This is your gut reaction when you hear this story:
It’s your outrage if a boy shot a bullet at a moving vehicle filled with foreign tourists.
It’s what you’d think if a woman left two children alone and unattended out in a desert.
It’s the disgust you’d feel if one of your patients tried to kiss you while you were cleaning her teeth at a dental office.
Five innocuous little words. What is wrong with you? Assigning blame without knowing everything.
But while the boy/woman/patient (and whoever might have thrown a garbage can at a tourist) were clearly at fault here, Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Academy Award-winning film “Babel” (2006) humanizes these actions and shows us that actions have consequences — no matter how good the intentions initially were.
The boy/woman/patient are not bad people, even though they might have all done bad things. They’re not monsters. They didn’t shoot at a tour bus, leave children alone in a desert, or attempt to sexually assault you out of hate, but rather love and pride. Iñárritu’s film explains the tower of confusion or misunderstandings that led to these situations in about 143 minutes.
The boy, woman and patient are all distantly connected in this story, which circles round and round like a kaleidoscope.
The patient is a teenage Japanese deaf girl (Rinko Kikuchi) who found the dead body of her mother after she committed suicide on their balcony. If that isn’t alienating enough, the girl finds it impossible to find love — especially when boys realize she can’t hear or speak. Her attempt to kiss her dentist was a perversion, yes, but it was also a very misguided attempt to find love.
The boy Yussef (Boubker Ait El Caid), who lives in a poor and rural community in Morocco, was driven by a bet with his brother Ahmed (Said Tarchani). Ahmed bet that his brother couldn’t hit the moving bus. Yussef proved he could. They never intended to shoot Susan Jones (Cate Blanchett), an American touring Morocco while on vacation with her husband Richard (Brad Pitt).
And Richard and Susan Jones, never intended to extend their stay in Morocco. Because they did and because they didn’t have anyone else to watch their children, Debbie (Elle Fanning) and Mike (Nathan Gamble), their babysitter Amelia (Adriana Barraza) faced an impossible choice: watch the children in San Diego or miss her son’s (Robert ‘Bernie’ Esquivel) wedding in Mexico.
Amelia opted to shoot for the moon and brought the children she was babysitting to Mexico with her for her son’s wedding, but as an undocumented immigrant, Amelia had trouble returning to the states after the festivities.
It didn’t help that her nephew and driver Santiago (Gael García Bernal) got drunk at the wedding before he drove her to the U.S. border.
It didn’t help that they tried to cross the border with two kids that weren’t theirs.
Santiago, Amelia, Mike and Debbie do make it over the border, but in an attempt to shake the U.S. Custom and Border Control agents from their tail, Santiago left Amelia and the children in the middle of the desert with a promise to return for them. Santiago didn’t return. And Amelia briefly left the children to save them — to find someone who could give them food, water and shelter — even if it was one of the CBC officers they were running from.
Was that wrong?
And if so, what was wrong with that? That Amelia thought with her heart rather than her head?
Could that also be how the garbage can which hit a tourist got thrown from a parking ramp?
“Babel” makes us question what we see and second-guess what we value.
Meanwhile, a question like “What is wrong with people?” might not be so easy to answer.
“Babel” was written by Guillermo Arriaga and Alejandro González Iñárritu. The film was directed by Iñárritu. “Babel” won an Oscar for “Best Original Score.”