Follow TV Tropes


Film / Babel

Go To

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, Amelia, 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.

Babel won a Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Drama and received several Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and Best Supporting Actress for both Rinko Kikuchi and Adriana Barraza, winning for Best Original Score.

This film contains examples of:

  • Ambiguous Ending: In 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, Chieko, getting ready to jump from the very spot she thought her mother did due to the amount of anguish from the incident in Morocco combined with her personal issues. While her father's intervention prevented her from killing herself, its unknown of what becomes of Yasujiro and his daughter at this point.
  • 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 as well as what goes on with Yasujiro and Chieko. Despite that, the arcs of Amelia and the Wataya family (Yasujiro and Chieko) are shown early on in the film between the Moroccan and Richard/Susan's arc despite taking place after it.
  • 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: In Amelia's plotline, Amelia is arrested by the Border Patrol, and is deported back to Mexico despite living in America for 16 years because she is an undocumented immigrant. Just as things seem bleak for her, Amelia's son comes to pick her up 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 led 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; the family is shattered and will probably all be severely punished along with Hassan due to seriousness of their actions and the turmoil it caused between the USA and Morocco.
  • Fan Disservice:
    • The views of Chieko's pantiless crotch, and later a full frontal shot of her naked body, are intentionally 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: The film cuts repeatedly back and forth between Yussef and Ahmed trying to avoid detection after shooting a tourist bus, Richard and Susan trying to get the latter to hospital after she is hit by the bullet from Yussef and Ahmed's rifle, Amelia taking Richard and Susan's kids to her son's wedding in Mexico and then having problems with the border crossing guards when she tries to return, and Chieko's awkward attempts to initiate intimacy with various men while the police try to locate her father (to whom the rifle used to shoot Susan was registered).
  • Flipping the Bird: Chieko's first scene involves showing her middle finger to someone at a volleyball game.
  • 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: The four subplots are connected, from Japan to Morocco to Mexico: Yasujiro gave his hunting rifle to his guide Hassan, who gave it to his friend Abdullah, whose son Yussef fired it at a tourist bus and accidentally hit Susan, who has been employing Amelia as a nanny since her children were born.
  • Idiot Ball:
    • What kicks off the entire plot: Yasujiro giving Hassan his rifle without even thinking about the potential consequences that could occur. Same applies to Abdullah for even letting his kids near the gun.
    • Ahmed and Yussef thinking "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 Da Club: Chieko and her friends go to a nightclub.
  • 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. Same with the Wataya plotline, which is shown even before Yussef's arrest.
  • 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: Yasujiro tells Lt. Mamiya that his wife shot herself in the head several years before the events of the film, and Chieko was the first person to find her dead body. The experience left her deeply psychologically scarred, to the point that she has convinced herself that her mother jumped over the balcony instead, a method she contemplates for herself in the film's final scene.
  • Mistaken for Terrorist: Given how the attack on Susan is viewed as a terorrist shooting, with Hasan (original owner of the rifle) and Abdullah and his sons all being roughly questioned or pursued by local police expecting to be dealing with a heavily armed terror group.
  • Native Guide:
    • Anwar, the bus driver for Richard and Susan's tour group who also helps to get her to medical treatment.
    • Hassan was one to Chieko's dad on a hunting trip in the past and received the rifle that causes the whole mess as a reward.
  • Nature Abhors a Virgin: Chieko is desperate to become intimate with a man, going to increasingly bold lengths to achieve it.
  • Nice to the Waiter: Chieko's dad gave Hassan a rifle for his work on a hunting trip, is quick to compliment the job he did when reminded of the man and is concerned and asks if Hassan is alright upon hearing his gun was used in an attempted murder.
  • 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 themes of intercultural poverty. 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.
  • Surprisingly Happy Ending: In Richard and Susan's plotline, despite everything that made it seem like Susan was killed by Yussef during their vacation in Morocco, they pull through it all and it's shown on a TV screen at a Japanese bar that she left the hospital alive, with signs of their relationship improving as shown throughout the arc.
  • Trauma Button:
    • Downplayed; while he remains composed, Yasujiro does not like to be reminded of how his wife committed suicide and the fact that Chieko saw it happen, especially if they get the story about how it happened wrong, which Mamiya learns more or less.
    • Played straight with Chieko, as it nearly causes her to kill herself in the final scene the same way she thought her mom did.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: The Moroccan police officers pursuing whoever shot Susan.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?:
    • Santiago's fate after abandoning his aunt and the children in the middle of the desert is never revealed. Amelia even asks after him but is told there's no information yet.
    • It's never made clear whether Ahmed survives the wounds inflicted on him during the police standoff.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: The border patrol official is very furious at Amelia putting the Jones kids in danger, accident or not, asking if she knows how many children die crossing the border desert.