I was warned not to see the movie “Babel”. My friend saw it before me and said it was “one of those movies where the message is that ‘guns are bad, border patrol is mean and scary, and corrupt Americans are to blame.'”
Although I understand how one might arrive at this conclusion, I believe the film’s title gives us a better clue as to its message. In the ancient city of Babel, according to the Old Testament, God made it so that everyone suddenly spoke different languages. Since they could no longer communicate with each other, they were unable to cooperate productively and thus never finished building the Tower of Babel.
As in the original city of Babel, the characters in this movie cannot communicate with one another. As a result, all the countries in this movie at times come across as “mean and scary,” depending on your perspective. The Japanese are depicted as a cold and stand-offish culture with superficial, sex-crazed, drug-abusing teenagers; the Mexicans are seen as barbaric, uncivilized, drunk-driving fugitives; Moroccan children randomly fire rifles at buses filled with innocent people. No country is represented in a particularly positive light. It is therefore too narrow an interpretation to say this film “blames” (only) the USA, since all of the characters and countries are flawed in some way.
Sure, my gut reaction as an English-speaking American was to feel defensive after watching Babel. But this is precisely the film’s objective, its “message”: to help us see that in today’s world it’s easier to sympathize with “our own kind” than it is for us to try to understand others. Americans aren’t the only ones who can’t relate-other societies can’t relate to us either. We all speak different languages, have different values, and communicate poorly (if at all) with those who aren’t like us. To the film-makers, our planet has become the biblical town of Babel on a global scale.