‘Babel’ – Film Review and Analysis

There’s a famous story from the Book of Genesis in the Bible that is known as the ‘Tower of Babel.’ It’s a mythic story about how human beings were once speaking the same language around the world and were able to communicate seamlessly enough where they were able to build a magnificent tower to reach the heavens. Humanity is united and in peace with each other given that they share the same language, culture, and geographical location.

After the ‘great flood’ washed away and receded, humanity wanted to build the tower of Babel in order to reach God and the heavens. In the story, God is befuddled by this show of hubris and ego that has united humanity together in building this tower to reach his presence, and decides to make humanity speak different languages, and separates people into different tribes located in different places around the world. The confusion of languages has a major impact on humanity causing a breakdown in communication, and leading to the future certainties of conflict, violence, and overall suffering.

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu has created a beautiful film named after this allegorical Biblical event titled, Babel (2006), which was released over a decade ago, and was a winner of Best Original Score at the Oscars as well as six other Academy Award nominations. The film was released to critical acclaim and has garnered a lot of recognition for its’ themes of globalization, cultural and language miscommunication, and the powerlessness of people to control critical events that happen in their lives.

‘Babel’ features an ensemble cast of actors from around the world, which include Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Gael Garcia Bernal, Koji Yashuko, and Adriana Barraza. ‘Babel’ is an intriguing film in that the characters and situations in the film take place in three different parts of the world but are interrelated with each other. The sequences of events that occur are out of order but are shown to connect with each other as the film goes on. As for the countries where the film is set, they include Morocco, Japan, Mexico, and the United States. A lot of credit must be given to Mr. Inarritu for weaving these three storylines together without making it too hard to follow or too farcical to be believed. The aspects that make this film unique are the interweaving storylines, the excellent acting, and the themes and questions that ‘Babel’ poses to its’ audience.

The stories that make up ‘Babel’ show how unrelated and seemingly random events at the time can end up turning people’s lives upside down. The overall plot of ‘Babel’ starts out with a Japanese businessman giving a rifle to his hunting companion / tour guide in Morocco as an innocuous gift. This event seems harmless as a moment between two men of different countries and cultures sharing a gift but which causes different events of the movie to unfold over three different continents.

The hunting rifle that makes its’ way to Morocco, is eventually sold by Hassan Ibrahim, who receives the rifle from his old Japanese hunting partner and the rifle ends up in the hands of a goat-herder named Abdullah. Perhaps not using the best judgment as a grandfather should but not seeing a problem with it, Abdullah gives over the hunting rifle to his two sons, Yussef and Ahmed, who want to use it to ward off jackals from killing the goats in their flock.

The boys who are only teenagers and are not skilled with weapons end up practicing the range of the rifle and end up practicing the firing of the rifle on rocks, a moving car, and then the bus. The two boys do not really know the danger that they’re playing with and they don’t know who is on the bus they’re firing the rifle at. The Western tourists who are travelling through Morocco are also unaware as to what is about to happen and are trying to enjoy their trip to a foreign country. Susan, played by Cate Blanchett, is an American woman sleeping on that bus filled with Western tourists and is trying to get some rest when she is shot in the neck accidentally by one of the Moroccan boys with the hunting rifle.

Her husband, Richard, played by Brad Pitt, is caught unaware of what happens to his wife, Susan, but quickly catches up to the reality that his wife is severely wounded in a foreign country where he doesn’t speak the language, and he doesn’t have control of the situation. After losing their third child recently to the SIDS disease, Richard and Susan’s marriage is on the rocks and they took the trip to Morocco to get the spark back in their love life. In some scenes of the film, they seem angry, confused, and emotionally distraught after the tragic death of their infant child.

While Richard and Susan are on vacation in Morocco as a means to save their marriage, their two children are in the care of their long-term nanny who is originally from Mexico. Amelia (played by Adriana Barraza) is put into a difficult situation after Susan’s injured state becomes known. She is an undocumented person working in the United States illegally but she has been a nanny and housekeeper for Richard and Susan for many years. She treats their children like her own son and daughter after being a personal caretaker for them. It is made clear to the audience that Adriana has been in the U.S. for over a decade and a half and she has close ties to the American family.

During the film, Adriana is put into a very difficult situation, as she has to go back to Mexico for her son’s wedding but is unable to leave Richard and Susan’s children by themselves at the house in California. Because Richard can’t leave Susan’s bedside, they are delayed in their arrival back to San Diego. Against Richard’s wishes, Adriana decides to take their children with her to Mexico for the evening to enjoy the wedding of her son. Everything is fine for Adriana and the children at the wedding until her nephew, Santiago, decides to drink heavily during the celebration. He is shown to be intoxicated before driving on the way back to U.S.-Mexico border with Adriana and the children causing a number of unfortunate events that upends the lives of all those who are involved in his serious mistake.

