Babel is a 2006 international drama film directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu and written by Guillermo Arriaga, starring an ensemble cast. The multi-narrative drama completes Iñárritu's Death Trilogy, following Amores perros and 21 Grams.
The film portrays multiple stories taking place in Morocco, Japan, Mexico, and the United States. It was an international co-production among companies based in France, Mexico and the US. The film was first screened at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival, and was later shown at the Toronto International Film Festival and the Zagreb Film Festival. It opened in selected cities in the United States on October 27, 2006, and went into wide release on November 10, 2006. On January 15, 2007, it won the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture — Drama. It was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and two nominations for Best Supporting Actress and won for Best Original Score.
Babel focuses on four interrelated sets of situations and characters, and many events are revealed out of sequence. The following plot summary has been simplified, and thus does not reflect the exact sequence of the events on screen.
In a remote desert location in southern Morocco, Abdullah, a goatherder, buys a high-powered .270 Winchester M70 rifle and a box of ammunition from his neighbor Hassan Ibrahim to shoot the jackals that have been preying on his goats. Abdullah gives the rifle to his two young sons, Yussef and Ahmed (played by local non-professional actors Boubker Ait El Caid and Said Tarchini), and sends them out to tend the herd. Competing between themselves and doubtful of the rifle's purported three-kilometer range, they decide to test it out, aiming first at rocks, a moving car on a highway below, and then at a bus carrying Western tourists on the same highway traveling in the opposite direction to the car. Yussef's bullet hits the bus, critically wounding Susan Jones (Cate Blanchett), an American woman from San Diego  who is traveling with her husband Richard Jones (Brad Pitt) on vacation. The two boys realize what has happened and flee the scene, hiding the rifle in the hills that night.
Glimpses of television news programs reveal that the US government holds the shooting to be a terrorist act and is pressuring the Moroccan government to apprehend the culprits. Having traced the rifle back to Hassan, the Moroccan police descend quickly on his house and roughly question him and his wife until they reveal that the rifle was given to him by a Japanese man, and then sold to Abdullah. The two boys see the police on the road and confess to their father what they have done. (They believe at the time that the American woman has died of her wounds.) The three flee from their house, retrieving the rifle as they go. The police corner them on the rocky slope of a hill and open fire. After his brother is hit in the leg, Yussef returns fire, striking one police officer in the shoulder. The police continue shooting, eventually hitting Ahmed in the back, possibly fatally injuring him. As his father rages with grief, Yussef eventually surrenders and confesses to all the crimes, begging clemency for his family and medical assistance for his brother. The police take him into custody. The family's fate is unresolved.
The movie's first plot is interspersed with scenes of Richard and Susan. They came on vacation in Morocco to get away from things and mend their own marital woes. The death of their infant third child to SIDS has strained their marriage significantly as they struggle to communicate their frustration, guilt, and blame. When Susan is shot on the tour bus, Richard orders the bus driver to the nearest village with a doctor (the village is named Tazarine in the film). There a local veterinarian sews up the wound to stem the loss of blood. The other tourists wait for some time, but they eventually demand to leave, fearing the heat and worried that they may be the target of further attacks. Since Susan cannot travel by bus in her condition, Richard threatens the tour group to wait for the ambulance, which never arrives, and eventually the bus leaves without them while Richard is on the phone. The couple remains behind with the bus's tour guide, Anwar, still waiting for transport to a hospital (having contacted the US embassy using the village's only phone). Political issues between the US and Morocco prevent quick help, but a helicopter comes at last. After five days in the hospital, Susan recovers and is sent home.
Simultaneously, the movie tells the story of Chieko Wataya (Rinko Kikuchi), a rebellious, deaf Japanese teenage girl, traumatized by the recent suicide of her mother. She is bitter towards her father, Yasujiro Wataya (Kōji Yakusho) and boys her age, and is sexually frustrated. She starts exhibiting sexually provocative behavior and attempts unsuccessfully to initiate a sexual encounter with her dentist. Chieko also finds one of the teenage boys attractive and takes off her panties and exposes herself. Chieko eventually encounters two police detectives who question her about her father. She finds one of the detectives, Kenji Mamiya (Satoshi Nikaido), attractive. She invites Mamiya back to the apartment she shares with her father. Wrongly supposing that the detectives are investigating her father's involvement in her mother's suicide, she explains to Mamiya that her father was asleep when her mother jumped off the balcony and that she witnessed this herself. It turns out the detectives are, in fact, investigating a hunting trip Yasujiro took in Morocco. Yasujiro is an avid hunter and during a trip in Morocco he gave his rifle, as a gift, to his very skilled hunting guide, Hassan, who at the beginning of the film sold the rifle to Abdullah.
