Babel (2006)


It seems to me that almost everyone (except me of course) has misunderstood Babel. Personally, I found it to be a very dark and disturbing film. Note that (contrary to popular opinion) the plot structure of Babel is NOT the same as in films such as Crash where several plot lines play out in parallel, with occasional intersections of characters and events. Babel uses a linear plot structure that implies causation. A metaphysical moral order is depicted in which one bad event causes another bad event, and then another, like ricocheting billiard balls, playing out over the surface of the globe.

Here is the sequence in which certain critical events happened in “world time”: 1) A mother in Japan commits suicide with a gun leaving a deaf daughter and a husband behind, 2) The father gives away a gun as a gift to a Moroccan guide (possibly the same gun used in the suicide?), and the gun ends up in the hand of a Moroccan child. 3) This child shoots an American woman traveling on a tour bus, 4) The nanny who is watching the American woman’s children back in the USA is forced to continue being their caretaker for a few extra days even though she does not want to do so because her son is getting married in Mexico, 5) The nanny takes the children, without permission, to the wedding in Mexico, and in the course of some dramatic events during the return home, loses the children in the desert, 6) The children in the desert do not die, but are rescued.

So what started this chain reaction? And what caused it to suddenly stop, allowing the American children to survive rather than being left to die in the desert? These events are not depicted directly in the movie and must be inferred. However, the director/screenwriter provide an overwhelming number of clues, all of which point to only one reasonable inference. The triggering evil event was incest by the Japanese father with his daughter, and only when this hideous secret was exposed (the mechanism being a letter written by the daughter to a police officer) was the chain reaction of evil stopped in its (desert) tracks.

I could spend paragraphs explicating the evidence for this inference, but all I will do here is present a few examples. I invite anyone skeptical of my interpretation to go back and re-view the movie watching for the clues about this incestuous theme that are obvious from beginning to end once one starts looking for them. Consider the opening scene in which we are introduced to the Japanese girl. What is revealed in this scene is that the Japanese girl is psychologically about ready to explode over a situation in which an adult who is supposed to be responsible for enforcing the rules properly does not do so. What prior events in her life history could have brought her to that psychological boiling point? Consider the aggressive, hostile response of the same Japanese girl in exposing herself in the nightclub following dialog that includes a crude joke about “having sex with your father”. Consider the inappropriate sexual come-ons to adult males including the dentist and the police officer (behaviors that would cause any psychologist evaluating this girl to immediately be suspicious about potential sexual abuse). Note that the gun when it travels to Morocco ends up in the hands of a child who is himself engaged in a mild form of incestuous behavior in the form of voyeurism with his sister. Note the name of the film: Babel, a shorthand for Babylonia, a place the book of Revelations in the Bible exhorts believers to “flee from” because of activities such as incest that are taking place there. Finally, forget about the specifics of the film Babel for a moment, and answer the following multiple choice question in a Film 101 class: Your are watching a scene in a movie and a young girl standing naked on a balcony is approached by an older man. When he reaches her side, they hold hands. Your immediate interpretation of what is likely being depicted filmatically by this scene is: a) This is a sentimental depiction of the behavior expected between a caring father and his daughter, or b) This is a depiction of two lovers.

