Babel (2006) is a multi-plot film by the Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu set in Morocco, Japan, the USA and Mexico. This film really proves how globally connected and disconnected we are.
Above all, this film is a narration of how difficult it is to communicate across borders, no matter if they are physical, geographical, cultural or psychological. The film with Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett as the American couple, Richard and Susan Jones, was nominated for seven Oscars. It is a good idea to analyze the film by assigning one topic to one or two students. The students may present their research and findings to the class, e.g. in a Power Point Presentation. Make sure that all the topics are covered. The students may evaluate each other, and their presentations might be used as a common resource for exams and tests.
The film is called Babel. What do you associate with Babel? Take a look at this explanation of the term from Britannica: Tower of Babel
Now, jot down some key words related to Babel and what it might symbolize.
Then, watch the film trailer:
We talk about the border as a place only, instead of an idea. I believe that the real borders are the ones that exist within us.
Alejandro González Iñárritu, director of Babel
- What kind of borders are indicated in this trailer?
- The settings vary: Morocco; the USA; Mexico; Japan.
Write down impressions you get from each setting. How are the various scenes from these countries different? Do they have something in common?
- Which references are made to Babel in the trailer? How do you think Babel might be linked to the theme and plot in the film?
Tasks to the Film - Analysis
After watching the film, you should make a vocabulary list to make sure that you are familiar with words and expressions, such as:
alienation, intercultural communication, stereotypes, terrorism, media coverage, prejudice, peer pressure, gender issues, the Third World, culture clash, Americanization and imperialism
The Opening Scene
- How does the rifle shot in the desert connect and disconnect cultures and countries on three continents and also people's destinies?
- Many see Babel as a film about breakdown of communication. Why do you think the director chose a rifle shot to illustrate this? Do you think it works as a powerful start to the narrative?
- How is the rifle "a vehicle" in the narrative?
- Why are the settings so important in this film?
- Do the settings make the theme more global?
- How are the settings different?
- The scene shots may be seen as having the same dialogue, only from different perspectives. How so?
- Do they seem authentic?
- What effect do the different settings have on us as an audience?
- Find out about the director. How do you think his cultural background has affected the choice of settings?
The Characters and Characterization
- Describe the main characters:
Are there any "good guys" or "bad guys" in the narrative?
Do the characters appear authentic, flat, stereotypical, static or dynamic?
Are they likeable or not?
- Focus on ONE of the pairs listed below. Describe the relationship between them. In what ways is communication a challenge for these characters? What seems to be the "Tower of Babel" built by these characters?
- Susan and Richard Jones
- The Moroccan brothers
- Amelia and her son
- Amelia and Mr. and Mrs. Jones
- Chieko and her dad Chieko and her peers
- Chieko and the police investigator
Babel is a multi-plot film with interrelated stories. Some of the main plots may be seen as:
- Borders (physical, geographical, cultural, social and psychological)
- Clashes (cultural, national, gender, socioeconomic, interpersonal and ethnical, political, global and local, urban and rural)
- Stereotypical thinking and prejudices (Arabs, terrorism, Americanization, physical and psychological impairments, poverty)
Choose ONE of these plots and relate it to the film. Make comments and explain.
The main themes may been seen as related to communication.
- The title and the actions in the film strongly indicate that communication and lack of communication, or rather breakdown of communication is a main theme. Discuss and explain how this is reflected in the film.
- Another theme related to this might be intercultural communication and challenges represented by globalization. Why is it so difficult to reach out to each other across cultures? Discuss and explain by referring to the film. You may focus on:
Japanese vs. Western culture
Mexican vs. American culture
American vs. Arab culture
- Yet another theme related to communication might be loneliness. How is this reflected in the film? Give examples and explain.
- Find out what an allegory is.
- In which sense is the Tower of Babel an allergory?
- In the Bible the story of the Tower of Babel might be seen as a warning from God. To distract the people, he created confusion. In the film we see a lot of confusion. Which connections do you see to the Biblical version?
- Are there any indications in the film as to how these Towers of Babel can be torn down?