Morocco The first of the four narratives follows a troubled American couple who find themselves fighting for their lives in the middle of a tragic incident while vacationing in the Muslim country of Morocco, where the local language and culture are a constant riddle. The paradox implied in the relationship between the characters portrayed by Cate Blanchett and Brad Pitt is an example of a more intimate definition of miscommunication. “From the outside, they look like a couple who gets lost in the desert, when in reality, they are a lost couple who find one another in their loneliness,” says the director.
Entwined with this shattering marital drama is the story of the two Morrocan children who accidentally endanger many lives and set off a chain of global events they could never have imagined. Theirs is a a more common mode of miscommunication, one of sibling rivalry that culminates in an inoccent choice gone wrong. The story of the Moroccan children is meant to me more a tragedy about the moral breakdown of a highly spiritual Muslim family than a story about a boy being chased by the police. It is equally or more important to the father of the children that Yussef is peeping on his sister while she is undressing than the fact that they had shot at a bus. When values crumble nothing makes sense anymore; when a link is broken, it’s not just the link that breaks, but the whole chain
Another tale revolves around a Mexican nanny working amidst the wealth of California, who makes the fateful decision to bring two American children illegally across the border. Her story is a fable that sums up the situation of thousands of people who try to cross the U.S. border – a situation that emcompasses the frustrations of so many immigrants living abroad, their inability to fully communicate their desire for a better life.
The final story focuses on a widowed father trying to emotionally connect with his deaf daughter in the middle of the intensely urban setting of Tokyo. This tale of a teenager who falls into sexual extremes as a way to fulfill her yearning for affection, expresses another side of language – the physical.
Ultimately, González Iñárritu contends that the universal, visual language of film is one way that artists can break through the borders and miscommunications he explores in BABEL.
Mexico Intriguingly, each of the locations of BABEL has played a role in Alejandro González Iñárritu’s life.Alejandro González Inárritu took a life-changing trip to Morocco at age 17, and from the minute he was first introduced to that country’s shimmering deserts and soulful mountains, he determined he would one day make a movie there. In this age of terrorism and fear, the setting became even more relevant to Iñárritu’s story of mixed up communication and mistaken motives.
Similarly, the director’s previous visits to Japan inspired him to commit to returning one day with a movie camera. In 2003, he went to that country to promote 21 GRAMS, and visited a place named Hakone, a landmark mountain with steaming thermal waters that struck him as magical. While climing up the Hakone mountain, he saw old man taking care of a mentally-retarded adolescent Japanese girl with such love and dignity that the image had a powerful effect on him – leading to the idea of telling the story of a relationship between two isolated people in the middle of bustling Japan. Later on, the strange and constant appearance of deaf people in that same trip, became the seed of the Japanese story, Another influence on Alejandro González Inárritu as he forged BABEL was his own recent move from his former home in Mexico City to the United States. The director knew he wanted to set one of his stories against the deadly and highly contentious border between the U.S. and Mexico. “Being an immigrant myself, I gained a clearer perspective of myself, my country and my own work. I also now understand what it feels like being a Third World citizen living in the First World country, and the complexity of its significance.”
Japan In making a movie that crosses borders, cultures, conflicts and the internal lines people draw between themselves, González Iñárritu and the cast and crew had to work through a similar tangle of widely varied dialects, lifestyles and personalities. “During the production, we had many of the same problems that are central to the film -- communication wasn't easy,” he explains. “BABEL was created by hundreds of people all from different parts of the world. On the set in Morocco, for example, people spoke Arabic, Berber, French, English, Italian and Spanish. We even had actors from the same town who spoke different languages, so it was an ongoing challenge to bring everyone together."With the cacophony of human voices that emerged from the biblical Tower of Babel as its inspiration, BABEL follows four equally compelling narratives that unravel in different corners of the planet, yet are nevertheless tied together at the roots. Everything that unfolds in the film is set in motion by a single, simple act – a hunting rifle left behind by a tourist in Morocco -- that reverberates through a chain of personal and global interactions. Though it tackles some of the same themes of fate and interconnection touched upon in its two predecessors, AMORES PERROS and 21 GRAMS, the film is also a departure, traversing a much broader emotional, intellectual and geographic canvas. “The only reason why this trilogy can be considered as such, besides its having been shaped by overlapping story structure, is that in the very end, they are stories of parents and children. That’s what AMORES PERROS and 21 GRAMS were. Despite the fact that social and political questions on a global scale are implicit in BABEL, it does not cease being a quartet of very intimate tales,” said Alejandro González Inárritu.While traversing such distinctive yet different cultures, one of the director’s main objectives was to avoid using a conventional “outsider” point of view that could dilute the audiences’ intimacy with the multicultural characters. Instead, he followed what he calls an “observe and absorb” process – spending time in each country in which he shot, watching the everyday habits of the locals, while also utilizing many non-professional actors who could provide him not only with unsurpassed naturalism, but unique insight into the local cultural subtleties. Despite the fact that many of the actors had never even seen a film camera before, González Iñárritu trusted them to reveal their own personal and culturally specific reactions to the dramatic situations in the film. This emotionally compelling means of storytelling helped to break down the walls that often surround foreign characters in Hollywood-made films. For the director, it was one of the major cruxes of making BABEL – honestly representing each of story’s cultural surroundings, while also revealing the starkly poignant and undeniable common humanity at the center of each tale.“The real borderlines are within ourselves in that more than a mere physical space, the barriers are in the world of ideas. I realized that what makes us happy as human beings could differ greatly, but that what makes us miserable and vulnerable beyond culture, race, language, or financial standing is the same for all” says Alejandro González Inárritu “I discovered that the great human tragedy boils down to the inability to love and be loved and the incapacity to touch or be touched by this sentiment, which is what gives meaning to the life and death of every human being. Accordingly, BABEL transformed into a picture about what joins us, not what separates us.”