Review of Babel
It’s hard to say how most Americans are going to see this film. To reduce the film to its elements it is 3 to 7 stories (depending on how you divide the character arches) about characters that go through tremendous trials due to circumstances essentially beyond their control. The trick to it, however, is that given the character’s cultural background and social status; White American, Mexican immigrant, Moroccan farmer, Japanese teenager the repercussions and outcome are scaled in effect and impact.
It’s probably impossible not to find a degree of sympathy with each of the characters as every one is out of their element and put through a series of horrible circumstances. But I found myself in the course of the film fighting sympathy for the American’s especially the spoiled, white privileged children who in the end I feel will probably benefit from their exposure to Mexican culture (despite the fact that being left in a desert alone is not something I would wish upon anyone). In my mind the greater tragedy in the film is the Mexican immigrant who is deported after living as a naturalized citizen in the US for 17 years. And yet even as I write that the Moroccan farmers who get harassed beaten and shot at by police also have a horrific experience that although different is equally as troubling.
What’s subversive about the film is the degree to which sympathy will take you in relation to the characters and why I wonder so much about American audiences. It would not be hard to walk out feeling greater sympathy for the Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett character and feeling anger towards their Mexican maid for bringing their children to Mexico without their permission. I found myself most enthralled with the Japanese story, which in most respects is the most removed story in the whole film. Still the lifestyle the female character and her father lead is no less bourgeois than the Americans but perhaps because the story is the least morally ambiguous and devoid of much of the same dual sympathy that carries through all the other stories.
The most subversive part in the film has to come from the nearly empty explanation for why the Cate Blanchett’s character need for help is so delayed. Its referred to only in off comments and not dwelled upon but basically the US government strands Cate Blanchett and Brad Pitt in the middle of nowhere in Morocco because the Moroccan government denies the shooting to be related to terrorism. Because the US government keeps insisting it is related to terrorism and puts pressure on Morocan government to admit to it this ties up the ability to send in American rescue helicopters and leads to Cate Blanchett’s character nearly bleeding to death while waiting for some kind of medical attention. Government inefficiency at work.
The film is wonderful in many ways not the least of which is its insistence of sympathy towards all affected parties all of whom are guilty and yet are reprimanded in ways that seem egregiously out of step with their faults of judgment. Still it begs the question: will anyone notice?