Complex story of people and connection
The lonely, windswept steppes of the Moroccan desert as two boys run after their family's goats. The delirious, high tempo strobe lights of a Japanese nightclub as seen through the eyes of deaf-mute girl. The smile on a mother's face at her son's traditional Mexican wedding, as the party goes far into the night. Three seemingly unrelated worlds, all of them linked by a single shot from a rifle in Alejandro González Iñárritu's powerful new film, "Babel."
While not focusing on just one plot line, "Babel" follows, often out of chronological order, a series of different events. Two of film's stories include a Moroccan holiday gone wrong for a couple, Richard (Brad Pitt) and Susan (Cate Blanchett), after the wife is shot; the hardships of Chieko (Rinko Kikuchi), a deaf-mute Japanese girl as she struggles with familial and social issues. The final story is a caretaker taking the two children she is in charge of over the border to her son's wedding in Mexico. "Babel" is not a character movie, but one that details the tendrils that link everyone, no matter how apart they are from one another.
The true power of "Babel" lies in its brilliant editing and camera work which uses extreme close-ups of faces and actions allowing Iñárritu ("21 Grams") to powerfully transfer emotion and feeling to the audience. An often shaky camera intensifies the tension and draws the viewer deeper into the story. Iñárritu also relies on several first person shots, and though scarcely used, they prove increasingly effective. For example, in a scene set at a Japanese club, the shot alternatively switches from a third person view to a view from Chieko's eyes, where there is no sound, the flashing lights and half seen faces the only stimulus to the senses.
Despite not being a character driven film, Pitt's performance in "Babel" gives the movie a particular edge. He manages to superbly portray the desperate husband pushed to extremes just to save his wife. Kikuchi acts brilliantly, her often depressed state mirrored beautifully by use of expressive eyes and an animated expression. Blanchett's role in the film, while being integral, is limited since she mostly lies on a dirty cot and bleeds.
With three distinctly unique settings, Iñárritu often plays with the juxtaposition of images from each story to create a jarringly intense effect. A scene from the night life on the Japanese streets, full of vendors, neon and crowds, is replaced by a small Moroccan town in the desert, its veiled women a sharp contrast to the extravagantly dressed Japanese club goers. The director also relies on several shots permeated with explicit images, sometimes crossing the line to perverse imagery, but only doing so to force his audience into recognizing the differences between his many characters.
At the end, the subtle but material connections between all the characters become obvious, neatly folding up the movie and allowing the viewer to digest the content as they leave the theater. In Iñárritu's style, there are innumerable threads left over, including the actual fates of several of the main characters. Still he manages to provide comfort to the audience through subtle guarantees that all is settled in the end.
The movie touches on deep themes that are rooted in everyone's lives. Loneliness is a integral feeling of most the character's experiences, whether it is in the form of Richard's isolation from the rest of the world in a remote village, or Chieko's seclusion from her peers and desires because of her impairment. Marked by its powerful, if sometimes disturbing scenes, "Babel" is a must-see thriller that plays on many of its audience's deepest fears, but manages to provide a solace and trust in humanity as it concludes.
"Babel" is rated R for violence, some graphic nudity, sexual content, language and some drug use. It is playing at the Bethesda Row.
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