In film history, Nuevo Cine Mexicano or Mexican New Wave is a cinematic movement that began in the 1990s in Mexico. Critics have mentioned that this movement of films are still in use until this present day. Alejandro González Inárritu, Guillermo Del Torro and Alfonso Cuarón are labelled by film critics as the founding fathers of this cinematic wave, the pioneers. 21 Grams, Children of Men and Pan’s Labyrinth are notable works by these directors that surely did left a huge impact in the Mexican film history as their new style on the art of filmmaking were making their way into the Hollywood film industry.
In 2014, Alejandro González Inárritu gained the attention of media after his feature film Birdman (2014) was awarded by Academy Award for Best Picture. The film has a very distinctive style of camerawork and editing. Throughout the film hidden cuts was inserted in specific moments that is very precise to give an illusion to the audience as if the whole film was taken in one shot. This style of filmmaking are used again by Inárritu in his next feature The Revenant (2015), which won 3 Oscars in the following year.
Years before the release of this two films, he was not experimenting with the camera works in his films, but rather the narrative structure. Defying the classic narrative cinema became a famous element of filmmaking tool among modern Hollywood filmmakers after experimental and non-linear narrative pattern were made popular by influential filmmakers such as Tarantino, Tykwer and Nolan. Even though it seems new, this type of narrative in cinema story telling—sometimes called open-architecture structure— actually have began to be used long time ago by Akira Kurosawa in Rashomon (1950) and Orson Welle’s Citizen Kane (1941) and it is said that Un Chien Andalou (1929) by Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali is the first non-linear film ever made
One of the filmmakers that was fascinated and inspired by this experimental narrative is Inárritu himself. In 2006, he released his own film that defies the classical linear structure, Babel. The film fits perfectly with the criteria of a hyperlink film. “Hyperlink films” contain more than one storyline, these films normally does not focus solely on one main character, and the vital characteristic of these films are that the parallel storylines are connected with each other in some ways. This does not mean that the stories need to meet each other in one or more intersecting points in the plot, but it can also just happen to be that these stories have the same theme.
This experimentation of narrative had been executed by Inárritu in two of his previous films, Amores Perros (2000) and 21 Grams and that makes it three—Three films that is anti-narrative making it a trilogy. In an article, Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell explained the importance of labelling a trilogy for niche market or art film directors. Since art films normally lack of A-list stars, the important figure in a specific film is the director him/herself, and so to claim a film belonging to a trilogy of those directors that shows promising outcome, is a huge selling point. Inárritu have released a trilogy of wonderful films with experimental narrative, will he release a new film after The Revenant and Birdman that uses the same distinctive camerawork and editing of those two to sum it up as a trilogy? Could be.
Besides the hyperlinking narrative of Babel, it also possess a special detailing technique of filmmaking as Thompson and Bordwell calls it “hyperrefined technique”. It is when non-linear films are given its own signature visual characteristics for each strain of story e.g. colour scheme, camera work, lighting techniques and to some extend even the film ratio. In Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), this technique can be seen far more obvious than in any other films. Alejandro González Inárritu used this detailed filmmaking tool in Babel. In “Forging Connections”, a critical film article by Rachel K. Bosley have revealed this complexity in Inárritu’s Babel.
Babel have 4 different storylines that is interconnected with each other through kin and history. Besides that it also comprise of the same themes. The first story is of two Moroccan brothers, youngsters of roughly 9-12 years old. The second story is about a couple in a middle of a marriage crisis—Susan (Cate Blanchett) and Richard Jones (Brad Pitt). The third storyline is often debated among cinephile and critics as a story that does not really fit the plot. The reason for this is because the third storyline took place in Japan and it’s plot does not have a major impact on the whole film.
It tells a story about a Japanese teenage girl that is mute and is going through a major sexual insecurity, whose father had gave a Morrocan man his rifle as a gift during his hunting expedition years ago. In an article, Roger Ebert—an American film critic and historian—denies this opinion as he says “The point of Babel is that none need necessarily have met, that the odds against all of these events are high, but that they happened, and there you are”. Ebert also added “There is even the theme of adolescent sexual insecurity to link Japan with Morocco”. Ebert agrees that this story should be catogerized as a hyperlink film. The final storyline is of the children of the Jones couple and their nanny.
Compared to Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction (2014), Babel is much more easier to be followed throughout the story. The reason why is because the intersecting points among the four storylines of this film are far more obvious than those of Pulp Fiction. Inárritu have nicely arranged the hints or puzzle pieces that suggests the chronological order of the complex story. This precision and detailing technique is what made Babel one of his greatest works. The narrative of this film is designed as how it is to portray reality, time and space at its finest.
While we’re eating cereal in our kitchen, the person that works in the supermarket where we bought the cereal from, who were assigned to arrange the cereal boxes could have died falling off a ladder and the manager of the supermarket could be facing the exact life crisis as we are. Even though these parallel events may not happen in the same chronological sense of time and geographic location, it is still linked in some ways and in this case, everything is interconnected by the supermarket. Allegorically, that is how the narrative of Inárritu’s Babel works, naturally linked, nicely presented and very realistic—though not everything is nice in reality.
