Tuesday, July 8, 2008


I think they meant to just put the quotes around the word "film."

Where do I begin with Babel? Good question, as the movie doesn’t really know where to begin either. This is one of those movies where a bunch of barely-related stories are spread throughout a two-hour running time, all of them loosely connected by a theme, and even more loosely by plot. In this case, the theme is communication struggles. Yes, communication struggles. Not so much in the “Darmok and Jalad at Tenagra” sense, but as in cultural insensitivity. Damn right, it’s a 143-minute, dramatized cultural sensitivity video, the kind you see at work after your company narrowly averts a lawsuit. All the misery in this movie comes about because people don’t understand other people, and it’s all your fault, you ignorant fat slob son of a bitch with your Doritos and your Halo 3 and your pickup truck.

"One more milk bottle, son, and you'll win the Spider-Man doll!"

Here’s the stories, in descending levels of excitement (the first one has a gun, which counts as excitement in this movie):

Morocco: Some ultra-poor guy in a mud hut in the desert buys a hunting rifle so his family can protect its goat herd from jackals. His two little boys take it and go for some target practice. In their infinite wisdom, they decide no harm can come from taking a shot at the tour bus passing by. But whoops! The bullet lands in the shoulder of…

That's okay, Babel, you can go ahead without me. I'll watch this movie for a while.

Morocco (about a hundred yards away): …Cate Blanchett! She’s vacationing with her husband, Brad Pitt (“Oh Brad, the poverty and repression are lovely this time of year!”). Naturally, their marriage is insufferable, but there’s nothing like an international incident to bring them back together. While soldiers go after the kids for no other crime than willfully sniping an innocent woman, Brad cares for her while they try to get the embassy to call in a helicopter for medivac. Unfortunately, the embassy keeps asking her for her Medicare card and to sign a Consent for Direly Needed Surgery form (just kidding). While the kind locals give Brad and Cate shelter while they wait (there’s going to be a lot of “whiles” in this review), their kids…

San Diego, California: …are being taken care of by the couple’s Mexican nanny, Amelia (whom I‘ll decide to call by her character name since she‘s not played by a famous actress), back home. The shooting forces her to hold onto the kids longer than expected, but she’s got her son’s wedding in Tijuana to get to! What to do? She gets her nephew to give her and the kids a ride across the border. At the wedding, we see that these are absolutely perfect people, basking in life and love, unlike the cold fish corporate Americans Brad and Cate. Which explains why so many Mexicans want to head north… I… think…
Effective product placement. This movie's making me thirsty for a refreshing %*#@ Cola.

Returning across the border that night, they get stopped, for no other reason than the driver being drunk and Amelia not having a letter of consent to transport the kids. I could swear this happened in an episode of Frasier, but it was a bit funnier. And boy, those evil American border agents! Clearly, they should just take them at their word and assume they’re transporting other people’s children across the border for a good reason!

Nephew bolts, cops chase, and the nephew performs the greatest heroic act since Sam fought Shelob in Return of the King by dumping Amelia and the kids in the desert before driving off himself. Amelia and the kids re-enact the desert scene in Spaceballs for a while before Amelia devises her most brilliant tactical maneuver yet: leaving the kids behind in the desert, telling them to stay put, and walking off to find help on her own. Brilliant! Anyway, she finds help, eventually finds the kids again, and everyone should be happy. Unfortunately, the evil INS notices that Amelia’s an illegal immigrant, and while she’s clearly done nothing over the course of this film to warrant the slightest criticism, she’s deported. Dammit! And this is all because Cate Blanchett was shot by a rifle purchased from…

Now, I COULD make a really tasteless joke here about this guy showing the kids his cock. So I will.

Tokyo, Japan: …a rich Japanese businessman (Is there any other kind?). But we’re not too interested in him. We’re interested in his deaf teenage daughter, played by Rinko Kikuchi, who scored an Oscar nomination by playing an insecure Japanese schoolgirl so realistically that she at no point teamed up with a magical elf and brandished a 12-foot-long broadsword to fight gigantic, sexually ravenous aliens from another dimension. Instead, she finds out the boy she’s interested in is more into another girl, so she pathetically (in the true sense of the word) comes on to the detective investigating her father’s hunting trip to Morocco for some reason. She’s turned down again, her father lightens up, hugs her, and everyone’s happy. Oh, wait a minute; they’re not.

