The main focus in Babel seemed to be the characters’ inability to communicate and also xenophobia, though there were no incidents of xenophobia in the Japanese portion of the film that I noticed. The things that connected these characters were very superficial and the four groups were really only connected thematically. Ultimately, Babel lumbered around in such a clumsy way that it hardly got anywhere.
A really unconvincing accidental shooting pins four narratives together. Though I know that the mixture of children and guns often lead to disasters when the lack of common sense and playfulness cause children to make outrageously bad decisions. But these children seemed convincingly wise in some ways. The older brother counseled his younger brother on the evils of peeping on his nude sister. The younger brother was wise enough to surrender when the police surrounded them and admit his guilt. Also, mostly, the boys just felt like they weren’t the types who would try to hit a bus with a bullet. The rest of the narrative was mostly driven by plot as the boys tried to elude capture and eventually ended up in a deadly standoff with the police. Lies lead to miscommunication, which was a common theme in this film. But this miscommunication didn’t lead to any of the serious problems in the narrative. For me, the only interesting part of the narrative was how the father’s neglect possibly lead to all of his three children acting out. At once he discovered that his two boys were possible murderers, his younger son was a pervert, and his daughter was exposing herself. Perhaps the father’s neglect, ie. giving the boys the gun and telling them to shoot jackals, affected his children’s behaviors and thus their identities.
Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett were on the bus that these two boys shot at. Cate Blanchett was wounded by a bullet. Pitt grappled with his identity as an American. His wife acted as a foil, fearing the water and silverware in the restaurant in Morocco. Pitt strived to shed his prissy American mannerisms, but then he experienced a culture shock when his wife was shot. The stress of fearing for his wife’s life and his frustration with the lack of a hospital which he was likely not used to lead to Pitt returning to his American mannerisms, becoming rude, angry, and condescending. Even worse was the behavior of the other tourists on the bus, who wanted to leave because they felt extreme xenophobia in the remote village.
The stereotype of the selfish, arrogant, and pampered American was shown strongly through the middle aged tourists who cared little about Blanchett. They were completely insensitive and only focused on saving their own lives, even though their lives were not in immediate danger. America’s lack of experience with other cultures and nations and the media’s massive daily diet of fearmongering with news reports of Americans taken hostage in other countries as directly impacted the identities of all the Americans. The Americans were completely incapable of coping with missing resources and familiar surroundings that they were accustomed to and most of the Americans were probably never placed in situations where their security was not assured.
Another third narrative was the one in which Pitt and Blanchett’s maid struggled to get to her son’s wedding while in charge of Pitt and Blanchett’s kids. Her solution was to take them to a wedding and the children were slowly assimilated into a somewhat different way of life. The two American kids were shocked by the decapitation of a rooster while the Mexican children eagerly chased after the rooster. The children also mentioned their early xenophobia by stating that their parents told them that Mexico was dangerous. Otherwise the wedding went off without a hitch (no pun intended) and the viewers were treated to the really exciting and colorful Mexican wedding which the American children enjoyed. It is easier for children to be immersed in new cultures than adults. The only issue was when a family member driving the maid and children made a stupid decision which ended up stranding the maid and children in the desert. When the maid was finally found, she was deported back to Mexico, despite having lived in America for 18 years. America had become a part of the maid’s identity and the act of being deported seemed more traumatic for her than it would be for a recently arrived immigrant. Of all immigrants, she seems like the type who would be most strongly impacted by her severance from her American identity. But this narrative didn’t make that strong of a comment on illegal immigration since she resigned herself to her return to her family in America, despite seeing the American children as her children. Her resignation gave that narrative a less emotional impact.
The fourth narrative seemed like it belonged the least, but thematically it fit with the rest of the ideas presented in
Babel. There was no xenophobia or cultural conflict, but there was a language barrier, a difficulty of communication between a death and mute girl and the rest of her community. This girl’s feelings were mostly ambiguous though and didn’t have enough clues as to why she acted the way she did. She had a social life, but struggled to get a boyfriend. It also seemed as if her deafness allowed her to frequently disconnect from the world, which might have lead to her feeling alone. But still, her sexual misbehavior was difficult to understand and the few problems she was grappling with were not emphasized enough for it to be clear why she kept trying to sleep with different men. Perhaps she was simply embarrassed over being a virgin, but even that wasn’t emphasized.
This story brought up several topics which ultimately lead to its failure, since none of the narratives or ideas were dwelled upon. The story explored American identity, gender identity, communication, and even Moroccan identity, though never thoroughly enough to get anywhere. It takes time to explore an idea in any artistic way and movies often have even less time to devote to an often brief case study, yet this film’s lack of attention span simply resulted in a chaotic mess of character studies that never succeeded in contributing anything meaningful as a whole. It would have been great if any of these separate narratives were an entire fleshed out film and the thread that supposedly connected these narratives was far too thin.