Monday, December 14, 2009


                            ~ Miscommunication at the Clash of Cultures

       Briefly, Babel (2006) by Gonzalez In~arritu is about four stories, four cultures, four lives connected by the trajectory of a bullet meant to kill jackals but that accidentally injures the wife of an american couple that  happens to be working on restoring its marriage through a visit to Morocco.
She’s taken at a nearby village of goat herders where bleeds while awaits for the only ambulance that will never arrive. In the meantime, the town doctor localizes the bullet in the woman's clavicle, removes it and stitches the wound and all, of course, with no anesthesia.
      The incident, mistaken by the media by a terrorist attack, takes the world wide attention.
      In LA, this couple’s little children are in the care of a 10 year-illegal Mexican immigrant housekeeper who, at the time, urges to attend her only son’s wedding in Mexico. At the kid’s parents delay, she decides to cross the border and take them with her for the weekend. At their return from the wedding, as predicted, are detained by the border patrol of American immigration authorities, but they decide to flee from them and cross the frontier carrying the kids through the barren lands.
     The hunt for the rifle’s owner for part of the American authorities begins with the two teenagers that were challenging potshots on a Moroccan cliff, and ends at a lieutenant ex-hunter and recent widower Japanese whose forlorn deaf daughter is mad about her mother’s suicide. She’s mad about it, but mad all the way to her bones... that decides to get the attention of someone, anybody… even the police investigating the case that buzzers her door. She mistakenly assumes he comes to question her about details of her mother’s death.
     Okay, now to entangle this puzzle; the siblings are localized by the Morrocan police and after crossing fire, one dies and the other, after breaking the riffle against a rock, gives himself to the authorities that realize that the incident, indeed, was accidental.
     The American wife gets a helicopter from the American embassy where is taken to a hospital in a more modern city.
    After abandon the kids in the wilderness and being detained again by the desert patrol, the Mexican housekeeper (Adriana Barraza), is finally deported.
      The Japanese girl … well, she’s forgiven.  See the movie.

    What is relevant about this film concerning my research on immigration, diversity, national identity and integration is just this awkward miscommunication that happens when we change contexts as countries and cultures. But this miscommunication is more than bizarre for its consequences, is frustrating, and takes some disturbing turns at crucial points as the film clearly illustrates.

      For example, the American couple travels to inhospitable places with a mind set on American ways as, per say, the mind set to attempt to solve anything with creditcards and calls as long as they are accessible, but who’s not accessible to this ‘modern’ things? So Brad Pitt who, by the way seems to be wanting to clean an extramarital affair, takes his wife to this trip to enjoy the solitude of a Moroccan landscape just to ‘be alone’. She, like most Americans  can’t relax at any given moment; on a shepherds tent asks for an ice-less DietCoke "because who knows what type of water is in it" seeming to be ready to fight for the minimal reason (nevertheless, with this unfaithful man working on merits). Well, she’s shot on the bus and taken to a nearby primitive village where is laid on a rug at the bus translator’s house. And what’s the obvious thing Brad Pitt would do after leaving Cate Blanchett wounded on the floor? Attempt to stop a ban on the route as if he where in Alabama. But the chauffeur, identifying him as an American, does not offer help. Then, he looks for a doctor, but there’s none available. Then, he manages to the only public telephone in town at a store to call an ambulance; there’s one but no one knows where.
Okay, the thing is crazy enough right here.
All town inhabitants want to know what is going on with this frantic american. But the thing gets more interesting when the frustrated husband decides to call the American embassy to find out that they're too busy to give personalized attention to a single tourist. So, getting really mad demands a helicopter! or someone that take them out of this middle age town. Since he’s an American citizen, expects to be attended without reserves in any given part of the world and put into action his full rights. And he is right, but things simply don’t work that way out of the US, but this is something he’ll learn now, under crucial circumstances.

