Friday, November 24, 2006

Towering "Babel"

There are movies that are disturbing and then there are movies that are moving, and then there are movies that are both disturbing and moving and result in something of a paradigm shift. If you have seen "Six Degrees of Separation" this movie is somewhat like that in its premise-- that there can be a very direct connection between people far removed from each other that do not know each other. In this movie it is a gun and a bullet that connect the dots rather than a person, per se. If you have seen "Crash" then you will also understand something of what is going on in "Babel" where racism and xenophobia come into play, but so also do kindness and goodwill and compassion across such ethnic and racial and social and religious lines.

But perhaps you will be tempted to ask the question Jesus asked his mother once-- "What is that to you and me?" This is where the title of the movie "Babel" comes into the picture. You will remember the primeval story of human overreach. Fallen humanity was united having a common language and decided to build a stairway to heaven. God wasn't having any of such arrogance and idolatry and so he confused the languages. Henceforth we all live in a world of linguistic and cultural confusion, and sometimes the only things that connects us are negative things-- like fear and prejudice and violence.

In the movie Babel there is an American gun, which belongs to a Japanese man, who goes to Morocco to go hunting, and gives the gun to his guide Hassan as a thank you gift. This might have been of no real earth shattering significance except his sons take the gun and engage in target practice while watching their goats. One shot, actually hits something-- a bus, and in fact it hits a passenger in the bus, an American woman traveling through Morocco on a tour with her husband (played by Cate Blanchett and Brad Pitt, and the latter will get some Oscar nods for his performance in this film). Then all Hades breaks loose. A doctor is needed, an embassy is called, the owner of the gun is sought out in Japan, a culprit is looked for, and meanwhile back at home the American couple's children are taken by their Mexican nanny across the border from San Diego to a wedding-- and their is more trouble on the journey back. I will not spoil the story for you, but the Mexican director Alejandro Innaritu has woven together a suspensful and moving tale which grips you for two hours and twenty two minutes (the movie is rated R for some nudity and bad language).

So what is the message of this film? Interestingly enough the director seems to be making another Biblical point, and not one connected with Babel. It is that bad actions always have negative consequences somehow, for someone. This is true for the person who fired the gun, and it is equally true for the nanny who takes the children across the border, when she is illegally in the U.S. So, are we being told that despite the fallenness and the chaos that there is a moral order to this human connnectedness, or at least moral consequences to immoral actions? Yes, I think that is part of the point. But this is a movie which one needs to watch several times to catch all the nuances. Suffice it to say that it is one of the most compelling movies, though also in various ways depressing, as well. In other words, like the Matrix movies, its perfect for our post-modern overly connected 21rst century world.


Corn on the Robb said...

Hey Dr. Witherington,

This question is unrelated to the post, but I was wondering your opinion on it. I commented a while back about trying to get into UNC, don't know if you remember. Well, I'm kind of feeling that not everyone at my church/school is thrilled with my decision to go to a secular university. How do you feel about Christians attending secular university?

I just want to get a good and solid education. I know there are solid Christian universities out there, but many are far away and I'm fairly sure the same people would frown upon those universities as well (I'm in a bit of a fundamentalist environment).

I was wondering your opinion. Thanks if you can get to this.

Ben Witherington said...

I have no problems with a Christian going to Carolina if they are well grounded in their faith. I would urge them to plug into a church like the Chapel Hill Bible Church, and perhaps to get involved with InterVarsity on campus. I would however urge caution about taking Bible classes there.


Ben W.

Todd H said...

I don't know if it's in the works, but are you thinking about doing a "Nativity Story" review? I'd be interested to hear your take on it. Movie critic could be a second (or third or fourth) line of work!