Ron Boothe

20 thoughts on “Babel

  1. On Babel and Film Interpretation
    By David Gilmour (December 4th, 2006)

    In response to Ron Boothe’s focus in his translation of the events in Babel, the intriguing film by Alejandro Gonzalez Iňárritu (2006), I would like to consider the film as I translated its narrative effects and thematic form. I did not suspect anything criminal, Freudian or deeply psychological in one section of the film over the others. The depth of psychology for me was in the hurt, grief and trauma that pervaded many characters’ lives in each of the three stories. Motivation for many of the characters’ actions, as I interpret the film, cannot be fully delineated in any conclusive way, for the details do allow some mysteries to remain unsolved. The brilliance of some filmmakers can be found in leaving something out that remains a mystery to ponder. Alejandro Gonzalez Iňárritu subtly affects this mystery-making in his films.
    The intricately structured film, Babel, is the third time—he calls them a trilogy—that Iňárritu has emotionally and intellectually agitated attentive viewers with his exciting films: first, Amores Perros, full of grueling—and growling–life events, an anguish-laden 3-part drama of relentless pathos; second, 21 Grams, another pathos-filled gut-wrencher, with Sean Penn playing sullen Mr. Anguish himself. Iňárritu the director has to attribute much of the success of his films to his screenwriter, Guillermo Arriaga, and his cinematographer, Rodrigo Prieto, because the writing of the dramatic pieces and the lively filmic representations are what make his films exciting and memorable. The director keeps his audience attentive by segmenting his large story so that we must fathom some elements of continuity as we remain stirred up emotionally through a roller-coaster ride of vicarious experiences. Nevertheless, I have never felt overly emotionally manipulated by Iňárritu’s work. In his films, redeeming factors often outweigh the emotional torment in the final analysis.
    For me, like last year’s (2005) Academy Awards winner Crash (director Paul Haggis), Babel will be a contender for best film in the various awards ceremonies. The reasons I posit for this are its high, emotional dramatic storytelling and intricate, novel film editing, shifting between three stories, each of which is interesting in itself and each adding something intrinsic to the others. Also, of significant importance, the theme is humanistic and vital for our awareness of how easily people create chaos, not just locally but globally, by simple folly and misjudgment. The fact that the resolutions of story and relationships are mixed in ways of satisfying (or not satisfying) audiences’ wishes for closure adds a realistic dimension to the whole composition of events.
    The modern “post-modernist” film that has worked convincingly (e.g. Grand Canyon, Short Cuts, Magnolia and Crash) is one that combines or interweaves a variety of narratives into an integrated whole, in which characters in different mini-plots ironically or coincidentally bump into one another and by interaction affect one another’s’ lives. Some call the pattern analogously a jig-saw-puzzle movie; others term it a mosaic composition, because the audience is left to piece the separated serial or episodic narratives together into beginning(s), middle(s) and end(s). Babel is not a great test of connecting the pieces. Split up into three narratives—the Moroccan, the American-Mexican, and the Japanese—the integrated narrative is not difficult to comprehend; the mosaic elements are large tiles of story-boards which run more or less in an easy-to-interpret linear program, although the chronology is not, strictly speaking, linear. For example, one scene of the shooting at a tour bus is told from the point of view of the Moroccan boys with the rifle. Later, after an episode of the intervening Japanese scenario, the Moroccan shooting scene is told again from the point of view of the bus tourists, played by Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, as they journey through desert landscapes. Not only is chronology manipulated, as in the flashback sequence just described, but so also is the camera angle of perception, i.e. the point of view. None of this is awkward for viewers to make sense of. We are used to it from TV shows, like CSI, or any number of detective programs with verbal explanations or film montages from different characters’ views of a crime scene.
    Babel does not ask the viewer to solve any crime nor to seek out the origin of any sinful behavior; just about everything that goes wrong is laid out before the viewer. Ron Boothe, in his analysis of the Japanese narrative, the most intriguing section of the three scenarios, noticed a major sin at work in an incestuous relationship between the father (Koji Yakusho) and his deaf teenage daughter, Chieko (Rinko Kikuchi). This would, I imagine, help explain the mother’s suicide, which is, as I viewed it, left as an unsolved mystery. Granted, the angry young teenager does vehemently desire to provoke some male to engage in sex, whether a randy teenager or a disinterested mature man-–her dentist for one and later a young detective. However, it does not seem likely this is intended as a result of any father-daughter incest. Having viewed the film twice to notice more carefully the dialogue and behavior of the father and the young girl, I do not think an incestuous crime lay in the background of the Japanese narrative. The wife of the man–the girl’s mother–had committed suicide by shooting herself; the girl came upon the scene first. We can surely be intrigued to question the reasons for the suicide, but I find no convincing evidence.
