Babel is one film, but it focuses on four different storylines, takes place in four different parts of the world and shows us four different sets of characters dealing with four different situations, all tied together by one firearm.
Yes, Babel is one of those hyperlink-films, cutting between multiple plotlines throughout. Though it differs from most hyperlink-film, in which all the plotlines seem to happen simultaneously, whereas you need to figure out the chronological order of the stories in this one. I shall not reveal that to you, but I will as per usual tell you what the film is about.
In Morocco, goatherder Abdullah (Mustapha Rachidi) buys from a man named Hassan (Abdelkader Bara) a rifle to use to shoot coyotes, that sometimes appear to attack his sheep. Abdullah lets his two sons, Yussef and Ahmed (Boubker Ait El Caid and Said Tarchini), take care of the weapon and guard the sheep. To see how far it can actually shoot, they try to hit a moving bus with it from a mountain. At first it seems like they missed it, but the bus slows down and the two boys run away in fear. They choose to remain silent about the incident, but when news reach them that an American tourist has been shot, supposedly by local terrorists, they realize it is time to reveal the truth.
The American tourist is Susan Jones (Cate Blanchett) and she is on vacation with her husband Richard (Brad Pitt). Naturally they intend to relax, but Susan seems paranoid when it comes to visiting unknown countries. After she is shot, the kind tour guide Anwar (Mohamed Akhzam) gets them to a nearby village where an old lady, who seems to be some kind of medicine woman or somesuch, takes care of the wounded and horrified Susan until rescue arrives. The other tourists stay in the village as well, becoming more and more irritated.
In U.S.A, the Jones family’s Mexican nanny Amelia (Adriana Barraza) gets a phone call from Richard, where he tells her that, because of what has happened, she has to watch over their children Debbie and Mike (Elle Fanning and Nathan Gamble) for a while longer, meaning she will be unable to attend her son’s wedding in Mexico. Refusing to cancel it and unable to find another person who can watch over the kids, she simply takes them with her to Mexico – this she will live to regret. Gael García Bernal plays Santiago, Amelia’s nephew who drives them to Mexico.
In Japan, we meet Chieko Wataya (Rinko Kikuchi), daughter of Yasujiro Wataya (Kōji Yakusho), the business man who originally owned the rifle that shot Susan, but gave it away to Hassan during a hunting trip to Morroco. Chieko is sexually frustrated, depressed because of her mother’s recent suicide and also a deaf mute. It is this storyline – the one that feels the “most unrelated”, if you will, to the others – that makes the most sense to be in a film called Babel since it has a lot to do with the difficulty for individuals to communicate when, in this case, one is deaf and the other does not understand sign language. If you know of The Tower of Babel, you will easily understand.
Babel isn’t the only multi-narrative film writer-director Alejandro González Iñárritu has made – in fact it is the third film in what he calls The Death Trilogy, even though Babel isn’t much of a sequel to 21 Grams or Amores perros. I’m sure of it.
Something many hyperlink-films have in common is that they tend to have the seperate storylines taking place simultaneously as well as getting neatly tied together towards the end. In Babel we do not get that. It is a film that simply focuses on four completely different things that occur in four completely different parts of our world, but are by coincidence tied together thanks to a stupid, innocent child firing a rifle. Also, one of the storylines actually takes place some time after everything else happens, but I shall not reveal which one.
I simply must say that this film has very good character writing, in that they feel like real people who do things that we most likely would have done if we were where they are. The tourists, for instance, getting annoyed with Richard because it he wont let them leave the village with the tour bus. I was also fond of the Anwar character, who refuses to accept Richard’s money, since he thinks saving Susan’s life was simply the correct thing to do – a very kind man, indeed. One thing I found unrealistic, though, was how a girl as beautiful as Chieko could be rejected by guys in general. But that’s not me being critical, mind you. I am just joking around. Sorry.
Babel is an interesting, beautifully shot, well-directed and superbly acted picture – especially Rinko Kikuchi, Adriana Barraza and the unknown actors in the Morroco-story do a suprisingly great job – that does many things differently. I must admit that I have not seen this director’s earlier films, but I’ve heard they’re not as good as Babel. I will see that for myself at some point.