So there you have it! All the world’s problems are caused by the free market, gun ownership, border enforcement, insensitivity to the disabled, and US foreign policy! Because if only we had communicated and been culturally sensitive, well… err… those kids wouldn’t have shot Cate Blanchett. I think.


Look, it’s fine if you want to make a movie with a political agenda, even if it’s one that I think is a bit simplistic. One of my favorite movies, the George Romero classic Dawn of the Dead that pit apocalypse survivors fortified in a mall against endless zombie hordes, had a pretty radical anti-capitalist attitude. It worked, though, because the movie was entertaining, and you could watch the whole damn thing without reading any message into it at all if you tend not to view things in film school mode. It was a zombie movie with people trapped in a mall filled with cool stuff, and that’s all it had to mean. Beyond that, even though I’d probably disagree with George Romero on a host of other issues (such as his somewhat despicable caricatures of American soldiers in Day of the Dead and sheer hatred of the upper class--to which he definitely belongs--in Land of the Dead), he made a good movie.

Am I getting off track? Forgive me, but I was enjoying the opportunity to talk about zombie movies and NOT Babel.

Babel was well-reviewed for two reasons: it has the kind of political axe to grind that film critics tend to agree with, and it is very skillfully shot and acted. The fact that it’s tedious as hell and uses completely ludicrous examples to make its political points doesn’t enter into it for these people. Some of them will tell you they liked it, but the truth is that this is the equivalent of training for the Boston Marathon for them. It’s hard to get through, it’s not remotely fun, you’d really rather be doing other things, but after you endure it, you get to brag about it to your friends and claim that you LIKED IT, MAGGOT! And then they’ll say, “Wow, that guy liked Babel. He must be really sensitive and cerebral, because I thought it was frakking pointless.”
You think Babel was a great accomplishment? I’ll write its sequel. Right here, right now.

Babel 2: The Quickening (And It’s About Time, Too)

Salt Lake City, Utah: An upper-class Mormon Republican Catholic priest who molests little boys goes to the voting booth to help elect George W. Bush to his fifth term in office. Strolling down the street with a giant cigar in his mouth, he passes a pregnant girl, writhing in pain on the street because she lacks health insurance and can’t afford an abortion at a free clinic. He steps on her fingers, wearing shoes that were made by…

Darfur, Sudan: …a penniless Sudanese guy who works at a Nike factory and is paid in kicks to the groin. Desperate for money to feed his family, and feeling horribly guilty about his enormous carbon footprint, he decides to become a terrorist with a heart of gold, planning to kill…

Vinny says you need to pay up.

Caracas, Venezuela: …a wealthy industrialist using his trillions in oil revenues to steal the election from man-of-the-people Hugo Chavez. His company is burning coal and chopping down rain forests to accelerate global warming, raise the ocean levels, and turn his scores of cheaply-purchased inland real estate into primo beachfront property. What he didn’t count on was…

London, England: …James Bond, 00-agent working for MI6, whose only clue is the codeword “Prometheus” from a dead informant.


Wait, sorry, this story just got interesting, so it won’t work. And I’ll retract one of my earlier points: if you like Babel, you are not necessarily lying. You could be quasi-intelligent. You’re smart enough to realize that the movie is preaching to you, and you’re smart enough to know what the message is, so you feel proud for figuring it out. However, you’re too dumb to realize that the movie actually has all the worldliness and moral complexity of a 5th grade assembly, and that its characters do things so stupid that they need to form a support group with Ron Burgundy and a Koopa Troopa. If that middle ground of intelligence describes you, there’s no need to feel shame. There is a place for you in this world. From Japan to California to Morocco, there will always be a need for telemarketers, DMV agents, and those people who stamp your hand when you leave an amusement park. Everyone just needs to learn to live together, and listen to each other. All we are sayyy-ing...

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