    The Japanese father and daughter are left behind with the horrible mystery, which is a trauma each deals with differently. He is a dignified businessman of some means. He acts without animation, unemotional and zombie-like in his manners and movement. He seems lost in ennui, traumatized by his wife’s death. He does not seem able to help his daughter cope. (I say “seem” because much is muted and inscrutable in the foreigness and stolidity of the tacit Japanese manners.) The daughter, left alone to find her entertainments, is obviously traumatized by her mother’s horrible death, still denying the facts of the suicide. She lies to the police, who she thinks are following up investigations to make life miserable for her father. The girl in her deafness is angry and frustrated at the ignorance of the dominant culture, wishing to play a more active part in the maelstrom of sensory, seductive social life that advertising, fashion and technology encourage in young people. Deprived of emotional and sensual engagement, she’s aware of the privilege that is granted the hearing culture all around her. Now, disoriented, without her mother’s guidance, and left alone by her father, she seeks in dangerous ways to satisfy her urges or smother her grief. These misjudgments of petulant youth do not need the psychological incitement from an incestuous past. The Japanese father does genuinely embrace and comfort his daughter at the film’s conclusion and some comforting reconciliation is what most viewers are craving after the harrowing torments and cruelties they have observed through two hours of heavy pathos and unjust suffering. The evidence to support an incestuous motif seems to me to go against the general theme that people get into terrible fixes without really trying, just through the crazy mishaps of choice and possibility.
    The Americans, Pitt and Blanchett, trying to reconcile their trauma over the recent loss of a child through SIDS, or some other accidental death (another unsolved mystery) come through a potentially fatal wounding of the wife, arriving finally in a modern hospital where surgery and nursing care give some hope of survival, though it is not certain the wife will be completely well. We do not know all the details surrounding the child’s death, but the father evidently ran off or left the family for some time, possibly out of shock. Neither Pitt nor Blanchett had behaved wickedly in the loss of their baby and yet between them anger, regrets and blame were evident in their inconsolable grief and post-traumatic conditions. Between them, a reconciliation of sorts is imminent at the close of their narrative in Morocco, after they suffered together to surmount the life-threatening difficulty. The shooting incident had been escalated by world mass media to the level of a terrorist incident. Therefore, all the other tourists were intent on escaping, to take the tour bus back to civilization and safety, leaving the distressed couple behind in the primitive off-road village.
    Meanwhile, unknown to the distressed parents, back in their American home, in San Diego or some such city, another crisis is taking place, or chronologically about to take place, when the Mexican housemaid and caretaker of their young children must take them with her into Mexico to her son’s wedding. Here again is the fascinating sub-theme of leaving or not leaving. Distressed about taking them across the border, the maid Amelia (Adriana Barraza) cannot leave them behind, for no one is free to help her, to take them into his/her care for the weekend. Alas, taking them with her leads to the necessity later of leaving them behind while she seeks rescue. One misjudgment after another leads to their abandonment in the desert and terrible, unjust consequences through punitive border policing. Slight reconciliation occurs here with her recently married son arriving to embrace and comfort Amelia after her forced deportation. Mother and father will learn about their children’s hair-raising adventure and rescue when they return to barbaric America from Third World weirdness. The injustices suffered by all characters seem far in excess of any mistakes or wrongdoing. Unintelligent officialdom is heavily indicted in Babel.
    In the Moroccan family’s story there is the most dreadful misjudgment without any satisfying reconciliation. The father gives his sons a rifle he recently purchased to ward off jackals from their goat herd and by necessity leaves them alone as he goes off to work elsewhere. The stupid action of an innocent boy testing the firepower of the rifle brings two families to ruin and death at the hands of, again, abusive, punitive police officials. An innocent is killed following an act of casual, unexpected violence, which is exacerbated by angry retaliation. None of the actions of the narratives deals truly in tragic or wicked situations; they are all pathetic actions of no significant purpose, with no malicious intentions, and with no particular wise lesson accruing to the perpetrators. Like the so-called Butterfly Effect, in the global scheme of things, subtle connections or phenomena trigger actions and behaviors in distant places that cannot be premeditated or predicted and yet horribly affect lives through inexpiable deeds.
    It would seem too far off course of his thematic lines for Alejandro Gonzalez Iňárritu to insert a wicked behavior such as incest, such that audiences would have to find the subtle details by close examination of that one cultural narrative. In Babel, there is a thematic balance in each cultural narrative: of ignorance, confounding of communications, misjudgments and the terrible consequences spawned through a series of casual acts. To give the Japanese characters a heavy criminal weight would be a distraction away from the more important humanistic message pervading all the film’s episodes. The young Japanese detective shows his compassion for the distraught young girl and later, when he reads the note, which the audience never learns the details of, he does not show any shock or anger, nor does he exhibit a need to act in any way punitively towards the father. He showed no recognition of any horror or crime from reading Chieko’s note. The manners and methods of the patient, dignified Japanese police stood in marked contrast to the ugly, presumptuous behavior of Moroccan and American police.

