“I’m not bad I just did something stupid.”
Babel‘s immersive story sends us on a trip to Morocco, Japan, Mexico, and The United States. The plot follows four main story lines that are all linked by a .270 Winchester M70 rifle. A husband and wife, played by Pitt and Blanchett, on vacation in Morocco, a small family in the Moroccan desert, two children and their nanny in San Diego and Mexico, and a young deaf woman in Japan. The screenplay is seamlessly spliced between these story arcs and tracks a non-linear timeline. Through times of violence and regret, each character is learning how to grow from their mistakes.
It is difficult to pinpoint one central theme that persists throughout this film. Each story line follows characters going through a developmental stage in their life, but when are people not doing this? One element in the film links each story line and that is the Winchester rifle. Perhaps the movie is about the life of the rifle and the lives it touches, both directly and indirectly. It is as is the rifle itself is a character, certainly much more than a prop.
There is a level of innocence or naiveté that comes up throughout each storyline. Many of the characters are children and many of the shots are low angle shots, from the perspective of the children. When the film cuts to the perspective of the children this was, more often than not, highlighting a decision or action that would have a significant and negative effect. The sense that these mistakes were due to innocence or naiveté can be summed up by a quote from Amelia, played by Adriana Barraza, “I’m not bad, I just did something stupid.”
Merriam-Webster defines Babel in two ways; 1, “a city in Shinar where the building of a tower is held in Genesis to have been halted by the confusion of tongues.”, and 2, “a confused noise, typically that made by a number of voices.” The multi storyline screenplay that jumps from one to another, helps create a “confused noise” from a number of voices. Not to say the story is convoluted, but some work needs to be done to make sense of everything that takes place. At first I disregarded the first definition, but perhaps there is an analogy there within Babel. With the exception of the storyline that takes place in Japan, all the character’s stories are immediately, or directly, halted by the use of the gun. The storyline in Japan does not seem to be halted by the use of the gun, but the young girl in her penthouse “tower” apartment seems halted by her adolescence. It is likely not a coincidence that the only storyline that is not directly effected by the use of the gun has a main character that is deaf. Her “confused noise” is simply the world around her and her desire to make sense of it all.
Directed by: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Cinematography: Rodrigo Prieto
Written by: Guillermo Arriaga
Music by: Gustavo Santaolalla
Runtime: 2h 23m
Distributed by: Paramount Vantage, Mars Distribution