Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Babel: Listen

New Years Eve, Karina and I watched the 2006 film Babel. It was an utterly fascinating story which weaves four seemingly very different groups and stories of people together into one story but stretched around the globe in Morocco, Japan, Mexico and the United States. Nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and two nominations for Best Supporting Actress and won one for Best Original Score, it also won a Golden Globe.

Without giving away too much of the hyperlink plot lines, there are a few things which quite intrigue me. Quite obviously the title emanates from the tower of Babel story in Genesis 11.

1 Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. 2 And as they migrated from the east, they came upon a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. 3 And they said to one another, "Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly." And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. 4 Then they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth." 5 The Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which mortals had built. 6 And the Lord said, "Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another's speech." 8 So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. 9 Therefore it was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.

Much of the film centers in the resulting tension and conflict between cultures and individuals who can no longer communicate. The marriage between Richard (Brad Pitt) and Susan (Cate Blanchett) has become difficult after the loss of a child to SIDS. This experience and their inability to communicate draw them into the crosshairs of the other story lines. Their illegal housekeeper fluent in only Spanish, takes Richard and Susan’s children across the border to a wedding celebration. Upon their attempt to re-enter the U.S. is when the language and cultural curse enters into this story line. Another of the fascinating characters is Chieko Wataya (Rinko Kikuchi), a deaf and rebellious daughter of a Japanese businessman. Her disability exaggerates the inability to communicate except to those who are most like us (this is telling in itself). In this case it is her deaf friends, but even then, there is still tension over certain events. I think we also get a glimpse into the tensions between class and race as well. Overall, it portrays a very broken humanity.

Perhaps because it was early morning or I was just so into the film, I cannot recall exactly how it ends. I am left wondering at this point, in a film that highlights the inevitability of conflict among people who do not, or cannot communicate well, where is the hope? Were there scenes that pointed toward a good humanity that desires reconciliation? Or is this just the way things are?

I highly recommend the film if you are looking for a sobering film (especially if you are coming off an overdose of syrupy Christmas films…which I love too).