    How we (some of us) watch films
    As we watch films, each viewer records and assesses, at least partially, different elements of a film according to one’s interests as he/she filters the story, characters, images and sounds through the senses. Some threads of the fabric or shards of the mosaic that play before us elicit thoughts and considerations that may or may not pay off as necessary data in the final denouement of the narrative. The kind of reasoning that finds interesting details worth pursuing which may not be integral to a dominant theme I call lateral interpretation. Why the Japanese mother committed suicide? Why the Americans’ child died and why they acted irrationally following the death? These are questions tangential to the overall story. The possible tangents of interest are what can make a film enjoyable and lively in the process of viewing. The more complex a film in its techniques and story, the greater is the need to keep alert to potentially integral details, subtle or superficial.
    Ron Boothe is a professor of psychology, and from his expertise in visual perception, he is likely to keep his mind alert to many subtle elements of behavior—words, gestures, or actions—and remain critical of sound and image as the movie rolls onward. Trouble is, we all make false detours watching a film the first time through. Many films need to be seen a second time to confirm one’s suspicions of underlying themes or motivations. Because of time and energy, in the past I have attempted to cultivate an attention to the illusionistic elements of film and to attend carefully, with a critical eye and ear, to the plot sequences and character development. With more leisure, I have come to realize the joy of watching films by first viewing them non-critically. I allow myself to fall into the illusion the director presented for my appreciation, letting the sound and images wash over me and flow through me. Mind you, I don’t just totally zone out; enough critical concern is working within me to detect the value and depth of an important film. At a later time, I enjoy viewing the film again with keener acumen, to notice and record critically details I missed in seeking enjoyment through pure entertainment. That’s why I went to see Babel a second time: I wanted to make a closer analysis, to notice filmic techniques I missed by slumping in my seat with my drink and candy bar, waiting to be mesmerized by pure cinema.
    One element I notice on second viewing struck me as an ingenious technique that is directed towards pure film per se. Chieko, the deaf teenager, visits a techno-rock lounge, presented to us with its deafening decibel level and blinding stroboscopic ambience. She’s experiencing coming down from a day of drugged ecstasy with a gang of friends, and in the phantasmagoric atmosphere we experience the sensations from her point of view—blinding light and chaotic commotion without the accompanying music. Periodically, the musical rhythmic uproar returns to show us what’s missing in her interior world. Film, when the medium is at its purest, does not belong to the writer’s script, does not follow sound narrative (verbal telling), does not require suggestive mood music: it is merely a display of images. Chieko’s inner world was depicted as a soundless, expressionistic light show, a silent montage of abstract images flashing and disappearing, like the fantastic scene, Entry into Jupiter, the light show of 2001: A Space Odyssey. The disco scene in Trainspotting (1996, director Danny Boyle) also played with experimental expressionistic montages, though humorously adding subtitles to clue the hearing into what they were missing because of the wall of deafening sounds. Film once in a while, like Chieko’s view in Babel ‘s nightclub, steps out of the literary scripted and dramatic media to reveal glimpses of the mind’s own visual form.

