The title of this film is taken from the story of the Tower of Babel, where the languages of the world were first confused. And so we end up with a sprawling movie, moving from Morocco to Mexico to Japan, giving us examples of misunderstandings, miscommunications and racial prejudices that build up into a deeply sad picture of how little we really understand each other.
In the Moroccan story, two young boys are guarding sheep; their father has entrusted them with a new rifle to kill jackals. While foolishly trying out the rifle, they decide to take a potshot at a tourist bus to see whether the gun can reach as far as it was said it could reach. In so doing, they shoot an American tourist (Cate Blanchett) travelling with her husband (Brad Pitt) and the event is immediately perceived as an act of terrorism. In the meantime, just watching Pitt’s meltdown as he tries to help his wife in a strange, alien culture he knows nothing about just drives home the huge differences between cultures – we’re all human beings on one level; but we’re so different on others.
Meanwhile, back home in the US, the children of the tourists are being looked after by their Mexican housekeeper/babysitter. Unable to find someone else to look after the children on the day of her son’s wedding, she decides to take them with her across the border to the wedding. While the initial feel of it all is very celebratory, I had a bad feeling about it and sure enough, everything goes spectacularly wrong.
Finally, the third strand (which appears to be unrelated for a good hour at least but finally gets tied back in) talks about a deaf/mute girl in Tokyo. While she doesn’t have a cultural difference to the world around her, her disability causes her to be an isolated person in the midst of a bustling city and we see her loneliness and its consequences.
Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu is a master storyteller, and I’m guessing, as a Mexican, he would understand firsthand the sort of cultural gaps that exist in the world.
Not an easy film to watch, but never dull.
4 ½ out of 5