The last part of the storyline takes place in Japan and focuses mainly on a teenage girl named Chieko Wataya (played by Rinko Kikuchi). Chieko is deaf and is unable to hear the outside world. On top of that, her mother recently committed suicide, which Chieko became the first witness to leaving her traumatized and inconsolable. She struggles in her attempts to relate to people anymore and is frustrated with boys her age. It is implied that her father and Chieko don’t have the best relationship with each other and haven’t discussed the traumatic event of her mother’s suicide.

During this storyline, it becomes clear that Chieko is confused, lonely, and looking to receive love from a father-like figure since her own father has been so absent in her life. Without spoiling the ending of this storyline, it is also revealed that Chieko’s father is the one to originally give the hunting rifle to the Moroccan man, Hassan Ibrahim, who he met on his trip there. The police eventually question Chieko’s father about why he sold his rifle to Hassan, and how Susan’s wounded state has become a major political point of contention between the U.S. and Moroccan governments.

Overall, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu does an excellent job of bringing these four storylines over three continents to life, and is able to tie them together seamlessly. ‘Babel’ is a story of human beings living their lives in their own ways within their own cultures but who get caught up in external events beyond their control. Inarritu is able to capture how interconnected our world is today in the early stages of the 21st century whether we would like to be aware of it or not. Seemingly unrelated events to each other are able to cause powerful effects that can change people’s lives when they least expect them.

A Japanese man goes on a hunting trip in Morocco, enjoys his Moroccan hunter’s company, and gives him a gift. That Moroccan man sells the rifle to a local goat-herder who lets his two sons practice with the weapon, and they fire the gun consecutively without knowing the damage it can do. The boys, not trying to do harm intentionally, end up shooting accurately at a bus that happens to be filled with Western tourists. An American woman who is catching some sleep catches a stray bullet and starts to bleed to death. She has to seek help from the local Moroccans in the village, and her wounded status causes a political feud between the U.S. – Moroccan governments over whether or not the act was ‘terrorism.’

While she’s recovering from her wounds, her housekeeper half a world away takes her children to Mexico to see her son get married at a wedding. Her nephew uses poor judgment on the drive back to the U.S. from Mexico and makes a fateful decision that changes Adriana and the children’s lives. ‘Babel’ was one of the first movies of the 21st century to really capture the phenomenon of globalization, and how actions that happen half a world away can affect other people’s lives directly. In this movie, we see how people try to do their best as people do, and often times don’t mean to do harm to others intentionally.

Sometimes, people can get caught up in making decisions that they think are good at the time but end up having the opposite effect. ‘Babel’ is not a simple black and white film with truly good or truly evil people. This is a film that understands that there are various shades of grey to life, and that it is difficult to control everything that happens to us and the people in our lives.

Overall, ‘Babel’ is an emotionally charged film that reminds us how people, things, and events can be misinterpreted. When you as an individual come from different cultural and language backgrounds, there are things that are likely to be lost in translation with another person of a different background. Unfortunately, miscommunication is apart of life, and problems are going to occur when people are unable to understand and connect with each other even if they do speak the same language with each other.

As the Biblical story goes, humanity ended up being divided by different languages after trying to be unified in their desire to build up a singular tower to the heavens. We are said to have been punished for our hubris and ego, which caused us to be separated from each other as we were spread out intentionally across the globe.

The audience is left to wonder at the end of ‘Babel’ if there is a truly happy or sad ending to take note of. The plain truth of the ending to me is that ‘Babel’ purposely shows all the elements of the human experience from Chieko’s joy at going to a rave party with her friends to Adriana’s pure despair at losing Richard and Susan’s children in the Mexican desert.

‘Babel’ shows us that life has its’ inevitable ups and downs, and that we can only control so much about our own lives, and many things are often out of our control yet still happen to affect us deeply regardless. Still, this brilliant film captures the resilience of its’ characters who try to make amends for their mistakes, and want to become better as they figure out the complexities and difficulties that make up life. I highly recommend ‘Babel’ to others and hope that it will get the recognition it deserves for years to come.

