Monday, February 4

Considering "Babel"

I had wanted to see this movie a long time before I came across it while flipping through a friend's DVD collection. Not really sure where that desire came from. Its compiled rating on Rotten Tomatoes is not so great, though it did receive nominations for a variety of awards including the Oscar for Best Picture (lost to The Departed) and even won a few of them. More than anything else, I think it was its association with the explosion in Mexican films that occurred that year. Having only seen Children of Men myself (still need to get my hands on Pan's Labyrinth) that movie alone is enough to make me see anything remotely related to it.

As a result, I was not really sure what I was coming in to except for mild memories of reviews comparing it to the previous year's Best Picture Crash through their wide-spanning ensemble casts and fractured storytelling. Let me make this clear now. Babel is better than Crash. That's no knock against the latter, a movie which I very much enjoy and appreciate, but for the most part, everything it has it puts out there. There is not much to sift through because the majority lies on the surface. Babel requires digging and reflection, and its raw emotional intensity matches that of Crash with little difficulty.

Babel hits the fundamentals beautiful. Acting across the board is excellent, the no-names, even through sign and foreign languages, matching perfectly against the headlining Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett. The music, simple but evocative and so very appropriate, is largely kept in reserve and only employed to the greatest effect, especially during the club scene. The cinematography, beautiful. The frequently employed jump cuts, powerful. On these basic, foundational elements there is nothing to fault Babel on.

But, to be a truly great movie, one that attains the level of masterpiece, it needs a similarly striking theme, and it is here that Babel takes a brilliant turn. For a movie that literally spans continents and arrives at a time when globalization has transformed and raised the stakes on every political issue, it remains intensely personal, not concerned with governments and society but the individual people doing the best they can in their little, daily lives. The narrative thread, effectively relating how a Japanese hunter's gift leads to the deportation of an illegal immigrant, is there only as an excuse to tell the nearly simultaneous stories of a Moroccan family, a troubled American couple touring in Morocco, a deaf Japanese girl looking for sex and a Mexican nanny forced to bring her young charges to her son's wedding. And what do we find in these distantly related stories? That all these people all are forced to put up with the same trash. They misunderstand each other. They bumble into one another in their search for intimacy and connection. Things get out of control, and people lie and make mistakes. But we all share in the same hope too. At the end, someone puts their arms around you. They show they love you. It does nothing to make the situation any better, but then, at least you know you can get through it.

The message of Babel, in spite of everything it seems to suggest in its scope, is really no greater than "You are not alone in your suffering," whether in the midst of the worst of it or when help finally arrives, sought or not. Just watch the movie. It gets intense at times and will make you uncomfortable, but it is very much worth it.

1 comment:

Emmett said...

I agree with everything you said, but would just like to point out that the Departed is still a better movie.