Babel: The heart of the matter

At the center of BABEL is the subject at the core of 21st century life: lack of communication. “On a conventional level (and conventions are sometimes useful to tell stories,) it can be said that BABEL is about miscommunication, but for me, at the bottom line, the film is about how vulnerable and fragile we are as human beings and when a link is broken, it’s not the link that is rotten but the chain itself.” By this he doesn’t mean the obvious definition of language barriers. “You don’t have to be lost in the Morocco desert or in the middle of the Shibuya district to feel that you are isolated. The most terrifying loneliness and isolation is the one that we experiment with ourselves, our wives and our children,” explains Inarritu “For the third time, this is a story about parents and their children.” With BABEL, he wanted to explore the contradiction between the popular perception that this is such a small world with apparently so many new tools of communication and the equally strong sense that humans still can’t express and communicate with each other at the most fundamental levels.

“I wanted to try to capture the whole idea of human communication – its ambitions, its beauty and its problems—withone word,” he says of choosing BABEL to name his film, even though the title was picked after the screenplay was written. “I considered so many different titles, but when I thought of the story of Genesis, it made so much sense as a metaphor for the film. Each of us has his own different language, but I believe we all share the same spiritual spine.”

Having the idea of making a film with a cacophony of human voices before starting to shoot “21 Grams,” Gonzalez Inarritu invited, once again, writer Guillermo Arriaga in order to conclude the triology which began with “Amores Perros” in the year 2000. “Arriaga’s talent is extraordinary. His writing is profound and powerful. He has been an amazing collaborator, carving out four narratives that unravel in three disparate parts of the world.” One follows a troubled married American couple who find themselves fighting for their lives in the middle of what may or may not be a terrorist incident while vacationing in the Muslim country of Morocco, where the local language and culture are a constant riddle. The paradox implied in the relationship between the characters portrayed by Cate Blanchett and Brad Pitt is an example of a more intimate definition of miscommunication: “From the outside, they look like a couple who get lost in the desert, when in reality, they are a lost couple who find one another in their loneliness,” says the director. In a similar case of personal drama, the story of the two children involved in the accident is not so much about its outcome, but about the “moral collapse of a Muslim family strongly guided by spiritual principles,” who watch how these principles crumble to the ground once the events start to unfold.

A second tale revolves around a Mexican nanny working amidst the wealth of California, who makes the fateful decision to bring two American children illegally across the border. Her story is a fable that sums up the situation of thousands of people who try to cross the U.S. border, and face the double standard set by both Mexican and American governments. They become what the director calls “invisible citizens,” left to their destinies by both countries, in any case unprotected by proper immigration laws. “For me, living as an immigrant in the U.S., telling a story about the border wasn’t a choice, it was a moral decision,” says Gonzalez Inarritu

A third story focuses on a widowed father, trying to emotionally connect with his deaf daughter in the middle of the intensely urban setting of Tokyo. The tale of a teenager who falls into sexual extremes as a way to make up for affection, ultimately expresses the need to develop a language. “When to touch or to be touched by words is not an option, then the body becomes an instrument, as a weapon or an invitation,” says the director.

Ultimately, Inarritu contends that the language of film is one way that artists can break through the borders and miscommunication between people around the world: “I believe that languages can be like a mirage that misleads and confuses us. They can make us more suspicious of people we see as others. But I also think there’s no tool more perfect for breaking away from the language barrier than powerful images and music. Images don’t need translation because they trigger universal human emotions. Film is the closest to Esperanto as it gets.,” says Gonzalez Inarritu.