  2. Ron, I finally had time to see this film. I remember the scene with the dentist and when I saw that I whispered to the person next to me–that girl has been sexually molested! Thus, I would tend to agree with your insightful interpretation. The latter scenes with the Police Lt. only confirm suspions. Did I miss something–the letter given to the Lt. was not available to us as to content–is your conclusion simply an inference?

    Cheerfully, The Phantom Director aka: RK

  3. Roger,
    Your are correct — The content of the letter is inferred. My inference is based on the “much discussed” (e.g. see the IMDB website discussion of Babel) puzzling nature of the response of the detective when he reads the letter. The puzzlement comes because most viewers view the final scene as depicting a caring father arriving just in time to save his daughter from committing suicide by jumping off the balcony. Based on that interpretation, most viewers assume that the letter to the detective was a suicide note. The puzzlement comes from the fact that the detective does not seem alarmed when he reads the letter — one would expect that if it was a suicide note, the detective would have rushed out to make a phone call or do something to try to save the girl.

    My interpretation that the note informed the detective about incestuous abuse provides a much more reasonable inference in this regard. The detective would be an adult authority figure in a position to put a stop to the abuse, but the urgency for doing so is not on the order of seconds or minutes (as it might have been in the case of a suicide note), but something that can be taken care of using appropriate formal police protocols, once the detective finishes his meal.

    Two other reasons this inference fits with the rest of the movie. First, it acts as a bookend to the opening volleyball scene. In the opening scene where we are introduced to the Japanese girl, she is suffering intense emotional conflict over the fact that adult authority figures do not enforce the rules. The ending scene with the detective reading the letter gives us (the audience) hope that this conflict will be resolved in a fair way — this policeman will ensure that justice is done. The second reason has to do with the timing of when the policeman reads the letter compared to when the children are rescued in the desert. If my overall interpretation of the film is correct, then the timing of the policeman reading the letter should have happened (just) before the children in the desert were saved. When I have a chance to watch the film again, one of the main things I will be looking for is evidence to establish that time line.

  4. Man, I think you hit on the causal pivot for the plot. I, too, wondered in the closing shot why did the Japanese girl stand naked in front of her father, and why did he clinch her like a lover and not a parent. Nor was he shocked by her nudity. Since so much of the film was focused on the Japanese girls dysfunction, yes, to most of us it just seemed that she was screwed up emotionally; perhaps from discovering her mother post-suicide, and she was struggling with her angst, her deafness, her sexuality, her adolescence, puberty, her hormones, her peer pressure –all played into the mix, like a souffle, like ingredients in a stir-fry pan; scortching hot from the cooking oil, all the tastes intermingling. But what marksmanship on your part to trace the rifle given to the Algerian hunting guide back to the mother’s suicide. Perhaps the mother’s demise was a direct link to her discovering the incest. This was her paternal father, not a stepfather I am assuming. But if that were strickly true, would the Japanese business man have taken that specific rifle on a hunting safari with him. I could understand him giving the rifle away as a gift, as Asians tend to do –but out of guilt? And what was written on that note given to the young police Lt.? It might have been about the incest; perhaps not. It certainly is worth considering. Maybe there would be some level of intervention in the incest.

    But there were more triggers and more links than the probable incest. The bad place Brad Pitt’s and Cate Blanchett’s marriage had moved into, and the stupidity of taking a trip to Algiers to rekindle the romance, or reconnect to his wife. The obvious symbols of non-communication, distrust, misplaced anger, politics, arrogance. The title, BABEL, where upon God made all the peoples of the earth suddenly unable to understand each other. This was certainly one of the themes running through CRASH. The cause and effect arguement certainly does link to THE SWEET HEREAFTER where everything most of the town had done, or had not done, was connected to that bus accident, to that tragedy. Incest certainly was front and center in the goat herdsman’s family, with the brother spying on his sister, and her allowing it, and the younger brother being able to visualize his naked sister as he masterbated; not too many girlie magazines to be had in his village, or home.

    All the politics of the local police force vs. the Amercian embassy, and the local politicians who dorked around with the rules, and did not allow a medavac chopper to get in there. The honest, simple, heart-warming goodness of the Algerian bus passenger, who volunteered his village, his doctor, his home to strangers. The real issues and medical problems of the other passengers, who finally abandoned Pitt and his wife. Who was in the right? Blanchett was near death, and they were bitching about the air conditioning. All the ethics and morality and customs we as Westerners are clueless about concerning the middle east. And thrown into the mix, we have Hispanics, working for decades illegally in the homes of the wealthy, cooking and cleaning and being a nanny. In the 30’s & 40’s and into the 50’s those jobs, that vocational servitude, was done mostly by blacks. Even though in Europe and England, to be a servant can be an honorable profession, as demonstrated by Anthony Hopkins in THE REMAINS OF THE DAY. That issue was dealt with in CRASH as well, with Bullock’s cook.
    So we had the hispanic nanny feeling obligated to take those Anglo kids deep into Mexico to attend her son’s wedding. More customs and language barriers for the rest of us –and then the ennebriated nephew who tangled with the American border guard, and the guard himself being a twisted prick bigot, who was having a bad day, or maybe a bad year. Maybe he just discovered his father, whom he worshiped, was screwing his sister, who left home at 14 years old, only to be found on the streets dead, overdosed on bad junk. How can we know the back stories of each character? In CRASH, Haggis tried to tell us some them, to show the relationship of those beliefs, fears, and racism.