Soon after learning this, Chieko reveals her real motive in inviting Mamiya to her home. She approaches him nude and attempts to seduce him. He resists her approaches but comforts her as she bursts into tears. Before he leaves, Chieko writes him a note, indicating that she does not want him to read it until he is gone. Leaving, the detective crosses paths with Yasujiro and explains the situation with the rifle. Yasujiro replies that he did indeed give it as a gift, there was no black market involvement. About to depart, Mamiya offers condolences for the wife's suicide. Yasujiro, though, is confused by the mention of a balcony and angrily replies that "My wife shot herself in the head. Chieko was the first to find the body. I've explained this to the police many times." Chieko is leaning on the balcony (still nude) when her father enters the apartment. After leaving, the detective stops at a bar to read Chieko's note. Within the film, the note's contents are never revealed.
A third subplot takes place in the Americas where Richard and Susan's Mexican nanny, Amelia (Adriana Barraza) tends their twin children in their California home. Due to Richard and Susan being in Morocco, Amelia is forced to take care of the children. Unable to secure any other help to care for them, she decides to take them to her son's wedding in a rural community near Tijuana, Mexico, rather than miss it. Her nephew Santiago (Gael García Bernal) offers to take her and the twins to the wedding. They cross the border uneventfully and the children are soon confronted by the Mexican culture and street scene. The revelry of the wedding extends well into the evening, but rather than staying the night in Mexico with the children, Amelia decides to drive back to the States with Santiago. He has been drinking heavily and the border guards become suspicious of his behavior. Amelia has passports for all four travelers, but no letter of consent from the children's parents allowing her to take them out of the United States. Intoxicated, Santiago trespasses the border. He soon abandons Amelia and the children in the desert, attempting to lead off the police (his final fate is not revealed). Stranded without food and water, Amelia and the children are forced to spend the night in the desert. Realizing that they will all die if she cannot get help, Amelia leaves the children behind to find someone, ordering them not to move. She eventually finds a U.S. Border Patrol officer. After placing Amelia under arrest, she and the officer travel back to where she had left the children, but they are not there. Amelia is taken back to a Border Patrol station, where she is eventually informed that the children have been found and that their father, Richard, while very furious and outraged, has agreed not to press charges. However, she must be deported from the US where she has been working illegally. Her protests that she had been in the US for 16 years and has looked after the children (whom she refers to as "her children") for the duration of their lives do not secure lenient treatment. Near the end of the movie, the audience sees her meeting her son on the Mexican side of the Tijuana crossing, still in the red dress she wore for the wedding.
At the end of the movie, a phone conversation between Amelia and Richard is repeated from Richard's end of the phone. This is the original phone call at the beginning of Amelia's story. In this conversation it can be heard that he is allowing Amelia to go to her son's wedding because Susan's sister will be able to watch the twins. It is not until the next morning on another phone call they learn that Susan's sister cannot take care of them and thus Amelia is forced to take the children with her.
Cast overview, first billed only:
Brad Pitt ... Richard Jones
Cate Blanchett ... Susan Jones
Mohamed Akhzam ... Anwar
Peter Wight ... Tom
Harriet Walter ... Lilly
Trevor Martin ... Douglas
Matyelok Gibbs ... Elyse
Georges Bousquet ... Robert
Claudine Acs ... Jane
André Oumansky ... Walter
Michael Maloney ... James
Dermot Crowley ... Barth
Wendy Nottingham ... Tourist #1
Henry Maratray ... Tourist #2
Linda Broughton ... Tourist #3
Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu
Produced by Steve Golin
Alejandro González Iñárritu
Written by Guillermo Arriaga
Alejandro González Iñárritu
Based on An idea by Guillermo Arriaga