      A crispy contrast is shown when the pair of teenager goat keepers returning from the shooting training walk as casually on Moroccan graves as if they where part of the natural landscape, which tell us that massive deaths are common there. Then, you think why a single American tourist would require more attention than the Moroccan native than, perhaps, had fought for his land or for a political cause, for his country to be free?
Anyhow, Brad Pitt doesn’t care about this, instead, he would do anything to save his wife but impotent by the circumstances, gets really frustrated when the rest of the tourists, suffocated by the heat of high temperatures, left him yelling in the outdoors, throwing stones at them and making a show for the amusement of the gathering shepherds. And we too would get so frustrated in his place, since we’re very much used to this western style of living where no matter the importance, we’ll most likely get what we want, than when we’re out of this in a stressing situation, we just can’t cope with reality. (see the trailer in full screen here)

     This is a situation that all immigrant goes through; when changing contexts, change values and priorities as well; the environment defines our behavior.

     A reverse situation lives the housekeeper when coming back from Mexico and is being detained by the border patrol, and taken to the immigration office to be deported. She, in her mind setting, can’t understand how after taking care of this kids for 10 years is now forbidden of seeing them. I think is crazy enough the fact that she took them out of the country without the parent’s consent to start with, but for her it was a so natural fact just like ‘I’m going right there to my son’s and I’ll come back’. But things don’t work this way out of her country either. After fleeing the immigration agents at the border, she walks with the kids through the desert during all night and all day until almost sundown without water (?!) Isn’t she as crazy, isolated, frustrated and misunderstood as Brad Pitt in Morocco and Chieko, the Japaneese?

      So happens with the heartbreaking story of the Japanese girl who after her mother suicide, claims in vain for her father’s attention and like unleashed, looks for it around city boys gathered in crowded Tokyo. Since she is as mute and deaf as a tomb, is as isolated as the other characters in the story; she doesn’t leave town still, can't belong to it as we see in the sequence at the disco where she decodes the loud music just as intelligible dancing laser lights and subtle beats on her body. So, mute, deaf and mad, doesn't really know how to attain things in the real word. Therefore, thinking rather of missing out and being led by her constructed idea of how she thinks things work, she moves awkwardly and out of context. Like the other characters, she has decided to get what she wants and will do as much as Brad Pitt and the housekeeper to get it.

     There’s a conflict of identities throughout the entire film, characters out of their familial places behave incomprehensibly and lost.
      The fact of changing cultures, doesn’t necessarily mean that automatically we will behave according to the hosting social order. And not only takes time to adapt, as we see in the case of the housekeeper, that she never understood the weight of her thinking under the American law in spite of years of residence. She, as the other characters, won’t realize it either until facts can’t be reversed.

        In terms of identities, one of the richest and most impressive scenes of the film is undoubtedly the border crossing to Mexico. (click here to see it in full screen) Where white crosses along the border wall remit us to the white stone graves where the teenager Moroccans walk on in the other part or the world. The rhythmic music, vivid city, religious images and colors show a definite contrast with the American , Moroccan and Japanese life-style.

      In the film, the use of color is important since it quickly associates with narrative elements as white is associated with purity and death or any combination of both meanings, as the crosses at the Mexican border, Cate Blanchett’s blouse that will be stained with blood, the Moroccan graves, Chieko’s outfit and the wedding dress.
      Greens that usually resembles life is scarce. In stead the film is rich in a wide hue of brilliant reads that remit us to intense experiences as ecstasy, suffering and blood, as the housekeeper’s festive dress that will wear while crossing the desert, flaring Mexican flags, blood on the Moroccan teenager’s body and in Cate’s neck, as in Japan’s many city lights related to ecstasy, death and suicide as well.
      Desert and earthly colors are associated with shame, solitude and misery, as the Moroccan cliffs and the Mexican desert, Brad’s clothes and the Japanese nude body.
     Blue refers to authority, law and order, like in the border patrol, immigration, the Moroccan police, American detectives and Japanese police.

        But Babel is also a beautiful story of desperation, mercy, purge and redemption where love is only canalized through compassion and forgiveness.

     The American couple restores their marriage, the housekeeper recoups the chance of being well with the law by returning to her country, the Moroccan boy that shot the tourists who also had secrets with family members, gives himself to the police, as a way to be in good terms with life and Chieko, receiving compassion from one of the investigators, gets peace with her father's relationship.

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