    The Pitt children were spared. Blanchett was spared. The Mexican nanny was deported. The Japanese father probably kept screwing nubile deaf daughter. The Algerian father probably did jail time for the senseless crime done by his sons. Then there was the sibling rivalry card too. The younger brother was a natural good shot. The older brother couldn’t hit a barn in the ass and 30 yards. The Algerian good samaritan, rebuked by the offer of cash from Pitt, may backslide and become a freedom fighter or a terrorist himself. BABEL was long and tragic, and yet somehow significant, somehow applicable for each of us.

    In a world where CNN can broadcast for five hours outside the Miami Herald about a deranged disgruntled cartoonist, who it turned out only had a toy pistol, and the story only merited a 1 minute sound bite on the 6 o’clock News, there is alway too much, or not enough information. When a tree falls in the forest now, it is photographed from 7 angles, and CNN sets up interviews with loggers, mill owners, mill workers on welfare, conservationists, and tree huggers. Sean Penn is asked about it on LARRY KING LIVE. Sally Struthers sets up a national charity for the tree and its brethern, and furniture in the future can only be made out of plastic; which delights the pertroleum industry. Christ, Ron, David, and Roger –everything is connected to everything. That’s why many of us bleed invisibly when we visualize the goings on in Iraq and WA DC. Glenn

  5. Glenn,
    You are a funny man! Your last paragraph has me laughing on the floor 🙂

    I totally agree with the insightful comments by both you and David about the many other themes that are also present in the film. This is a film that has many layers of meanings and interpretations. My argument is not that these other themes are not present, or unimportant, but only that the incest theme is a dominant one that ties all of the main narratives (Japanese story, Moroccan story, American tourist story, Mexican nanny story) together in the form of a causal chain rather than having them be interpreted as independent narratives with occasional overlapping scenes or themes.

  6. Ron,
    I was really glad to find your interpretation of Babel, since I found myself surrounded by people who saw this simply as a combination of non-linear events.

    My interpretation really meshed with yours but even went a step or two further: I felt that the father was really the catalyst and was definitely negative. I definitely felt there was something inappropriate in his behavior toward his daughter that resulted in, first, his daughter’s sexual acting out and, second, that eerie balcony scene.
    As you said, as he joined his naked teenaged daughter on the balcony, he simply took her hand, not as a protective father but more as an understanding lover.
    I felt his connection to his late-wife was more nebulous but left open the possibility of foul-play somehow.

    Anyway, thanks for the interpretation; I was just glad to know someone else saw it the same way!


  7. I left my last post unfinished, because I was interrupted.

    The incestuous relationship of father/daughter could also go a long way toward explaining the mother’s suicide. But I was left wondering if, in fact, it was suicide at all. Foul play would explain the persistence of the police as well as the father’s eagerness to get rid of the gun.

    Whether or not that’s true, what I found especially depressing is that the father is really the ONLY character who escapes any sort of negative consequence from the whole chain of events.

  8. Totally agree with the foul-play interpretation. All of the facts mentioned point in such a direction. What I have not read here before, is the fact that sexually molested girls generally tend to protect the ‘foul player’. In my opinion, the father killed his wife and Chieko saw this. But due to the fact I mentioned about protecting a foulplayer, she lied to the police and told them her mother jumped of the balcony. In that way, she protected her father. That last adult figure in her live was really important to her, although that seems weird and paradoxical. Furthermore, all theories about their past indeed seem to add up.
    I really like the fact that these things are not revealed in the movie, so it leaves us wandering about what really happened.

    Finally I have a last question for you guys. The wedding in mexico had a ominous or somewhat sinister effect on me. I initially expected a fight or a shooting, but this did not happen. And the making-out of amelia with a rather authoritarian man had also a strange effect on me. I don’t know how I can place this event in the plot. Does it suit the foul-play plot, because the man seems to be married or widower?

