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Movie Review: Babel

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I went into the theaters to see Babel not knowing anything about it, mainly because it is an independent film and advertising for this picture has been minimal. I only knew that it starred Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett and Gael Garcia Bernal, but I knew nothing of the plot. So that you have a better idea about this amazing and emotional film, I’ll do my best to give you some insight into it before entering the theater.

In some ways Babel reminded me of last year’s Best Picture winner, Crash, mainly because it has one of those interlocking plots where seemingly unrelated people become intertwined as the narrative unfolds. Babel focuses on three stories, set in Morocco, Japan and Mexico. The story begins with a tragedy striking a grieving married couple (Pitt and Blanchett) on vacation in Morocco; two young boys being given a rifle; a Mexican Nanny forced to take care of two white children on her son’s wedding day and a deaf Japanese girl trying to fit in with society.

I felt tense throughout the film because of the sometimes uncomfortable and emotional stories, which kept escalating on screen. Escalation is a good descriptor for the overall storyline of the film and the power of cause and effect, since the three separate stories demonstrate how one little action can set a chain of events in motion and effect people outside of your own life.

My tension was only heightened due to the fact that the dialogue was minimal and instead replaced by the steady drumbeat of exotic percussion music, which played throughout the intense scenes keeping my heart racing in time with the quick beat.

After seeing the film I pondered the title and discovered that ‘babel’ refers to the Hebrew Bible story about the Tower of Babel, where people attempted to build a city and a tower whose top might reach unto Heaven. God punished the people for their audacity by dividing the world with thousands of languages, prohibiting people from communicating as easily. Thus, the builders of the tower were unable to understand one another and their project failed and scattered to different parts of the earth. Lack of communication and miscommunication is a big theme in Babel since many languages are spoken and in turn unheard. For example, the main female character in the Japanese story, played by Rinko Kikuchi, is deaf and as a result in many sequences sound is eliminated from the scenes all together, effectively showing her challenge to understand events and to be understood in return.

Babel is boldly directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu who directed Amores perros and 21 Grams. In this film, he showcases his refreshing technique once again with smooth story transitions and interesting camera pans. At first though it took me and my friends a few minutes to get caught up to speed with the story, while some aspects are not illuminated till three quarters into the film. I wish the film started with captions letting audiences know the locations they were seeing, instead of having to piece it together as it went along. The back and forth in time might be a bit confusing for some, but I appreciated the puzzle.

I was surprised though to see that Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett played some what minor roles in comparison to the other actors in the film. Their performances were good and their characters are important, but they were not the only ones. I was mainly impressed with all the child actors in the film and Kikiuchi’s soul-searching role as a brazen yet vulnerable coming-of-age deaf girl dealing with personal tragedy. In the final scene her emotional performance had me crying with empathy for her character.

Even though the film is 2 hour and 22 minutes long, the time went unnoticed by me since I eagerly awaited restitution and some closure for each storyline.

The Upside: A powerful and intelligent emotional roller coaster of a film.

The Downside: Some scenes are gorey and a bit gritty and raw.

On the Side: Rinko Kikuchi spent a year auditioning and learning sign language for her role.

Overall Grade: A-

Tara Settembre is a Senior Critic for Film School Rejects

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  • Francesca

    Just wondered how others understood the ending-which seemed to cancel out the earlier misadventure in Mexico.

  • Francesca

    While I really liked this movie, I can’t help wishing that writers would stop using the potentially manipulative emotional media of film as an indoctrination against enforcing the U.S.’s generous immigration laws, ironically on a par with Mexico’s comparatively stringent immigration enforcement. Good film, but let other people think for themselves.

  • lillie

    acting excellent, storyline detached for a long time but eventually easy to connect the dots. a bit political but intense. enjoy but walk away saying…wow, what the hell?

  • http://http Grace Ford

    I loved this film. I did get somewhat confused as to the outcome with Angelia. Did she get deported? The end shows Brad Pitt speaking to his son from the hospital and Angelina answers the phone. can anyone help me with this aspect.?

  • http://www.lakewood.org mjr

    The phone conversation first occurs early in the movie, and is simply repeated from Pitts side of the phone at the end of the movie.It also underscores how these traumatic events are going on without the other parties even knowing their import.

  • lisa

    What did the ending mean? what did the Japanese girl write in the letter to the policeman?

  • kathy

    I don’t get it!!

  • nattyice

    So the final letter from the deaf japanese girl to the policeman says something about how she can’t connect to the world, and how her mother may have committed suicide because she couldn’t connect with her daughter; since this kinda contradicts the earlier scene when the girl says to her dad that her mom would pay attention, I would say that her mom did try to make that connection, but just couldn’t communicate properly. and if you think about it, the overall theme of the movie is miscommunication and how many negative consequences can occur because of it… and if you ever read the bible, you know that when God destroyed the tower of “babel”, nobody could speak the other’s languages. Genesis 11:1-11

  • Lorika

    Does anyone knows what was written on the latter that the Japanese girl left to the policeman?

    nattyice: do u understand Japanese language or u think that is what it was?

  • unimpressed

    I can’t believe any of you are even wasting your time talking about this movie. It was the worst waste of 2 hrs of my life. I wouldn’t subject my worst enemy to it. There was no plot to speak of. I spent the whole time waiting for something to happen, and it never did. They never said what was in the letter to the cop. We never found out what happened to the mexican drunk driver. And what happened to the troubled couple that were in the middle east? That was by far the worst movie I’ve ever seen in my life!

  • Phil

    A great movie. As for the end, the girl tells the cop that her mother jumped off the balcony, but dad later says, no she shot herself and the girl found her. Does the girl not want to relive the horror of finding her (after not, of course, hearing the gunshot) and so makes up the balcony jump? And, is it possible she shot herself with the very rifle that was later given away? Or even, did someone else shoot the mother with said rifle? Possible?

