The word ‘Babel’ originates from the Old Testament biblical story. The people, speaking in a single tongue, decided to build a high tower having “its top in the heavens”. God, in order to thwart man’s ambition, confused the people’s languages, making mutual understanding and continuation of work impossible. The abandoned, ambitious project is now known as the Tower of Babel. Babel is an Oscar nominated movie, directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, co-produced by production houses based in France, Mexico and the US. The cast boasts of Brad Pitt and Kate Blanchett amongst a diverse array of actors. The 2006-released movie has to its credit appreciable acting including that of the children. In an attempt to represent the diversity of languages of the Tower of Babel episode, the plot which spans across four different countries employs the native languages of the respective regions, substantiated with subtitles in English. The film is well edited and is successfully devoid of unwanted scenes. The directing and camerawork have noticeably captured the Moroccan countryside and its poverty, contrasting it with the Japanese city of concrete jungles. The music of the film, given by Gustavo Santaolalla, comprise the aptly placed background scores with respect to the scenes being portrayed, be it the wedding celebration at Mexico, or the mute-unmute disco score in Japan.

The plot of the film is an intricately woven set of incidents, which are gradually seen as delicately linked with each other. It is difficult to affix the stamp of ‘protagonist’ on any one event or character. However the incident involving the gunshot can be termed the central point as a result of which most of the story progresses the way it does. If one does venture to place the gunshot (suffered by an American woman on a trip to Morocco with her husband) at the centre it is easy to trace the story in two ways. Going backwards the link can be made with the story involving the two Moroccan shepherd boys in a rural hilly setting, whose mild competition is the source of the bullet that is fired. Going further back is the link to the Japanese story. Moving forward the story is linked with the American couple’s children at home in the US, and their Mexican nanny who has to make a choice between taking care of the two kids and attending her son’s wedding in Mexico. The fix eventually forces the trio to the wedding venue.

The title of the film is substantiated by not only the separate scenes from separate countries with people communicating in native languages, but also the temporally non-simultaneous arrangement of the different links, implying confusion. It will not be invalid to say that there are no born criminals or villains in the story; everything that comes to pass is due to one thing leading to another. No one point or event in the story can be pinpointed as the sole reason for all the grief that the film portrays. The story is, however not totally devoid of silver linings in the gray clouds of loneliness, sexual frustration and co-incidental mishaps. These positive traits are embodied in certain characters who appear as a boon to others in times of crisis, like the Moroccan tour guide, the Japanese dentist and the police officer.

The film attempts to question various aspects of today’s life. The most prominent is the issue regarding unhealthy sexual behaviour in children and adolescents, the reasons for such behaviour (marginalization and loneliness in a metropolis) and its noted prevalence. Paradoxically the question also is whether this behaviour is unhealthy or un-natural at all. However these sexual tensions are not limited by the urban boundaries, as we see in the sexual desires displayed by the younger Moroccan boy by way of masturbation and voyeurism. This aspect is also indicative of the modern times, where innocence is lost at a very young age. The loss of innocence is further projected by the handing of the rifle to the young Moroccan children. Though for a genuine, harmless cause, the handling of the rifle by children in this film is questioned on grounds of the potential lethality of its use.

The idea of the “white man’s burden” is parodied in the form of the American woman’s grading the impoverished conditions of the Moroccan village as “filth”, in sharp irony to which, she is indebted to the same village for surviving after she is wounded by the bullet. Also is problematic the terming of the Mexican country as a “dangerous place” by the American siblings portraying the impressionability of young minds and how they grow up to be prejudiced about the ‘other’. A particular case in point is the marginalization of the Japanese teenager. The scenes depicting her being at a discotheque making some viewers fall ill is worthy of praise, aptly representing how the view would be for a deaf-mute person. One does not usually picture the discotheque disassociated from its loud noises, or for that matter any other place.

The various ambiguous threads which remain un-clarified through the course of the film render a further justification of the title, Babel. Among these are the unrevealed contents of the note handed over to the Japanese police officer by the girl, the nature of her mother’s death, the fate of the two Moroccan boys and the fate of the Mexican nanny’s nephew. A possible conclusion can be that the story tells how people living in different countries, speaking diverse languages can be linked to each other, how today’s peoples are just the descendants of the once-united people and how we need to act as one in times of crises.

Deepa Sebastian

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