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Film / Babel

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A 2006 film conceived by writer Guillermo Arriaga and director Alejandro González Iñárritu.

Babel is a sprawling and draining ensemble piece, following an American couple, Richard (Brad Pitt) and Susan Jones (Cate Blanchett), who are vacationing in Morocco trying to sort out their marital difficulties. But then, she’s shot by two local boys fiddling around with their father’s new rifle. As Richard tries to get help with much difficulty, the couple’s Mexican nanny takes their kids to Mexico for her son’s wedding, accompanied by her nephew (Gael García Bernal). Meanwhile, in Japan, a deaf schoolgirl, Chieko Wataya, tries to overcome the death of her mother and her own sexual frustration.


This film contains examples of:

  • Adult Fear:
    • What happens to Richard and Susan's children. That when you're too far away to help, your children will be lost and taken from you. Or for Amelia, that your love and care won't protect them. For Yasujiro, the idea that his daughter may kill herself at any moment.
    • Also, the almost crippling fear and confusion that comes with something terrible happening to you when you're in a foreign country.
    • There's also Abdullah seeing Ahmed get shot multiple times in a stand-off with the police and Yussef surrender to the police as a result.
  • Ambiguous Ending: The Wataya plotline; after Mamiya's departure and questioning regarding the rifle Yasujiro gave Hassan, the latter heads back to his apartment only to find his daughter, Cheiko, getting ready to jump from the very spot she thought her mother did. While her father's intervention prevented her from killing herself, its unknown of what becomes of Yasujiro and his daughter at this point.
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  • Anachronic Order: The events all start with Hassan giving the rifle to Ahmed and Yussef, the shooting of Susan and her eventual hospitalization, and then Amelia's departure to Mexico. Despite that, Amelia's arc is shown early on in the film between the Morrocan and Richard/Susan's arc despite taking place after it. The Wataya plotline is interjected every now and then in the film at various points.
  • Bedouin Rescue Service: Off-screen. Richard and Susan's children were found by police troopers. May verge on a Deus ex Machina.
  • Bilingual Dialogue: Mike and Debbie can understand their nanny's Spanish fairly well, but they don't seem to speak it.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Amelia's plotline. Amelia is arrested by the Border Patrol because she is an illegal immigrant, and is deported back to Mexico despite living in America for 16 years. Despite that, Amelia's son comes back for her when she arrives in Mexico and presumably takes her to live with him and his wife.
  • Book-Ends: The Americans' arc starts and ends with a phone call between Richard and his son.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Yasujiro Wataya giving Hassan his rifle as an act of gratitude in Morocco is unfortunately what led to all the tragic events that occurred into the movie; from Susan Jones' gunshot wound and Ameila's rash decision that would lead to her deportation, to the eventual standoff between Yussef and law enforcement that most likely lead to Ahmed's death. All of which led to the police questioning his daughter about it, which brought up traumatic memories for her and almost led to her suicide.
  • Culture Clash:
    • A central part of the film.
    • A cultural emphasis on personal space makes life awkward for Chieko, who must touch others and be touched in order to get anyone's attention.
    • The Moroccan man who takes care of Susan refuses point-blank to take any money in payment for having taken care of them.
    • Mike and Debbie at the wedding in Mexico as they play with the other children there. When their nanny's nephew Santiago beheads one of the chickens they played with, they are rather shocked while the Mexican children just shrug it off, since the latter are used to seeing livestock being slaughtered.
    • Richard and Susan's tour group become very paranoid after Susan gets shot, as they fear they're being targeted by Moroccan terrorists due to Morocco being a largely Islamic country; one tourist is even more paranoid because of recent news reports of a large tourist group being taken hostage and slaughtered even as their guide insists they're in no danger.
  • Downer Ending: In the Morocco plotline, Yussef and Ahmed are cornered by police. Ahmed ends up getting shot twice (possibly fatally) and Yussef surrenders himself to police custody.
  • Fan Disservice:
