Babel (****)

I am going to sound a little arrogant about my heritage here, but I believe that the current wave of Mexican directors is really showing what great story telling is about to hollywood. Who am I talking about? Alfonso Cuarón (Children of Men), Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth), and Alejandro González Iñárritu (Babel). That and Gabo (Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Colombian Nobel Prize Winner) making the list of the 20th most influential pieces universal of literature, has me full of pride to be Latin.

If you rent the DVD, I suggest you watch the trailer before the movie. The title explains what the premise of the story is, but it is not about language but just how different we all are. I have not had a movie frighten me as much as this one did in a long time. Not because of the suspense, what made it scary is the reality of some situations and ways of living.

The movie takes place in 3 different timelines. What attaches them all together is a single event, the “terrorist” attack on an American woman. Brad Pitt might be the biggest name in the movie, but the acting by all the kids, Rinko Kikuchi, and Oscar nominee Adriana Barraza.

I am not going to spoil the movie for those of you who have not seen it, but I have to at least give you one example of how different cultures see the same action from different perspectives. As soon as Santiago asked the kids to go get him some chickens, knowing that a wedding was going on, I knew exactly what was going to happen to the chickens. I also have seen first hand what a chicken with its head cut off looks like and acts like. I also felt bad for the kid in the movie that had to see that, because he looked almost traumatized by what he had just witnessed.

Most of us have seen the videos online about the cruelty towards animals in other countries. However, we might not have see how a cow is slaughtered in the US. I have actually talked to a couple of people that have worked in a meat plant and both of them say that they do not eat meat anymore. I have actually seen a cow get slaughtered in a trip I took to see some relatives in Colombia. It was done with a huge knife directly to the jugular. With surgeon like precision the guy taking the life of the cow killed the animal that was later going to be eaten by the people standing around watching it get skinned and prepped. I wonder how many people in the US would stop eating meat or chickens if they saw one being killed.

In other countries it is very normal to see the animal alive that you are going to later eat. Here in the US is very rare that you witness that whole process take place (unless you are a hunger.) During the movie I almost felt like the kid should not have seen that, but why? Why do I feel different when a little white American kid sees a chicken get killed than if my own kids or the Mexican kids in the movie see it. This is what is great about this movie, it makes you see the same stories from so many different perspective, and better yet, it shows how sometimes inequalities play in our lives without us even knowing.

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Babel.

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5 Responses to Babel (****)

  1. A great piece, indeed. I loved Adriana Barraza. I hadn’t felt this interested in a movie in a long time, but Babel kept me holding tight to my seat. I also like films that make me think, and Babel is one of them. I sometimes got lost in the story trying to figure out where certain situation came from, or what was going to be the consequence.

    As for Gabo… COLOMBIANS KICK ASS! :)

  2. I thought the acting was great, but I don’t think I liked it nearly as much as you did. Maybe because of the pace or that some of it felt a little forced to me. Also it was hard for me to really get into the Brad/Cate storyline when the movie opened with him telling the nanny what the prognosis was. Asf or the animal, I had difficulty watching that scene but I do with anything that shows animals being harmed/killed. Hypocritical since I eat chicken/beef, most definitely.

  3. I just watched Babel last night with my wife and I must say that I didn’t like it all that much. When I see a movie I expect it to have a central message of some sort or at least tell a story that sheds new light on any given thing.

    If Babel had a central repeating idea it was, “Don’t act stupid” or perhaps, “Don’t put yourself into situations where bad things are likely to happen.” Many of the scenes in the movie didn’t seem to have any point at all to them. The entire story line regarding the Japanese girl didn’t seem to have any point to it at all other than, “Look at what a deaf Japanese teenage girl’s life can be like when she’s suffering from depression!” It was so loosely connected with the rest of the movie it had me asking, “Why did they include this?

    The rest of movie:

    Morocco story: “Look! Not all violence is terrorism. Police, politics, and illogical/stressed American tourists are just as likely to terrorize! Also: Learn first aid. Don’t get on a bus that doesn’t have a first aid kit. Also: Moroccan police shoot first and ask questions later. Also: Incestuous children lacking ethics and common sense are packing very powerful rifles in the mountains?”

    Mexico story: “Look! Even the nicest (legal) immigrant can cause you pain and suffering because American border police are power-tripping assholes! Also: If you’re working in the U.S. illegally, don’t get too attached to your nice life because the U.S. government can screw you over at a moment’s notice. Also: Mexico is a dirty–but not necessarily dangerous–3rd world country full of people that love to party. Also: U.S. law regarding crossing borders is so obscure, numerous, and obfuscated even if you have everything you’re supposed to you’re likely to still get screwed. Also: If you hire someone to take care of your kids make sure she can drive and has her own car. Also: Don’t let a drunk Mexican drive you anywhere in the middle of the night.”

    Japanese story: “Japan is so disconnected from the rest of the world that the best we could do to connect their situation was to use extremely obscure characters only one of which just happened to have done one completely mundane thing in the past that is connected with the rest of the story.”

