Can you hear me now?

“Babel” finds that global communications still don’t help us understand each other

Michael Garberich

Alejandro González Iñárritu’s latest film, “Babel,” is spread over three continents, incorporates six languages and meditates on a relationship that knows neither geographic nor linguistic limitations: family.

In Morocco, a husband and wife attempt to reclaim a relationship damaged by the death of a child when a misdirected bullet fired by two preteen Moroccan brothers strikes the wife and sparks headlines worldwide. Meanwhile, the couple’s other children are brought to Mexico by their housekeeper for her son’s wedding. In Japan, a deaf-mute high school girl and her father grieve the death of their mother and wife.

Following the lineage of “Amores Perros” and “21 Grams,” the last of the thematic trilogy, “Babel,” is a film utilizing the portmanteau form: an anthologized collection of divergent narratives fused by a single mechanism, like a theme.

Our most popular recent example is last year’s ingratiating, self-righteous picture “Crash,” which conveniently allowed its audiences to jarringly experience the calamities of racism while providing a comforting resolution to reassert their separateness from it. It was like being stuck in traffic and complaining about everyone else on the road. But take a look around – you’re just another hunk of metal in someone else’s way.

In a similarly resonant voice of social commentary (though discernibly less forgiving), “Babel” criticizes our technologically “advanced” age. It reminds us that although our increasingly mediated world purportedly elides time and distance, it has not erased the fundamental struggle to communicate and relate to one another. It’s as relevant to the 21st century as it was to Cain and Marx. Not even T-Mobile’s family plan has the solution.

“BABEL”

DIRECTED BY: Alejandro González Iñárritu
STARRING: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Gael García Bernal
RATED: R
SHOWING AT: Uptown, (612) 825-6006

But history knows this too well, so let us peer back 40 years to 1968 and create our own anthology between the ages.

It was quite a year to own a television. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, Paris was exploding in what would become one of the most (in)famous examples of revolutionary fervor and the ongoing war in Vietnam furnished a fitting backdrop to an America that had just begun acquainting itself with the revelatory capability of this still burgeoning medium.

2006 saw not one, but two civil conflicts in France, and although we haven’t had any major assassinations to speak of, a filmmaker in the United Kingdom did imagine one for us. Meanwhile, Iraq continues to polarize the country regardless of network affiliation – CNN, Fox News, MSNBC or any of the other news hubs now available twenty four hours a day.

In April of 1968, days after Dr. King’s death, Stanley Kubrik released his film “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Its chiding slogan read: “An epic drama of adventure and exploration.” As we well know, the millions of years spanned in that film undermine mankind’s blind reverence of technological advancement. So, “Babel,” you’re in good company.

Prophetic is probably not an appropriate title for Kubrik, whose message underscored continuity despite ostensible change. But there’s something to be said for the year 2001 when discussing technological proliferation. Right?

It’s hard not to feel the overwhelming sense of irony while sitting in a theater or on the couch, entertained by the detriments of a society infatuated with technology.