On Inarrritu’s Babel (2006)

“A single gunshot heard around the world. An honest mistake. A simple misunderstanding. A global disaster”—this is stated in the movie’s poster, and this does give a concise overview of what the movie is about. The movie features three stories, which are somehow intertwined, happening in different parts of the world—Morocco, Japan, and USA. In USA, two children are left to the care of a Mexican nanny because their parents are in Morocco. Their mother, while traveling in a bus, is shot in what is believed to be a terrorist attack, but which is in fact just an accident. Two boys, in the spirit of playfulness, fired the gun, and are then faced with the gruesome consequences. The gun was sold to their father by a guide, who in turn got the gun from a Japanese hunter. The hunter’s deaf-mute daughter, meanwhile, is trying to deal with her mother’s death (and the guilt and anger she seems to feel about it), and her own sexuality.

I think the major themes in the movie are: sexuality, local events with global consequences, and global stratification that comes with globalization.

Due to increasing interconnectedness brought about by improved transportation and technology, distances in space and time are rapidly shrinking, while interaction among different persons and peoples and across continents has greatly expanded. The result is that the world has become a smaller place. With the fusion of societies and economies, we realize that something that happens locally may well have some global effect (for example, the gun accident in Morocco affected the whole world). Trade has also become global. A gun made in Japan may probably find its way into the hands of a Moroccan boy. With the increased intermingling of cultures (for example, the Mexican nanny to an American family and the comradeship of the Japanese hunter and the Moroccan guide), we realize that we as people are more alike than different, that we pretty much have the same aspirations, concerns, needs, and so on.

It appears we really are moving towards a more unified and integrated world. This, I suppose, is a good thing in that it is conducive to the development of countries and the appreciation of one another’s culture. However, it is quite saddening to think that this development is by no means equal. Given the history of conquests and explorations, discoveries and inventions, First World countries have power over Third World countries, which were plundered and abused by their colonizers. This inequality is evident in Babel. Mexicans are discriminated against and are generally treated with much suspicion in USA. The feminization of poverty and the privilege of the First World woman over the Third World woman are also evident: while the First World woman pursues a career, the Third World woman takes the gender-stereotyped work the former used to have to do. In poor countries such as Morocco, law enforcement is inefficient and human rights are often curtailed. What’s disturbing is that it just seems to be natural there—nobody complained much—but in more developed countries like UK, police authorities acting in the same brutal way can face charges. Another problem in undeveloped countries like Morocco is accessibility. Because their transportation, technology and resources are poor, the availability of services and activities in such areas are limited. Another factor that restricts accessibility and interaction is the language barrier, which often leads to misunderstanding or no understanding at all (like in the Mexican woman’s case). Such areas are perceived to be farther because of restricted accessibility even if they are geographically nearer than an accessible country like the USA. Because the USA is more accessible, because of the mass media, the internet, their influence in world economy and government, etc., we are more exposed to their culture. Indeed, many of the world’s various cultures have been ‘Americanized’—thus we see the unequal exchange not only of material resources, but even of culture. This great influence of American culture is manifested in the Japanese girl’s story. The influences of the more liberal American culture clashed with the more conservative and patriarchal culture she grew up in. Eventually, however, despite the pain that went with it, she was able to transcend gender stereotypes and address her sexuality.

Perhaps someday such inequalities in the global flow of wealth, knowledge, and culture would cease to exist. So that we may all better appreciate the culture of other countries, alongside with our own.


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