go see this film. While it doesn’t completely succeed in its mission of powerfully merging the separate stories, those individual accounts have plenty to offer in their own right.