In the previous paragraph, I made an allegory of three parallel stories that is connected by the supermarket. In Babel, all four stories are connected by an accident. The first scene shows a man walking across a desert with a jute sack on his back and a disconsolate facial expression that seems to suggest that he has an arduous life, a tiring day or in a middle of an existential crisis. This man was later introduced as Hassan Ibrahim, a minor character that is actually very important for the interconnection of the story. He is important because he sold a .270 calibre rifle to the hands of Abdullah Adboum, whose son named Yussef that is responsible for moving the story through the film.
Yussef tested the rifle with his brother as he wants to find out if the rifle can really “shoot up to 3 kilometres far”. At first they playfully shot mountains and rocks but then decided to shoot at a moving bus. This foolish act of a kid have resulted in a serious injury of an American tourist, Susan Jones. The Jones couple left their children in America with their nanny, Amelia, whose son is getting married on the same day of the incident. Amelia decided to take the children to Mexico without a proper permission by their parents as she thought that it would be just a quick one day trip.
After a tragic interrogation of Hassan Ibrahim by the Moroccan police, Hassan told them that the rifle was given to him as a gift from a Japanese hunter years ago when he was hired as a guide during the hunting expedition. This fact open to a new door to another storyline on a different geographic location and time gap of the film. In Japan, the government got the news of the incident in Morocco and was given order to take part in the investigation to find out whether the fact that is told by Hassan Ibrahim is the truth and not just a lie made up by Hassan to cover up that he is related in any kind of black market transaction.
That is how this stories are related, by the shooting accident in Morocco. Everything started from that, from a foolish act of an immature child that crossed over the lives of total strangers from different parts of the Earth. Another beauty of Babel is that there is no antagonist. Depending on perceptions and interpretations, the existence of the antagonist is a puzzle. Who is it to blame? This topic is seen from too many perspectives: some puts all the blame to Yussef, some point finger to the government and many more open interpretations. Even in this film Inárritu established different views on the accident: from the media, from the Moroccans that helped the couple, from the tourists inside the bus etc. To me personally there is no need to point fingers because there is no concrete antagonist in this film. It leads to another serious matter of debate which is fate and chance.
Before I finish this film journal I would like to explain the title of this film. The word “babel” means “a confused noise made by number of voices” or “a confused mixture of sounds or voices”. That would explain the chaotic symphony of interrelated tragedies but unfortunately that is not the “babel” that Inárritu is referring to. Inárritu was referring to Tower of Babel from the Book of Genesis, and this making the whole film an allegory. In a “Making Of Babel” video, child actor Nathan Gamble (one that plays the role of Mike Jones, son of the Jones couple) asked Inárritu “Why is it called Babel?”.
After hearing that serious question from his child talent, Inárritu explained excitedly in a fatherly way “Why? Because there was a time…A long, long time ago, there was a city of Babylon. People in that time, everybody, talked the same language. So it wasn’t English, Spanish, Japanese…You know, everybody talks the same language. And they began to build a tower so tall that they can have direct access to heaven. There were like thousands or more people working together to build this tower. So God one morning wake up, and saw these little men working, and say ‘What are they doing?’. So he hear what were they trying to do…they were trying to be God. And God said ‘I don’t like this. I will punish these acts’. You know what He did?” Inárritu asked the boy. “What?” said Nathan, in which Inárritu replied “God said, ‘They will speak different languages’”.
 A construction of storytelling technique that is compared to architectural design—the term is used by Ken Dancyger and Jeff Rush in their collaborated work Alternative Scriptwriting (2008).
 One of the greatest and iconic film of the surrealism art movement ever made.
 The term “hyperlink film” or “hyperlink cinema” is coined by Alissa Quart in one of her film reviews.
 Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell are both American film theorists, that collaborated to write an article on davidbordwell.net called “Observations on Film Art” published in 2006.
1) Thompson, K. (n.d.). Lessons from Babel. Retrieved July 22, 2016, from http://www.davidbordwell.net/blog/2006/11/27/lessons-from-babel/
2) Bradshaw, P. (2007). Babel. Retrieved July 22, 2016, from https://www.theguardian.com/film/2007/jan/19/drama.thriller
3) Babel Movie Review & Film Summary (2006) | Roger Ebert. (n.d.). Retrieved July 22, 2016, from http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/babel-2006
4) Dancyger, K., & Rush, J. (1995). Alternative scriptwriting. Boston: Focal Press.
5) Inárritu, A. G. (Director). (n.d.). Babel [Video file].
6) “BABEL – COMMON GROUND – MAKING OF BABEL – PART 1/10.” Youtube. Accessed July 22, 2016. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=acdMqpBu1l.