In Mesopotamia — what is now Iraq — there used to exist a city named Babel. It was the Holy City of Babylonia. But in Christian mythology, its meaning is interpreted as “confusion” in reference to the Tower of Babel.
During the erection of the Tower of Babel, God saw the united people building this tower to reach the heavens as defiance to His greatness. The Biblical story tells that man is evil and rebellious by nature and the tower's construction was an act of ego, not an act of worship. As punishment, God confused the languages so the builders could no longer communicate; they stopped building and the people were scattered over the world. You could read into such a story that God is responsible for this screw-up the world finds itself in, but I digress.
In Babel, we find the same motif in three or four stories, depending on how you interpret it, closely linked together but spread out over the world. The story begins with two young brothers in the Moroccan desert, shooting the new family rifle at jackals and rocks, while herding goats. The older brother, trying to prove the rifle is a dud, fires at a tour bus when, in fact, he’s just a poor shot. The younger brother -- who is a great shot -- proves the rifle isn’t a dud. Thus begins the beautifully crafted tragedy about death and loneliness.
A couple on a retreat to mend their lives after the death of their child are on that bus. The wife, Susan, played by Cate Blanchett, who, with her pale visage, could easily appear in a Waterhouse painting, is hit in the shoulder by the bullet. As the bus stops, the boys, realizing what they have done, run for the hills — literally and figuratively.
A Mexican nanny in an upper-middle class home receives a call from the husband, Richard, played by Brad Pitt. She is forced to stay with the children, despite her son’s wedding the next day. Not able to find a sitter, she heads off to Mexico with the children to attend the wedding. Getting back into the U.S. with the children will prove disastrous.