'Babel': miracle or mirage?

A refreshing film under the predominance of Hollywood

Nadine Visser

Through the dry landscapes of Morocco there is an old man walking on his way to a house. Once arrived, he knocks on the door and the owner of the house opens it. “Come inside”, he says. The old man takes a seat on the ground of the primitive, little house and shows a package. Everybody, the father, mother and children, keeps an eye on him when he unwraps it. Underneath the plastic there is a gun and three hundred patterns are hidden in his hood. The father buys it for five hundred dirham and one goat, without knowing what disastrous consequences this gun will have.

This is how Babel begins. A movie that tells the story of four individuals and their families. They are from all parts of the world – Japan, Mexico, Morocco and The United States – but somehow, they are all connected with each other. 

While the Moroccan brothers are looking after the goats with the gun of their father, the touring car of an American couple (played by Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett) drives through the Moroccan scenery to a touristic attraction. The boys want to know how far the gun will shoot and the touring car seems to be the perfect target. The woman got shot in her shoulder and immediately the United States think it is a terrorist attack. 
At the same time the Mexican nanny is watching after the children of the couple while they are on a holiday. She wants to have a day off to visit the wedding of her son in Mexico, but that is not possible. So, she decides to bring the kids with her. They are having a good time at the party, but when they get back to The States they have troubles at the border. 
On the other side of the world we meet a deaf Japanese teenager, whose is struggling with herself after the death of her mother. The relationship with her father is not that good. And we figure out that the father has also a connection with the others.

About the director Iñárritu

Alejandro González Iñárritu is the director of Babel. He was born in Mexico City and the youngest of seven siblings. In his teen years, he was ousted from school and then became a commercial sailor. He traveled a lot to Europe and Africa. This period of his life where he travelled a lot, influenced him as a film-maker. The places he visited are often used as settings in his films. Back in Mexico City, he started writing and directing short films and advertisements. In 1999 he directed his first movie Amores Perros. This movie tells a story about the Mexican society through different points of view. This story technique continued when he directed his second film 21 Grams. And as is said before, Babel has these intertwining stories as well. In 2014 he won the Academy Award for Best Director for the film Birdman, and the following year for The Revenant. He is known as the first Mexican citizen to win the Academy Award for Best Director. 

But what makes him win all these prizes? He uses a range of typical patterns and techniques in his films. For example, his films involve tragic events that brings different people together. The different people in the storylines most of the time overlap cities or countries. The theme of human connection is therefore very important in his work. And as he said himself: 

“I have tried to explore different realities in different social classes... At the bottom line, we are human beings, and it doesn't matter where you are or which god you believe in or which country you live in. “ 

His films are often multilingual and are all about different cultures and involves a friction or a connection between these cultures. When watching his films, you get really sucked up in the storylines of these cultures. This is a good example of a global network film. 

A cinematic retrospection towards global network

Babel is a typical global network film because of three remarkable features. First of all, the dramatization of a transnational social network. The film mapped a transnational network society centralized on the gun shot in Morocco, rendered the suffering and traumas on four individuals and their families in America, Mexico and Japan.

Secondly, the three main plots of a Western naive protagonist. The central narrative of the western tourist, played by Brad Pitt, illustrated the transformation from a western tourist to the global citizen by the three plots – being traumatized by the gun shot in a remote area, struggling for get help under a transnational network, and finally re-evaluated the position in the situation and acted as a fighter.

At last, the production team of the film is built up with diverse backgrounds. It in fact shows the connection between the bible story of ‘Tower of Babel’ to the film. The production team embodied this story with the use of multinational backgrounds and shot the movie in diverse locations including Morocco, Japan, Mexico and America, which in a way specified the meaning of the Babel in terms of global network film. 

An investigation of the individual and globalization

As a global network film, Babel converges four narratives, those of Morocco, America, Mexico and Japan, into a gunshot which unfolded their individual sufferings under different cultural contexts. It examined the incapability, miscommunication, and alienation resulted from the transnational flow. However, what should be noticed, in term of the global context, is the anti-terrorism. In Babel, the anti-terrorism was ironically ended up as a justification of the responsibility of the government to the public in the aftermath of the September 11, whereas it is actually a hypocrisy to the individual trauma of the protagonist.

Also, within a global network consisting of four different regions, Babel in fact reinforced the Western subjectivity through the trauma in distance. Though the film narratives the story within a global background and shows the transnational cooperation, the perspective was actually dominated by the American couple while the Mexicans, Moroccans and the Japanese narratives was merely the interludes in the storyline. 

In addition, the central protagonist of Babel, played by Brad Pitt, was depicted as a contemporary western global citizen in the movie whereas Brad Pitt himself was also portrayed as a humanitarian celebrity in global issues. His public support to the health and minority constructed his image of a responsible and active global citizen. For example, by his effort for the ONE Campaign fighting against AIDS in developing countries, his financial donation of $1 million with his ex-wife to the organizations in Chad and Sudan (Darfur region), and the establishment of Jolie-Pitt foundation to offer humanitarian assistance around the world.

Questions of discussion:

What is the role of the Japanese girl in the film?
What is the meaning of the ending of the film?
Do you think this is a global network film?
Why the name of the movie is Babel (do human beings can overcome the language difference?)
What can be said about the cultural differences of the individuals?


Babel, dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2006.

Babel (2006) IMDb, (n.d.) 

Alejandro G. Iñárritu. IMDb. (n.d.).

Biography. (z.d.). Alejandro González Iñárritu. 

Encyclopaedia Britannia. ( September 20, 2018). Alejandro González Iñárritu

Manuel Castells, “Materials for an Exploratory Theory of the Network Society.” The British Journal of Sociology 51.1, 2000. 5-24.

Mary Green (September 20, 2006). "Brad & Angelina Start Charitable Group". People. 

Neil Narine, “Global Trauma and the Cinematic Network Society.” Critical Studies in Media Communication. 27 (3), 209-34.