Saturday, 30 June 2007

Review of Babel (2006)

Babel is a film by director Alejandro González Iñárritu, who was also the director of 21 Grams. Like 21 Grams, Babel is about different stories of people's lives, and all these stories are linked in some way. The movie stars Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett as American tourists. Elle Fanning, little sister of Dakota Fanning, plays one of the American parents' kids.

After watching the film, the message that I took from it was that even though bad things happen, often there's nobody to blame. The tragedy happens because of a chain reaction of unfortunate events and bad luck.

The title makes reference to the Tower of Babel, which is from the bible. According to the bible, everyone spoke one language but God confused the people by changing languages. This of course is at odds with the idea that language evolved (see linguistic evolution). The movie seems to show conflict because of different languages or cultures. The movie seems to suggest that this happens because many are not willing to listen or understand others. This theme in the movie can perhaps be summed up with one biblical quote from Hebrews 13:2 that says, "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it."

Unlike in 21 Grams, the different plotlines seem too independent. As a result, the film ends up looking like a collection of multiple short stories rather than one whole film itself.

The movie, I though, felt very superficial and sometimes stereotypical. The American are just so superficially American with all the imagery and stereotypes emphasized to the extreme. The same can be said of the Mexicans and the Japanese. The real world is a complex mess, but while watching the movie I had the impression that the writer had a simplified perception of reality in his mind: Japanese people are like this, Americans are like that, a tragedy is supposed to use this kind of music, this kind of camera work, etc.

While watching The Door in the Floor, another film with Elle Fanning, one of the characters in that movie talks about the art of telling a story. He says the following: "Everything in fiction is a tool: pain, betrayal, even death. These are, you know, these are like, uh, different colors on a painter's palette. You need to use them." The problem with this film is that, for me, it really seems as if the writer knew he wanted the film to be tragic and just dabbed the usual elements of a tragedy, lost kids, close-ups of people's faces as they cried, etc. With solemn music and scene after scene of people crying and walking around dazed, the film has all the imagery and tone of a tragedy. For me this story really felt like a story, as if all the parts were just put there for the sole purpose of manipulating the audience.

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