    -Riskable
    http://riskable.com
    “There is a big difference between believing in something without evidence and believing in something in spite of evidence. The first is blind faith which is unwise but not necessarily harmful. The second is illness and should be treated as such.”

  4. I just watched Babel last night with my wife and I must say that I didn’t like it all that much. When I see a movie I expect it to have a central message of some sort or at least tell a story that sheds new light on any given thing.

    I watched the movie thinking that it had a couple of themes. I thought the first was to highlight how different cultures can be, the second one was that we cannot judge people’s actions based on context. While an action is perfectly permissible in one environment we know it would not be allowed somewhere else. The movie surprised me even more how one event can affect so many lives in so many different areas of the world in an almost like instruments in a song. What put it over the top was how the whole world reacted differently to the same event, in the end the scene that feels like it almost has no payoff because we do not get to know what the girl writes, the TV which is one of the connectors on the movie shows how the incident is still being called a terrorist attack, even though it was not and the people that committed the crime were caught it did not change the general perception on the situation. I think this film’s overall theme and a very relevant in our time and age is now little we know about what we call terrorism, who we call terrorists, what we think causes terrorism and just how little we understand the world, in the US how little we understand our neighbors.

    If Babel had a central repeating idea it was, “Don’t act stupid” or perhaps, “Don’t put yourself into situations where bad things are likely to happen.” Many of the scenes in the movie didn’t seem to have any point at all to them. The entire story line regarding the Japanese girl didn’t seem to have any point to it at all other than, “Look at what a deaf Japanese teenage girl’s life can be like when she’s suffering from depression!” It was so loosely connected with the rest of the movie it had me asking, “Why did they include this?

    I thought that the storyline of the Japanese girl was a central theme throughout the movie. All the actors were almost chess pieces on a world wide board. The young self indulgent kid in Morocco represented the dangers of self gratification just for the sake if pleasure in many levels. The Japanese girl showed how much an event (the death of her Mother) can model who we are, we were made to look at her more closely because she was deaf but many young people are affected by traumatic events that lead them to promiscuity and to be starved for attention. Both of these storyline ended in redemption, the boy finally cared about his brother more than himself, and the girl seemed to finally come to grips with the death of her mother (assuming the note to the cop said told the real story of how her mother died). A better storyline that ended in no redemption was the Nanny who raised those two kids. At the end was left with nothing because of a very irresponsible act and her illegal status. Furthermore another theme through the movie was being irresponsible; the parents letting a nanny raise their kids, the father giving a kid a high power riffle…

    The rest of movie:

    Morocco story: “Look! Not all violence is terrorism. Police, politics, and illogical/stressed American tourists are just as likely to terrorize! Also: Learn first aid. Don’t get on a bus that doesn’t have a first aid kit. Also: Moroccan police shoot first and ask questions later. Also: Incestuous children lacking ethics and common sense are packing very powerful rifles in the mountains?”

    I think you are oversimplifying a lot of themes in the movie here. I for one was pretty amazed at how irresponsible a husband is taking his wife that obviously has issues with germs to a place where you are going to be in an uncomfortable environment. Then the way that the “American” was acting was completely out of line, would you be able to talk to a cop here in the US like he talked to them there? And we all felt almost like his behavior was acceptable. The rifle was there to kill coyotes but the father was very irresponsible… however in a lot of other countries it is very common place to have people own guns for killing animals that pray on their cattle.

    Mexico story: “Look! Even the nicest (legal) immigrant can cause you pain and suffering because American border police are power-tripping assholes! Also: If you’re working in the U.S. illegally, don’t get too attached to your nice life because the U.S. government can screw you over at a moment’s notice. Also: Mexico is a dirty–but not necessarily dangerous–3rd world country full of people that love to party. Also: U.S. law regarding crossing borders is so obscure, numerous, and obfuscated even if you have everything you’re supposed to you’re likely to still get screwed. Also: If you hire someone to take care of your kids make sure she can drive and has her own car. Also: Don’t let a drunk Mexican drive you anywhere in the middle of the night.”

    I don’t even know where to begin here… you are pointing tons of things that are true, but I think you miss a lot of what is really going on. Also there are a lot of emotional struggles here and while the nanny wanted the best for their kids she was just wrong on making the decision she made. I think she got what she deserved, she took two kids out of the country without the parents permission… she could and would have ended up in jail if those were my kids.

    Japanese story: “Japan is so disconnected from the rest of the world that the best we could do to connect their situation was to use extremely obscure characters only one of which just happened to have done one completely mundane thing in the past that is connected with the rest of the story.”

    Again, you are oversimplifying here. Japan is not disconnected from our world, the complete opposite… however their culture is something that in the west we cannot even begin to understand. While this movie only shows a little of Japan, it shows the new face of Japan where teenagers interact with one another in a very open almost western way which was not the norm 10 years ago… Japan is changing and continuing to change.

    I think this movie did not have a lack of themes, it actually had too many and if I had to point one out would be responsability… how governments can blow things out of proportion, how parenting is a very difficult thing and what the mistakes doing that job can spell.

  5. cool movies no doubt. i saw babel but loved children of men more.

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