  • J

    I would agree with you on the girl not hearing her mother shotting herself, but it would be hard for her mother to shoot herself with a rifle maybe with smaller gun but not a rifle. Besides didn’t the father of the Japaneses girl give the gun to the guy in Morocco. Furthermore, if the girl’s father went to hunt with it then, why did he took the weapon with which his wife death?

  • Sandeep

    What was the need for the japanese part of the story at all? the rifle could have got into the moroccan man’s hands from anywhere.
    The movie does a terrible job of keeping the audience informed as to what is happening, and where its happening.
    2 hours of my life wasted.

  • Blippy Turgidson

    Tiresome, bloated, self-important and utterly middlebrow.

  • Academentia

    The note describes how the Japansese girl was molested by her dad. She was planning to commit suicide by jumping off the bridge. That is why the policeman never went to ‘save’ her immediately, but she likely does not follow through because the final scene shows how her dad finally ‘pays’ attention to her again after ‘nine months’. The dialogue alludes to this throughout the movie, as do her actions with older male characters.

  • Academentia

    I mean balcony!

  • dinsman

    Time Line of the movie that confused me at the beginning

    1st day – The american woman was shot in the bus
    End of 1st day – Angelina was called by Bratt Pitt from the hospital b4 they went to Mexico (after the gun tragedy in morroco)
    2nd day – 2 American white kids missing near borderline
    5th day – Starting of investigation about the gun at Japan involving daughter and her father (Thats why u can see the face of guilty morroco’s boy on TV watched by japanese girl)

  • http://myspace.com/sexynichele nichele

    i was thinking the same thing that maybe the girl was being molested by her father then when i thought about it she said her father never paid attention to her, but it seemed to me as if he made attempts to show intrest/affection, but she brushed him off then i was thinking maybe she shot her mother by a mistake and the father gave the gun away to protect his daughter and thats why there was this gap between them because she killed his wife . then i was thinking the reason for the title was revealed at the very end if you don’t know crazy deaf teen japanese girl sign language then you’ll have a misunderstanding of what actually took place!(babel=different languages so no one can understand what the hell is going on!)

  • Sara Z.

    I am into Japanese Culture research and even went there a few months ago to study their culture deeply, and somehting that surprised me is the very high rate of suicides in Japan, its an everyday thign, the reason they do this is when they discover a shameful thing about their inmediate family. They committ it to clean their honor, something that is even scary is that japanese are very respectful to someone´s suicide act, so dont even investigate further, it is just a decision to be respected. So watching this movie, makes me believe that the mother of the girl did committed suicided after finding out something shameful, probably her husband molesting her daugther, or even worse, her daughter seducing her dad, it seemed she had a sexual obsesion and at the end, I beleive she was also going to committ suicide out of shame of rejection of men toward her. Thats why she was naked on the balcony ready to jump.

  • hadi aljubbah

    The movie was perfect , period.

  • Reezo

    So what happened to those two white kids?
    How were they tied to Morocco?
    Those werent Pitt’s kids were they?

  • milind

    Looks like Reezo was asleep !
    The kids were Pitts kids

  • Glebe

    Reading some of these comments make me cringe.

    For those of you confused:

    The Mexican story & the Moroccan story are linked via the phone call between Pitt and Mike( Pitt’s son).

    The hospital waiting room scene towards the end of the film where you see Pitt crying on the phone, is the start of the Mexican story we saw at the beginning of the film.

    I loved the Japanese Story. It was brilliant. She is deaf, IN JAPAN! and the relationships she has with her dad and her friends are so powerful.

    And the police man at the end, views up and watches the News report and bam the Moroccan story.

    I could watch a whole Japanese story just on her life.

  • Doug

    Great film. Pretty good even without the subtitles, and was only confused with the japanese scenes (although still confusing WITH the subtitles!).

    @Glebe: you seem to have some opinions about the film. Do you think the mother committed suicide through inability to communicate or the father molesting her?

  • Andy

    This movie sucked..sorry! The worst part is i actually paid for this one haha

  • stupd

    this was the biggest waste of time in my life. the movie was just unimaginably BORING, with a terrible storyline. please, don’t waste your time like i did.

  • jux

    This movie has garnished so many negative reviews which i simply can’t wrap my head around. yes there were contrived parts, bits that could have been improved but overall this movie actually spoke. it wasn’t about having a big twisted plot to reveal itself at the end or brad pitt getting out a gun at the end to shoot the shit out of people, rather it was trying to tell three separate situations and the fragments of their lives, all very real, and using a motif (the gun) to weave it’s way amongst it all, to portray the fallibility of miscommunication and misunderstanding. What happened to them all in the end was not important, because conveying this was the message being underpinned throughout. One of the most thematic movies I’ve ever seen. For those criticizing it, I’m wondering if they can offer a movie of this ambition that was any better.

  • Justy

    This is an incredibly beautiful film, perhaps a bit contrived in places but how many great works of fiction could that accusation be levelled at. I love the bitter-sweetness of movies like this, and the performances, particularly of some of the minor actors make me yearn to see the next film that will drag me in like this one did. The tenderness of the closing scene coupled with the haunting piano chords may well have been a well used cinematic technique but my living room got very smoky all of a sudden. Loved it….

  • I hate Babel

    Babel Is The Worst Fucking Movie Ever. It completely sucked ass.

  • Nitin

    The movie is great. For the ones disliking it, I must say, this is not your genre.
    And I don’t think the Japanese girl was molested by her dad, otherwise she wouldn’t have an urge for having sex with other people. I think she felt badly left out. You know being left alone can drive you crazy.