Babel (Inarritu; 2006) raises an interesting question about the relationship between a film and a filmmaker. Is it entirely a symbiotic one? How much Inarritu is in Babel, and vice-versa? Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu seems very much present in Babel’s stories, taking a prominent position among the individuals who form this wide net of a cast. He lifts the veil draped over human suffering and lead us toward our redemption.
In addition to directing the film, Inarritu also conceived the idea in cooperation with Guillermo Arriaga (21 Grams, The Three Burials of Melquies Estrada). From the planning of the shots to the words uttered by the actors, Inharritu made his mark on Babel. Delusion of grandeur? Perhaps so, especially if you believe, like I do, that the film did not justify itself. But what about the prizes, the awards, and the $ 73.7 M the film grossed internationally, you ask? It would not be the first time that a very much overrated film ascends to cannonized status on the backs of overzealous critics.
The nexus of Babel’s story arcs is Richard’s (Brad Pitt) and Susan’s (Cate Blanchett) failing marriage. During a trip to Morocco, their relationship unravels itself. Until Blanchett gets shot accidentally. What follows is a butterfly effect on people’s lives on several different continents; it’s as if all these lives revolved around a single straight-shot bullet. This is where we must ask the question: can a movie the scope of Babel survive on such a thin premise? Inharritu wants us to believe this, and makes a grandiose attempt at keeping our attention with scene after scene of a striking photographic beauty (the locations he used did not hurt: a Moroccan plain, Southern California’s desert, a nightclub in Tokyo on ecstacy) though after a while all of this beautiful tension makes one squirm rather than become enlightened. These lives, now made famous on the 11 o’clock news (Susan’s gunshot wound incident is broadcast on the nightly news as potentially terrorism-related) intersect over a darker zodiac of human nature, though what this means is lost in the melee. Inharritu wanted to show us humanity’s latent pessimism in order to offer redemption and a happy ending, but the film fails us in this regard. We are not convinced that Susan and Richard will be able to save their marriage or that Chieko (Rinko Kikuchi) will come off her noxious rebellious streak.
Pages could be written about what could have made a difference in Babel; even more could be written about what makes it such an eloquent, visually accomplished film. But the stories’ gooey sentimentality and the overbearingly clear ‘here, this is the lesson to learn’ weigh down the story, reducing the viewer to such vulnerability as to make one seem naked, like the last scene where Rinko Kikuchi embraces her father on their apartment balcony in reconciliation.