catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 6, Num 11 :: 2007.06.01 — 2007.06.15


Order not understood

The human foray into confusion and chaos

As Henry Miller notes in the Tropic of Capricorn, “Confusion is a word we have invented for an order which is not understood.” Another way of framing this comes from the book of Genesis: “Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. …Let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.” As our experiences suggest, we struggle in our efforts to make sense of human communication regardless of the modern pantheon of technologies. In the bowels of our relational experiences we seem to be nothing but brute and unbridled, controlled by our inadequacy.  It’s here that we embark on a unique case study of such in Alejandro Gonzalez Innartu’s trilogy-concluding film, Babel. After his previous works Amores Perros and 21 Grams, Babel utilizes an archaic image, the Tower of Babel, as a way of distilling the essence of humanity’s communicative petals and thorns. It’s an intriguing and complicated narrative. Our contemporary lives dominated by nebulous communication amidst a mass of mediums reveals an odyssey of internal and external strife. Across vast continents, cultures and languages, a cacophony of common human struggle resonates: tragedy, suffering, chaos, and confusion.  

In its truest sense, Babel is a story not necessarily about what separates us but what brings us together: “I realized that what makes us happy as human beings could differ greatly, but that what makes us miserable and vulnerable beyond culture, race, language…is the same for all.” Babel is a human journey of paradoxical truth in which to find oneself, one must lose oneself. As our age continues to grow leaps and bounds with technology, it feels as though, at times, we’ve been duped. It’s like we’re running on a treadmill, exerting lots of time and energy but still in the same spot. Innartu completes this triangulated study of family, self, and suffering on a complex and ambitious scale. Our story, like our lives, is rich and complex. 

In the desserts of Morocco, a couple meets tragedy when a shot is fired from the hilltops. Two young Moroccan boys set in motion an unraveling of human strife. An American woman (Cate Blanchett) is wounded and her husband (Brad Pitt) is cast into an abyss of confusion. In the chaos, their nanny (Adriana Barraza) is confronted with her own dilemma. In taking care of their kids she must decide whether or not to miss her son’s wedding in Mexico or risk taking the kids across the border. In turn, she and her nephew (Gael Garcia Bernal) uncover the extreme risks of such an action. Then there’s a young deaf Japanese teen (Rinko Kikuchi) who is caught up in her identity revealed through sexual inclinations coupled with a challenged relationship with her father (Koji Yakusho). In all, we have the interrelated parts of an intricate and overlapping story of human communication with unique political and cultural ramifications. 

Babel features an array of filmmaking talent including Oscar winning editor Stephen Mirrione (Traffic), composer Gustavo Santaolalla (Brokeback Mountain), and production designer Brigitte Broch (Moulin Rouge). Also featuring the artistic hands of Oscar-nominated cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto (21 Grams), writer Guillermo Arriaga (The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada), and the stellar direction of Innartu, Babel weaves a tapestry of color, sound, and image. The masterful parts so beautifully explored through Prieto’s lens, the pen stroke of Arriaga, the visceral explorations of Santaolalla, and the vision of Alejandro delineate a convoluted canvas of human experience.

From the rugged animosity of the U.S. and Mexico border to the dunes of Morocco to the urban noir of Japan, Babel brushes our human suffering with vivid strokes. The corollary is, if you want to be understood, listen. In such, Innartu offers a journey, theirs and ours, which lies past, in hand, and ahead to consider the heart of our unified struggle to understand the self and the relationship of that self with others. It’s a thermometer, measuring the cultural condition while also serving as thermostat, establishing the common ground upon which we can stand to make sense of the confusion. In other words, it’s an analysis of how human communication separates us to help us understand and come together. 

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