Exploring the consequences of spontaneous decisions and human actions, Babel takes seemingly disparate threads and gently weaves them together, creating a loose blend of stories. The word ‘Babel’ is defined as a scene of noise and confusion; a meaning which fits well with this story. The chaotic and confusing events which unfold are triggered and connected by a single gunshot.
In the Moroccan desert we join Susan (Cate Blanchett) and Richard (Brad Pitt) as they travel through the area on a tourist bus, intermittently talking around their marital problems in a very foreign world. Their children are being cared for back in America by their nanny Amelia, who is making plans to attend her son’s wedding back home in Mexico. She holds strong loyalties to both her blood relatives and also to her two young charges. Back in Morocco we are introduced to a local family of goat herders, the two young sons of which have the role of defending the grazing goats from predators.
Changing locations to Tokyo we meet Chieko (Rinko Cucuchia), a deaf-mute girl who is struggling with both her mother’s death and her own sexual development. In a world that often ignores her, she feels like somewhat of an outsider, a feeling which prompts her to take drastic action.
Spread across different countries the connections within Babel are not instantly visible but they slowly rise to the surface as the movie unfolds. Using splintered time sequences throughout, it’s interesting to see how the different sequences reveal themselves and ultimately fit against eachother.
While Babel deals with several complete and self-contained stories, each geographically unique sub-story explores similar themes such as what people are willing to sacrifice for others, respect for the value of human life, tolerance of violence, different concepts of family units, and cultural frictions. All of the characters experience elements of the displaced ‘alien’, whether it is in their experiences, their surroundings or their lifestyles.
The film is superbly acted; stand out performances for me coming from Rinko Cucuchi, Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett and Adriana Barraza. Tightly shot, the film often relies on close ups to capture each emotion and reaction which passes across the actor’s faces, creating powerful connections with the audience. The film is not fast paced in an action sense, it meanders through the lives of the different families, exploring different dramatic circumstances which impact on each. The film ultimately reaches a conclusion which leaves all the character’s lives forever changed; some for the better, some for the worse.