The preview for Babel is a small work of art, flashing striking images of Morocco, Japan, and Mexico as a narrator tells us the Biblical story of Babel. God resented human efforts to build a tower to the heavens, so God cursed the people, creating language barriers to keep them from ever again uniting in such an ambitious project.
The story serves as a prelude to the movie’s interlocking tales of individuals immersed in cultures foreign to them. An American man, vacationing in north Africa, struggles to get medical attention for his wife, badly wounded by a stray bullet. A deaf Japanese teenager, alienated from the hearing world, flounders in her attempts to connect with people around her. A Latina nanny encounters trouble crossing the U.S.-Mexico border with her young, white charges in tow. A rural Muslim family plunges into the abyss of international politics with terrible consequences.
Objectively speaking, Babel presents merely a butterfly-flaps-its-wings chain of events, the fragile links of which become apparent over the course of the nonchronological film. I’m not sure whether Babel truly amounts to much more than that contrivance, but it certainly feels like more. The cast is universally strong, the cinematography is gorgeous, and the storytelling is beautifully empathetic toward each character.