Tue November 7, 2006
"Crash" with global soul
By John DeSando, WCBE's
"It were as wise to cast a violet into a crucible that you might discover the formal principle of its colour and odour, as seek to transfuse from one language into another the creations of a poet. The plant must spring again from its seed, or it will bear no flower, and this is the burthen of the curse of Babel." Percy Bysshe Shelley
It's tough enough to get the right meaning in translation much less survive a catastrophe in a foreign country where you don't know language or customs. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and Guillermo Arriaga's Babel intensely depicts the harrowing circumstances of an American, Richard (Brad Pitt) whose wife, Susan (Cate Blanchette), is wounded in the neck by a stray bullet as they tour the Moroccan desert. His frustrated attempts to rescue her are true to my own experiences with the limited hospital resources abroad and the dangers of not knowing language and customs. Thus begins a Crash-like series of stories all connected, sometimes spuriously, with this catastrophe.
The director and writer, whose Amores Parros and 21 Grams also speak to cultural barriers, infuse the film with an incessant foreboding, such as when they trace the rifle that shoots the stray bullet. There is even a post-9/11 fear that designates anything outside of your own culture as dangerous-- xenophobia applied everywhere.
Beyond this global terror specter, each of the film's story strands has a theme of abandonment, be it a parent who leaves family, a sitter who ditches her charges, a dad who distances himself from his child, or a father who carelessly neglects his boys. The intersection of this theme is perhaps even more powerful than the international terror, for it hits home at home.
Babel misfires when it, like Crash, forces connections in the four story lines, one of which (set in Japan) is curiously out of tune with the others but which could have survived nicely on its own. The message of the film is not in danger of being misunderstood: Communication is king.
John DeSando teaches film at Franklin University and co-hosts WCBE 90.5's "It's Movie Time," which can be heard streaming at www.wcbe.org Fridays at 3:01 pm and 8:01 pm and on demand anytime. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.RR.com