by Susan Rosenthal
In the movie Babel, human connectedness collides with social separateness. A couple vacationing in Morocco cannot comfort each other after the death of their child. When the wife is accidentally shot, we see an expanding nightmare of failed communication in the face of urgent need. We can all relate. This is everyday reality.
All is not bleak. The film shows several scenes of social connection: a Mexican wedding, the hospitality of strangers, a shoulder to cry on, a hand in the dark.
While ordinary people struggle to solve their problems, the authorities offer little or no help. Their priority is to identify the wrong-doers, compounding the tragedies and creating more victims.
“Babel” means a confusion of many voices or languages. Language is central to human communication. Other mammals maintain social bonds through physical contact: licking, nuzzling, and social grooming. The size of the group is limited by the number of individuals that can physically interact. Language overcomes this limitation.
Language makes it possible to link every human being on the planet by telephone, television and internet. However, the potential for global integration is blocked by class and national divisions.
In film, as in life, the human need to connect conflicts with social structures that block connection.
The movie’s tagline reads, “If You Want to be Understood…Listen.” Could our alienation from each other be overcome by better listening? If only it were that simple!
Some people refuse to listen because they profit from the way things are. Bosses are deaf to requests for better pay and working conditions. Washington is deaf to requests for more housing and health care instead of war.
Babel implies that human disconnection is the root cause of social problems. It’s the other way around. The few can rule the many only by dividing them. While the few profit, the many suffer alienation and fractured personal relationships.
If you listen, you can hear the global cry for justice.