A desert is where it begins. In the arid dryness of Morocco , two boys Yussef and Ahmed, herd their goats and shape out their own little freedoms in their entrapped vastness. However, life turns oblique, when events crisscross comfort zones and death intervenes. The cozy urban domesticity of a couple is displaced in time and space , fragments shorn across a desert of the unfamiliar.As Richard and Susan Jones (played by Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchet) try hard to warm their cold relations in an ironic landscape, their tourist air conditioned bus, like a fragile bubble treading in the middle of nowhere, is punctured in an instant by death . Cate Blanchet finds herself , a victim of a bullet shot and a whole world around her comes crumbling down to its knees in its bid to fight against the ultimate leveler, death.
And the film cuts to Japan. With Manga comics,neon landscapes and stereotyped crowds, the texture of this urbanism is a stark contrast with the Moroccan landscape. Yet, the desert exists. It exists inside the mute girl, a frustration and famine of the loneliness of an urban lifestyle. The metropolis of the orient dances on the screen in montages of human vibrancy. And yet it is an oasis with its own mirages.
Meanwhile across continents , the American couple’s children, a son and a daughter are displaced from their familial place to a strange exotic land of the ‘dangerous’ Mexicanos, when their nanny, a Mexican migrant , has to attend her son’s wedding and cannot leave the kids behind alone. The fulcrum of this track is the little children and their vulnerability. As they are driven into the Mexico of the vibrant red , instinctive and earthy ,amidst another kind of people , they are dwarfed , intimidated and awed.
Mexico is shown like a red hot chilly, and made so tangible, it exudes the warmth and dust off the screen. At the wedding , the strange Mexican uncle (Gael Garcia Bernal) , in a game among the kids, twists a chicken by its neck and snaps its head off. This act has a jolting effect on the young boy. The grossness of the whole act is felt only by the tender boy, while the other children take it all as play. It is a fear psyche playing out of the civilisation's head.
Swapping back to the tourist bus of the desert, struggling between life and death is the Susan Jones . Amidst all the chaos, one people is not able to understand another people , and language steps in as the major hurdle of communication. The narrative at various levels, invokes Babel, the biblical tower of the confounded , through the reality of today.
With an assorted mixture of men and their peculiarities, the film has skillfully chosen assorted worlds and shattered their exclusivity by displacing their plots both in time, narrative, and juxtaposing textures. With a non – linear looped narrative, the film , gently yet in a pointed manner, unfolds and oscillates between the various plots. One could say that Innaritu takes a bullet that travels through the globe, and rips open people’s masks, prejudices and ideas.
‘Babel’ is a critique of the whole desperate human condition that has bound itself into language, created boundaries between each other, and then finds itself helpless with this disposition. Biblical literature talked about the tower of Babel, where the Yahweh is supposed to have confounded the language of the people , in order to destruct their monopoly over each other, and thus, no one could understand each other. The film, brings out the frustration that linguistic differences creates ; but the film has a further point to make, that there is an unsaid between man that needs no language and the same pulse runs through everyone.
“Jews and Christians say that man was created by God in his own image. And what that sentence clearly suggests is that there is some relationship between the nature of man and the nature of God ‘created in his own image’ . Islam says the opposite. Islam says that God has no human qualities. While Ibn Rush’d argued that language is a human quality and that God would be expected to speak God and not any human language.” Salman Rushdie says in a recent interview .
“To defend the freedom of language as a universal human right is justifiable not by appeal to this or that cultural tradition but simply to the biology of the beast.”
Innaritu in his film, streams forth a dialect of such a kind of universal language, the language of death. Death speaks to all, in the same tone, in the same voice and with a single meaning. It is also the one threat that makes man shed all his superficial discords, and deal with his core.
By mish mashing the timeline and plot narrative, Innaritu works with the fear that comes with de- familiarization. The unfamiliar territory that the children and their nanny ultimately find themselves in, brings them face to face with total desperation and lends the viewer into sharing it with the screen characters.
Babel, strips bare the human, and plays out an extremely intricate mesh of human bonds , the unspoken and the explicit, the fears, trusts , and insecurities of man, who has tried to make good his existence in his own little way. As the Mute Nude standing in the balcony of an apartment of a city dissolves into the multitude of many more apartments and many more windows, we know that , ultimately , we all speak human.