Genesis 11:1 - And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.
So the humans were in a pretty good place back there in the Old Testament. However, God got a bit put out when the humans thought, with their one language skills, they could get together and, with that old community spirit, build a tower unto Heaven. That's when He fucked them up with the language issue. And now, so many years later, we have lonely academicians spending their lonely lives studying what we lovingly call "linguistics." A study which all too often turns basely political. A Tower of Babel, indeed.
There are several towers in this 2006 film by Alejandro González Iñárritu. There are cell towers that don't work due to the faraway locales. There are towers of communications which appear to work since they are transmitting data, but the data is so misunderstood as to exacerbate the problems instead of resolve them. There is a tower over Tokyo in which a deaf-mute girl is trapped like a bird in a gilded cage. There's a tower of a mountain range from whence comes the initial bullet which sets off the chain reaction that you'll be watching for a little over two hours.
When I posted a writeup about Amores Perros in 2003, I ended it by saying, "My guess is that this first film by Iñárritu will not be his best one, but it is the best movie I've seen in quite a while."
When I posted a writeup about 21 Grams in 2004, I mentioned that his first film was in Spanish and was about the consequences of harming dogs; that his second film was in English and was about the consequences of harming children; and then I said, "I suppose his next film will be about the consequences of harming the gods. Who knows what language that one will be in?"
And now along comes Babel, a film I just got through watching about half an hour ago. I am still shaking from having done so. If you're an atheist such as myself, you might well believe that "the gods" are random matters of chance. In that sense, this film is exactly about the consequences of being on the short end of that godly love and care. As for the question of what language this next film is in, the answer is, "Too many to pick just one." The storyline moves around between Morocco and San Diego and Tijuana and Tokyo. And, like the truly dysfunctional multitaskers we've all become, just when you get into one part of the story and go, "No! Wait! I want to see what happens here!" when it shifts, within thirty seconds you've forgotten all about that desire and are all caught up in the new locale.
Apparently, this is the culmination of a planned trilogy, so it's not really astonishing that all three films have so much in common. Just as with the first two films, this one centers around the consequences of one accident on at least three different people. In this case, the accident in question is a bit more malignant and could just as easily be called an act of willful violence. However, since the act is in the hands of a child, I would still prefer to think of it as an accident.
Again, the whole cloth of the idea springs from the collaboration between Iñárritu and Guillermo Arriaga. Both claim to have been inspired by William Faulkner and Kurosawa. You could do a lot worse for role models. As it says in the credits, it comes from an "idea" created by the two of them. What a nice way to put it. They aren't necessarily writers or filmmakers; they're just a couple of guys who come up with these "ideas" and then try to sell them to you. The price of admission they're asking is more than dollars. I think you'll understand what I mean if, like me, you're still shaking after half an hour of the film's being over.
Brad Pitt sports a few wrinkles and gray hairs and Cate Blanchett spends most of the movie bleeding to death on a mat in a mud hut. If you had to pick a weak spot in the film, you could point at these two superstars. I'm betting they begged Iñárritu to "let them in." The more formidable roles are played by the folks you've never heard of before. Boubker Ait El Caid and Said Tarchani as the Moroccan boys with the rifle are very accomplished. Pitt and Blanchett's Mexican nanny Adriana Barraza is better than most. But it is Rinko Kikuchi, playing Chieko, a deaf-mute Japanese teenager who steals the show. Fittingly, the film ends with her and her father, played by Koji Yakusho. And it ends with them unable to speak at the top of a very large tower.
Again, the director of photography is Rodrigo Prieto. And, again, he uses editors Stephen Mirrione and Douglas Crise, and composer Gustavo SantaolallaIt. It's very apparent that all of them have a lot more money to spend this time around, but I can't say that they wasted any of it.
As for what Iñárritu and Arriaga will do next, I cannot imagine. But film making has a new dimension to it from what they've already done in the past few years. I expect I won't be disappointed.