    Curious about your opinions,
    Gr Fred

  9. I must say, I have never laughed soo hard in my life. Reading comments from viewers who have no real understanding of other cultures is quite funny. Comments like “I could understand him giving the rifle away as a gift, as Asians tend to do –but out of guilt?” As Asian tend to do? To an ethnic viewer as myself, comments like that come off as racist. It does seem like the viewers who posted their comments on this forum do not have a real grasp on the Japanese or the Mexican culture. Some of the comments that i’ve read are made in ignorance. I will only touch upon Chieko as it is late. From what i’m reading in your posts, you believe she’s been molested or sexually abused. The girl is a deaf/mute who has lost her mother, has no real communication with her father and is going through a period in life that is difficult. Give the girl some credit. She’s already dealing with enough bagage that would turn a sane man inside out.

    When the father is introduced they start to fight in the car. She signals to him “You never pay attention to me. Mother always paided attention to me.” The father clearly over works and from the pictures on the wall, travels a great deal. From this you can infer that they dont have much of a real relationship or communication as a daughter and a father would. At the end of Chieko’s story please look carefully at the facial expressions of the father and the detective. The father is shocked. The daughter grabs his hand and hugs him. She’s a lost child wanting some attention/affection. The embrace was not sexual but a plea. What was on the note is open to interpretation. But once again I ask you to look at his facial expression. When he finishes reading the note he closes his eyes tightly. That was his showing of emotion. One idea a friend brought to my attention was, “if it was a suicide note and he turned it in. Wouldn’t they ask what he was doing in the apartment with a naked girl? And it seemed like a long time between the detective leaving the apartment complex and him eating at the restaurant, maybe he thought she already jumped.” It seems like he was a young detective. An incident like that could compromise his career. Not to mention out of all the rejections she took he took the longest to say no. Could that suggest something about his persona?

    Please re-think about what your posting.

    Oh 2 final notes before i leave.

    1.) “The wedding in mexico had a ominous or somewhat sinister effect on me. I initially expected a fight or a shooting, but this did not happen. And the making-out of amelia with a rather authoritarian man had also a strange effect on me. I don’t know how I can place this event in the plot. Does it suit the foul-play plot, because the man seems to be married or widower?”

    – It was a wedding in Mexico. Just because it’s in Mexico doesn’t mean that people will all of the sudden break out in fights. Mexicans are people too. The wedding was used to bring life to the culture of the care taker. It was used to show her as a human being. (Just like they showed the Muslims praying. Not all Middle Eastern people are bad) It was used to explain why she was in Mexico with the kids. And about the other man, he is a widower. Even when you get older you still have needs. Again, it was a stab at humanity.

    2.) Babel

    – Think about the Tower of Babel in the Bible. Not Babylon. That’s your homework Ron.

  10. Okay, now someone has a short fuse. The way you react says more about you then about what you want to tell us. Frustrated about other things/racist issues in life?

    We were seriously discussing our thoughts, not in any way trying to hurt anyone. When I overlook again, we were really not out of line.
    Our thought aren’t so weird.

    PS:The mexican wedding did have a strange effect on ME, whether or not you like it. This had nothig to do with mexicans in general.
    Just wanted to connect with someone who felt the same.

  11. To Passing Viewer: If it really is true that these comments caused you to react “I must say, I have never laughed soo [sic] hard in my life.”, maybe it is time to for you to try to get a grip on yourself. Regarding your suggested homework assignment about the Tower of Babel, I think you were perhaps confused about which movie we are discussing here. Perhaps you were thinking of Fritz Lang’s film Metropolis? A great film with a Tower of Babel theme, but not the film we are discussing here. I will have to admit that you are not alone in your ignorance. A quick look at the commentaries on IMDB shows scores of individuals who jump on the Tower of Babel theme based on the “Babel” title. I realize it is more fun to go along with the herd mentality, but I would respectfully suggest that you might want to try to do a little more independent critical thinking, and less parroting of what you have read or heard somewhere.

