I'm gonna put myself out on a limb right now and say Babel is going to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. Not because I like it, or because I think it's any good. But because it's exactly like Crash, and that won Best Picture and hell what worked before shall work again. I'd rank it fifth amongst the Oscar nominees (behind The Departed, The Queen, Letters From Iwo Jima, and Little Miss Sunshine in that order) and about one hundred and twentieth out of the one hundred and fifty or so movies released in 2006 I saw last year. But hey I don't get a vote.
Babel is a movie for people who want to feel bad at movies. Escapism is a common term when describing movies. People go to the movies to escape. Conversely, one goes to Babel to feel bad; to feel guilty about being happy or feeling love or trying to conduct your life as if it means something more than horror and sorrow. Babel is the opposite of escapism: it is miserism.
Note I said director Alejandro González Iñárritu wants us to feel bad; I don't think Iñárritu necessarily wants us to think about feeling bad or the horrific tragedies that befall just about every single character in the movie because if we did we'd probably realize how utterly full of shit the story is. There are four main stories: in the first two boys in Morocco horse around with their father's new rifle and shoot a bus; in the second, a Mexican nanny takes her charges from San Diego to her home south of the border for her son's wedding then loses them crossing back over the border; in the third, Cate Blanchett gets shot by the Moroccan kids, spends two hours bleeding in a Moroccan village while Brad Pitt yells at the rest of the tour group he's with; in the fourth, a deaf and mute teenager tries very hard to have sex with every male on the island of Japan. The first and third stories very obviously connect. The second story is connected because the two children in it are Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett's (meaning that in one week Pitt's wife gets shot and his children get lost in the Mexican desert, meaning he has the worst week in history of the world, meaning somewhere Jennifer Aniston is smiling). The fourth story does not connect at all, except that the horny Japanese girl's father is a game hunter and he gave his rifle to his Moroccan tour guide as a token of appreciation, and that rifle is the one that shoots Cate Blanchett. In other words, the fourth story does not connect.
There isn't a single joke in the movie (then again, there isn't a single joke in Iñárritu's entire filmmography) and things are so unrelentingly grim that eventually it becomes hopeless to care about the characters because a)we know absolutely nothing about them beyond the fact that they are here to suffer for us and b)they're only going to suffer anyway regardless of how we feel. It becomes a good deal more interesting to actively root against the characters man was I ever hoping those whiny kids lost in desert would stay lost.
Still, there is much to learn from the pervasive negativism prescribed by Iñárritu and co-writer Guillermo Arriaga (the pair have made better films than this, though they're all about this cheery). Here's a sampling of what Babel teaches us:
Don't guy a gun. Don't shoot a gun. Don't leave your children with a babysitter. Don't be a tourist. Don't go to your son's wedding. Don't go to Morocco. Don't live in Japan. Don't be deaf. Don't lie to the police. Don't not wear underwear. Don't stick your dentist's fingers in your bathing suit area. Don't have children. Don't drink alcohol. Don't go hunting and then give your rifle to your tour guide. Don't cross national borders without letters of permission. Don't be related or connected to Brad Pitt in any way. Don't get lost in the desert without a bright red sash you can fling about for maximum symbolic value. Don't present yourself naked to helpful police officers. And, seriously people, don't buy a gun and shoot it and shit. Just don't.
In other words, don't do anything. If you are the slightest bit agoraphobic: do not see this movie.
Look, I'm all for a filmmaker presenting the world in a harsh light, or portraying the dark, and horrible, and frustrating things about the world. I practically prefer it. I don't need escapism all the time. But I need something to break up the monotony.