January 29, 2007

Babel (2006 movie)

Filed under: Uncategorized — yeeguy @ 12:58 pm

Just saw “Babel” on Friday with Brad, Becky, George, Julie, Sandra and Ken.  Probably one of the last movies Jami and I will get to see in a theater prior to Hamilton’s arrival!

After the movie we all had different opinions about the movie, ranging from “very well done” to “totally random connections between people” to “I wanted to walk out.”  All agreed it was a pretty depressing movie.  Jami and I compared the movie to “The Story of Qiu Ju” (admittedly Communist propaganda where “the nail that stands up” ends up hammering down a pillar of her own community, but still beautifully executed) — that’s another movie that features the unpredictable outcomes that can stem from human actions.  Anyway, I dunno what made me think about “Babel” this morning (three days later), but it suddenly struck me that the whole movie was biblical allegory.

(spoiler-ish analysis after the “More” link.)

The biblical reference should’ve been clear from the title, but somehow we didn’t really get that when a group of us first discussed the movie after seeing it.  We may have been still overcome by the tragic visuals of the film.  But in hindsight, it’s pretty clear to me that the movie was entirely based on biblical themes.

AFAIK, the story of the Tower of Babel says that this tower was supposedly built by early humans, reveling in our earthly technology, thinking that we could build a tower to reach the skies and re-enter heaven.  And God allegedly took this opportunity to introduce different languages among mankind to sow disunity, misunderstanding, and chaos amongst the builders of the Tower.  The trick worked and the builders were no longer able to cooperate on the Tower, so mankind was doomed yet again to remain outside the pearly gates.

In Babel the movie, some characters represent merciful, loving angelic figures:

  • Japanese dad
  • American tourist dad
  • Moroccan tour leader
  • Mexican nanny
  • two kids (such truly naive, angelic faces)

Many characters represent the sins and suffering of the human condition:

  • little Moroccan shooter = Pride, Lust
  • Japanese schoolgirl = Gluttony, Jealousy (sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll!)
  • elder Moroccan who sold the gun = Greed (why else would he sell the gift of an angel?)
  • young Mexican nephew = Anger

And other biblical references appeared in the movie:

  • helicopter bedecked with the giant red cross of Christ, floating down to save the hapless souls of the tourists
  • the literal hell of the US-Mexican border desert

In thinking about the fate of each of these characters in the movie, I’m pretty sure the over-arching message of “Babel” is pretty much that “Life sucks, but mercy and love will prevail.”  Still, many questions remain for me:

  • Who represents Sloth?  Perhaps the nanny’s friends who would not help her?  Perhaps the US & Moroccan government bureacrats for their slow response to the tourists’ plight?
  • What did the Moroccan police boss represent?
  • Did the Mexican nanny’s nephew actually represent Satan?  (what with his manic rage that transported three angels to Hell)
  • Why did the nanny have to suffer so much at the end?  Perhaps because she secretly succumbed to Lust at the wedding reception?

And the big questions for me:

  • Were the screenwriter and director trying to create a sincere modern take on biblical allegory?
  • Or were the unlikely and somewhat outlandish strings of events portrayed in “Babel” intended to be a visual parody that mocks the randomness and improbability of the bible’s stories?

I don’t have all the answers, but all in all, the more I think about it, the more I like the movie.  At face value, it’s filled with stunning imagery and rich character development.   And at best, it offers a refreshing real-politik take on the human condition that asks each viewer to examine their beliefs.


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