    • The audience is treated, first with a view of Chieko's pantiless crotch, and later a full frontal shot of her naked body, but, given the context, the scenes are devoid of titillating overtones.
    • A young boy masturbating while thinking about his sister.
  • Foregone Conclusion:
    • Subverted. Although it seems like Susan is destined to die because of statements made in the other plotlines, she actually survives at the end.
    • Played straight with the Moroccan arc; early in the film, Chieko briefly watches a news bulletin showing that Yussef was taken into custody.
  • Four Lines, All Waiting
  • Going Commando: Chieko takes off her panties to give the boys sitting at the next table in a restaurant an eyeful of her private parts. Later on, she goes out without wearing anything under her short skirt.
  • Good-Times Montage: We are treated to a montage of Chieko enjoying her time in the city with her friends.
  • Hyperlink Story
  • Idiot Ball:
    • What kicks off the entire plot. "Hey, look, we have a rifle. Let's shoot at a moving bus because that's always a good idea!".
    • Another one is Amelia deciding to take Mike and Debbie across the border to Mexico without their parent's consent, and then trying to return in the middle of the night with her clearly drunk nephew.
    • Santiago antagonizing the border cross officer and lying to him by saying that the kids are Amelia's nephews.note  Even Amelia calls his stupidity out.
  • I Just Want to Be Loved: Implied with Chieko who spends a lot of her plotline longing for male intimacy that she has difficulties attaining due to her deafness and makes up for it with sexually provocative advances towards different men that keep failing. When she is rejected again after showing herself naked to and trying to get intimate with a policeman who understandably freaks out, she starts weeping.
  • In Medias Res: The plots do not parallel exactly in terms of time. By the time the story with the nanny begins, Susan has already been brought to the hospital.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: Detective Mamiya orders another shochu after his emotional encounter with Chieko.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Yussef and Ahmed kick off their plot by accidentally shooting an American tourist. Their plot ends with Yussef being forced to watch Ahmed getting accidentally shot by police.
  • Left Hanging: The contents of Chieko's note to the policeman is never revealed, though a Freeze-Frame Bonus allows a viewer who knows Japanese to read some of the contents, even if only a few small fragments that don't add much.
  • Meaningful Name: The title of the movie. The Tower of Babel was being built as an effort to get higher up than even God himself, but he got pissed and destroyed the tower. He condemned humankind to speak different languages, so they can't understand each other. The title of the movie is very, very subtle.
  • Missing Mom: Chieko's dead mother.
  • Nature Abhors a Virgin: Chieko is desperate to become intimate with a man, going to increasingly bold lengths to achieve it.
  • No Ending: Most of the characters' fates are left unknown.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Susan's medical evacuation is delayed several times, first when the U.S. embassy blocks an ambulance dispatch (later revealed to be because they considered its conditions inadequate), and then when they try to dispatch a helicopter but the Moroccan government refuses to authorize the use of their airspace until the U.S. government acknowledges that this wasn't a terrorist incident.
  • One Degree of Separation: Strained to the breaking point with Chieko, whose father sold the gun that started all the trouble.
  • Oscar Bait: Oh, boy. All the contained acting, the angsty storylines, and the intercultural poverty or whatever. Classic Oscar favorites, all of them.
  • Poor Communication Kills: The major theme of the movie.
  • P.O.V. Cam: Used to spellbinding effect in the scene where Chieko visits a nightclub with a friend.
  • Sacred Hospitality: Among the Moroccans who shelter Richard and Susan. They will not take any money for having sheltered Richard and Susan - it was, simply, the right thing to do.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?:
    • Santiago's fate after abandoning his aunt and the children in the middle of the desert is never revealed.
    • It's never made clear whether Ahmed survives the wounds inflicted on him during the police standoff.
  • Surprisingly Happy Ending: Richard and Susan's plotline. Despite everything that made it seem like Debbie was killed by Yussef, they pull through it all and its shown on a TV screen at a Japanese bar that she left the hospital alive.


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