    To Sue, Fred, and Andie: Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I had a chance to watch Babel again when I rented it on DVD this past week. This second viewing fully confirmed my impressions formed on the basis of the first viewing. I noticed a few details that I had missed during my first viewing at a theater. I will mention three here. First, when the Japanese girl presents herself naked to the detective, he comforts her with the assurance, “you are just a child”. It is right after this assurance that she writes the note and gives it to him. Second, I see that a time line is established for when the detective reads the note. While he is reading it in the restaurant, the television in the background is reporting that the woman american tourist has just been released from the hospital. Third, I noticed that during the final balcony scene, it is the girl who reaches out and takes her father’s hand rather than the other way around. This would be an expected (psychological) response of a molested child who has been trying to protect her father for years (e.g., trying, unsuccessfully, to protect him from her mother finding out; trying to protect him, up until now, from the police by lying to them about the details of her mother’s suicide) , but who has now turned the father in and has ambivalent feelings about what she has done.

    Regarding the wedding scene, I agree that it did have an ominous tone. Tension was raised by the scene in which a chicken was killed in front of the small children, and when the nephew took out his loaded pistol (we the viewers had been given glimpses of the pistol earlier) and fired it into the air! This tension foreshadowed the events that occurred later at the border.


  12. hi. i just wanted to say that, movies are easily always open to interpretation. what the writer writes, the director directs, and the audience sees can all be different. that’s why moviemaking is considered hard. can one portray exactly what the director has in mind on screen? well giving this benefit of the doubt i personally feel from my point of view that the japanese father and daughter did not have an incestuous relationship. from what i have heard in the past from some japanese friends is that, things like nakedness are not considered sexual. I felt the girl was deaf, and that leaves a lot of emotional scars, and a dead mom. lot to deal with. and we have a father who always must have felt like a 2nd parent, less important than the mother, finally taking spot light place in his daughter’s life,dealing with it. i guess just a father and daughter dealing and helping eachother out as much as possible. the end scene really did seem like a father comforting his daughter. i think it finally hits him how much she is suffering without her mother and he cries too, for himself and her. nakedness doesn’t always mean sex… atleast not in all cultures. just my point of view.

  13. I feel that a deaf girl might feel that society will never accept her and that men will never find her attractive and might even feel sick being with her. this realization might have pushed her nerve. when a cute japanese boy rejects her because of her deafness, she shows herself. this sexual aggressiveness seems to stem from her deafness. And when her dad approaches her in the end he looks shocked that she is naked but when he reaches he sees her and sees her sadness. she grabs on to him, because truly that is the only man who can comfort her, with his hug and his love. All those other men, and that need for sexual gratification in order to feel okay with her mother’s death and her deafness didn’t work. this one parent she has in her life might just be the key to her healing and her internal acceptence.

  14. Hello,

    I have to agree with Ron. I didn’t notice the incest until a couple of hours after leaving the theater. After thinking about it for a while, I began to see the incest aesthetic or motif. Perhaps the director and writer meant nothing by injecting it into the film, but I would argue that throughout history, artitists, poets, authors, playwrights and filmakers (not to mention other artists) have used the incest theme for ideological purposes. Usually it is either one or the other: father-daughter or brother-sister incest. Babel includes both. Father-daughter represents hegemonic status qou and brother-sister represents the subversion of the status quo or hegemonic realm. Perhaps the director and writer know something about the historical forms of literary and artistic incest. Of course, they could have just thrown it in for the fun of it, but I highly doubt it. Even if our culture has come to a point where we may not recognize old literary devices for political statements, we can always just sit back and enjoy the movie as a peice of entertainment. Nothing wrong with that, but I think there is a lot more to Babel’s incest motif, than meets the eye. Thanks for listening.

  15. Well, it’s a film about language and difficulties that arise from problems with communication. It also plays with our stereotypical view of other cultures – the Mexican wedding being a prime example. The director invites you to think that something dangerous will happen so that you confront your prejudice when it doesn’t. As for the idea that Chieko is involved in an incestuous relationship, I believe that her nakedness is merely an act of desperation to feel wanted and noticed. Her father understands this – the scene at the end is of two broken people, and NOT an inference of incest at all. If anything, the note to the policeman contains an admission that she is so lonely that she makes things up about her mother’s death so that at least someone might notice her grief. Of course, the easiest solution to the speculation would be to ask someone who can read Japanese to translate the letter – it’s clearly visible in it’s entirety…

    This film has a pretty potent message for all of us – start trying to understand each other better because one tiny misinterpretation can have global consequences in a world that drip-feeds us garbled opinions and knee-jerk politics through TV.

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