Moroccan Babel

When you think about it, all the problems we face on this planet between people stem from different cultures, and different languages. That's the message of the new movie, Babel.

I went out to see the movie the day after the power returned to my apartment. Thousands are still without power after the worst storm in 13 years, in terms of wind speed, with 55 mph winds in downtown Seattle. I ended up having to throw out the Thanksgiving turkey. I’m still getting scratched up by downed trees on the sidewalk as the government struggles to clean the state up. At it’s high point over a million were without power. Some are not expecting power for another week.

Babel was a stunning cinematic masterpiece. A bit too graphic at times, primarily sexually, but otherwise well-done, showing how we remain connected, across the world, despite huge misunderstandings because of language. It came out quite clearly that language is culture, and culture is language. Even within a culture differences in understanding occur between the deaf and the hearing.

I loved this movie because 1/3 of it was filmed in Morocco, and even takes place there, at a place I've been to, the area around Erfoud and Ait Benhaddou. I even had friends trying out for the position of tourists on the bus. There was Dareeja Arabic throughout the movie, although not always translated completely correctly. ("Please", instead of the stronger, "May God have mercy on your parents." for "Allayrahim alwaladin.") It showed life for the Berbers in the East central desert region quite accurately, although I fear that a couple references will make people misunderstand Morocco. A shooting occurs in the desert, injuring an American tourist. Something important to understand the subtext of the movie is how rare this is and how illegal it is to even own a gun. Even the police have empty holsters. Morocco isn't dangerous, certainly not compared to Seattle, to say nothing of New York. 20,000 gun deaths last year in the U.S.; zero in Morocco. Secondly, there's a reference to not drinking the water as it could be contaminated. While it may take a bit to adjust to new bacteria in any foreign setting, I have drunk the water in most areas of Morocco without problem.

But the differences in cultures comes through the clearest perhaps in Morocco. The pivotal moment of the movie is seen in how medical treatment occurs. (To see the spoilers highlight hidden text: The Moroccan child is killed in the middle of the desert, and the police pick him up and carry him by hand. Later they watch with the villagers as the special helicopter airlifts the Americans out for medical attention- a kind of care they would never receive because of the differences in cultural history.) Throughout we are treated to the importance of privilege, simply because of birth. The country you're born in determines who you steal from. The director isn't trying to show an extreme cause-and-effect, like dominoes falling. We simply see the sadness and tragedy that befalls us, for we are all different, not understanding each other, in both language and culture. I don't believe I've ever seen another movie that so clearly shows this.

If you now live in Morocco, or have ever lived there, you must see this movie. And toot sweet.


Joe said…
Glad you liked it. I thought it was fascinating. Now I need to see it with English subtitles. Melissa B. and I saw it in France in "VO" which wasn't very helpful since most of it isn't in English.

BTW, it's probably just as well we didn't get the parts, I'm not sure how many people I could have told about it (especially parents and others of their generation), due to some of the graphic content. In any case, the tourist speaking parts were probably professionals and there was precious little shown of any "extra" tourists.
@bdul muHib said…
Wow. I hadn't thought of that. Very definitely the Moroccan practice of dubbing would completely destroy the movie. The whole point is the form adds to the meaning- we don't understand what is being said all of the time, and even when we have subtitles, we are hearing a different language. You really must get it on DVD when it comes out and watch it then.

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