I came across a really intriguing review of Babel at FeministFilm, which I’m quoting with permission:
What a piece of crap that movie was.
A prepubescent boy watches his sister undressing and later masturbates.
Then that boy and his brother throw accusations at their sister, saying that she’s a slut, to divert attention when their father takes them to task for their exceeding stupidity in shooting at a passing bus —
Injuring a female American tourist, who has nothing else to do in the entire film except complain (before being shot) and writhe in pain (after being shot) or be unconscious. She survives, but that whole storyline is all about her husband running around in a panic trying to get help, and his interactions with male characters — other tourists, locals, his son, etc. He has about two significant scenes with his wife (what with her being unconscious, bleeding, or screaming the rest of the time), and two extremely short phone calls to women, one of whom is never onscreen.
The Moroccan girl has no storyline of her own, and nor do any other female characters, who barely serve a function as plot devices and local colour. The old woman who gives the injured tourist a pipe to smoke doesn’t even get subtitles.
The Mexican nanny of the American tourists’ children can’t find a sitter for them when she must go to her son’s wedding across the border, so she takes them with her, and various mishaps (ie, her nephew being a drunk driver and the hostile border guards chasing after them when he charges out of the border checkpoint in his car) leave her and her charges stranded in the desert on their way back to the USA. Cue the little boy getting more attention from the story than his sister, from his reaction shots at the nanny’s nephew wringing a chicken’s neck at the wedding to his concern for his sister, unconscious throughout the whole lost-in-the-desert sequence. And, oh yeah, his talking on the phone with his father.
The nanny gets expelled from the USA for her trouble, helpless about everything. Um, yay? Don’t you just love senseless female misery and helplessness? And needless to say all of her female acquaintances failed her when she needed help in the beginning, and the female relatives who helped her get dressed laughed behind her back at her stretched-out skirt, and I’ve even read a review faulting her for the late departure from the party (thus her nephew’s drunkenness, too, I presume!) because she had sex with an old flame. Sex, for women = punishment!
This story supposedly follows a teenage girl’s day. She’s miserable because she’s deaf and as such can’t get a date because she can’t communicate with boys (and doesn’t know any deaf boys, apparently?), and also, as is revealed at the end, because her mother committed suicide. But the movie revels in shots of her crotch when she decides to remove her panties, as a nonverbal method of attracting attention from random boys in restaurants, in her come-ons to her dentist, and later she’s completely naked in the presence of a policeman, whom she also tries — and fails — to get to have sex with her.
Frankly, I spent most of that storyline worried she’d end up getting raped, or throw herself off a balcony at the end, but, guess what? the final scenes of the Japan storyline follow the male police officer, and the girl’s father’s, points of view, and in the last shot of her, she’s still naked on that damn balcony, and her otherwise absent father hugs her.
Oh, and I forgot to mention the betrayal from another girl, since, when they go to a dance club, her girl friend ends up making out with the boy Chieko had been interested in (prompting her to go home and call the policeman). The scenes between Chieko and her girlfriends are the only significant female interactions in the whole film, and they’re almost entirely all about boys, or men. Even the early scene where Chieko storms away from a volleyball game ends up being about her not getting any.
If you’re looking for some profound message about the meaning of life, as the trailers and positive reviewers promise, you won’t find it. But you’ll find plenty of gratuitous misogyny, pathetically exploited for your sadistic titillation.
Avoid this film.
So far the blogger reviews for Babel raise some doubt as to whether or not the film conveys any deep meaning of life. A lot of the big columnists are giving it the usual verbal blowjob reserved for indie films the critics aren’t intelligent enough to understand (which makes them assume it must really be deep!). Reading the fan reviews and debates at RottenTomatoes gives me the distinct impression it’s a confused melodrama dressed in a philosopher’s toga. But what really interests me is that I found no other reviews that even examined the roles of the women to the degree Ide-Cyan did. Are the majority of filmgoers so inured to the usual female tropes that they don’t even think to comment when they’re all a film shows us of women?