Sep 12, 2007

Babel (2006) Movie Review

My weekly column, “The Devil’s Hammer,” appears every Monday on The Devil's Hammer on FTB

I am a huge fan of Alejandro González Iñárritu’s previous films, “21 Grams” (2003) and “Amores perros” (2000). Iñárritu is able to bring intensely felt human suffering to the screen. While the onslaught of popular films like “Hostel” and the “Saw” franchise exploit physical suffering in the extreme, Iñárritu shows us emotional pain.

It is not surprising that movie stars Brad Pitt and Cate Blachette wanted to work with Iñárritu even if it meant being a small part of an ensemble cast. Iñárritu’s films possess an emotional peak that embraces suffering everyone can relate to.

Iñárritu and his “21 Grams” and “Amores perros” screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga have fashioned a story that blends together four diverse families and countries: Richard (Pitt) and Susan (Blanchett) are on vacation in Morocco. Their youngest child has died and they are trying to mend their individual guilt over the infant’s death. Their other two children are at home in San Diego being cared for by their long-time housekeeper Amelia (Adriana Barraza).

Traveling in a bus filled with tourists, Susan is hit by a stray bullet. Dangerously close to death and four hours away from a hospital, the bus driver goes to the nearest village, where a villager provides help. The other tourists, selfish Westerners, want to leave Richard and Susan behind and continue their road trip. It is a cruel indictment of how rich people on vacation behave while the poor villagers show wordless compassion.

The bullet was fired from a rifle given to a Moroccan guide by a Japanese hunter. The man then sold the rifle to a goat herder, Anwar (Mohamed Akhzam).

Anwar gives the rifle to his two young sons to shoot jackals killing their goats. In trying to see how far the bullets will go, the youngest boy fires at the bus. Richard has a hard time getting help from the U.S. embassy but does get through to Amelia. She must stay with the children even though her son is getting married in Mexico. Unable to find another sitter for the children, she has no choice but to take the children with her and her nephew Santiago (Gael Garcia Bernal) across the border into Mexico. On the way back to San Diego, Santiago, drunk, gets stopped at the border and then bolts. Pursued by the border police, he leaves Amelia and the two kids in the desert to fend for themselves.

The story shifts to Tokyo, where a young deaf-mute teenager, Chieko (Rinko Kikuchi), is distraught over her mother’s death. Her father (Koji Yakusho) was the Japanese hunter who gave away the rifle. Being deaf in an environment fueled by rock music and sensation-driven language, Chieko indulges in daring sexual behavior as her form of communication.

Even though the title “Babel” explains the theme of the film, it resonated with me on another level. Even though the language barrier or lack thereof (the Japanese storyline) is the dominant theme, it is clear that human pain and suffering has a universal language. The old Moroccan woman understood Susan’s pain and empathized, the father’s anguish over his son’s actions required no subtitles, we understood Chieko’s naked pain, Richard’s frustration and fear did not require dialogue, and Amelia’s horror and tears were emotionally riveting.

Pitt gives the emotional performance required of Iñárritu’s actors. Pitt can portray an ordinary man. And while non-actor Akhzam also finds the right emotional cord, it is Barraza who gives the performance worthy of a Best Supporting Actress nomination.

About author:
Victoria Alexander lives in Las Vegas, Nevada and answers every email. You can contact Victoria directly at or by visiting

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