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USS Constitution 220th Anniversary and Head of the Charles Regatta

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LocationBoston, Massachusetts; Cambridge, Massachusetts

English Corner – Second and Third Conditionals

To follow up on the previous article about the ‘Zero and First Conditionals’, it’s important to continue on with the ‘conditionals’ unit to explain the second and third conditionals as well. In order to fully understand conditionals, we need to know every type of conditional, and when and why do we use them in sentences. If you’re struggling with the second and third conditionals, it’s important to learn how to form either conditional in terms of its’ structure, and then learn how to use the conditionals by following the examples that I will be creating for you.

Let’s begin with the 2nd conditional first. As always, the second conditional is going to start with the word ‘If’ as is the case with the zero and first conditional. However, the second conditional focuses mainly on the ‘past simple’ grammatical tense, and how to make the second conditional compatible with expressing what you would do in the past if something were to have happened to you. Usually, the second conditional is good for talking about things in the future that are probably not going to become true.

It’s also used secondly for occurrences going on in the present, which are considered to be impossible or unfeasible because they are not true. The second conditional usually expresses desires, wants, and needs that are more unrealistic and unlikely than those that would be expressed in the first conditional. Also, with the second conditional, you’re going to focus on the past simple tense rather than the present simple tense to go along with the ‘If’ + the subject of the sentence. In order to get a better idea of the 2nd conditional, let us take a look at a few examples of this conditional in action.

Examples:

‘Talking about the future’

  • He would travel to Japan if he had the money.
  • If they did their homework earlier, they would have went to the movies.
  • If I won the Powerball lottery, I would have bought my parents a nice house.

‘Talking about impossibilities in the present’

  • If I were you, I wouldn’t do that.
  • If you had studied harder for the exam, you would have done better.

The main thing to remember about the 2nd conditional is the unlikeliness of something to happen in the future or in the present. You’re also referring to an unlikely possibility in the past to discuss what is not realistic in happening in the future.

Last but not least, it’s important to know about the third conditional in terms of its’ formation, usage, and examples. It’s a very simple formula when it comes to creating the third conditional. While the second conditional focuses on ‘If’ + past simple, the third conditional focuses on a formula of ‘If’ + past perfect à would + have + past participle’ in order to create a complete sentence.

When we use the third conditional in a sentence, we talk mainly about the past as well as to discuss a situation that didn’t really happen. We can also imagine the hypothetical results of a situation that didn’t actually occur, but that we would like to think about the possibility of. It’s important to remember that the ‘past participle’ is often added to the second part of a third conditional sentence, and can be switched to the first part of the sentence as long as the ‘if’ remains part of the other half of the conditional sentence.

Examples:

  • If I hadn’t eaten so much candy on Halloween, I wouldn’t have gotten sick.
  • She would have become a doctor if she had been able to afford medical school.
  • If we had taken the subway, we would have arrived at the airport earlier.
  • If they had been telling the truth about the food fight, they wouldn’t have gotten in trouble with the school principal.
  • If he had showed up for the job interview on time, he would have been hired on the company.

When it comes to any conditional whether its’ the zero, first, second, or third, it’s important to take the time to really study this grammatical concept. You need to put in the time and the effort to study the formula, the usage, and practice with some example problems in order to memorize how to create the sentence. There are plenty of ways to practice the conditional sentences, and it’s important to study this concept consistently in order to master it.

 

Traditions

Why are traditions important? Why do we continue to pass down certain rituals, celebrations, customs, etc. from generation to generation? This is not a simple question to answer but I’d like to discuss my reasoning as to why traditions are important and why they should stick around in this article. In this day and age, there seems to be a movement against traditions and a counter-movement to think only about the present and what’s to come in the future.

I think that this view on traditions is shortsighted and inconsistent with human nature. While not all traditions are sustainable, useful, conscientious, or inclusive, there are numerous reasons as to why traditions should stick around, and why people should embrace traditions as being apart of how they live their lives. While people love to look forward into the future, it’s important to heed the customs and the ways of the past.

By observing traditions and celebrating them at times, we connect ourselves to past generations and rekindle the flame of days gone by. This is especially pertinent when it comes to the traditions instilled within us by our families and our communities. If we choose not to uphold those traditions instilled in us by past generations of family and friends, then we are doomed to lose traditions and the value that they held in our hearts and in our minds.

Each person must decide how much to incorporate the traditions of the forefathers into their lives and to what degree. However, to completely disavow of those traditions that lift the human spirit and are positive, and rewarding is to disregard one’s ancestry and upbringing in a sense. Not all traditions should make it from one generation to another but if there are traditions that are meaningful to you, and connect you to the past in a good manner, then those traditions should be continued and passed on to the next generation if that is the road you wish to take.

Having a tradition or traditions also helps you to create memories whether its’ with acquaintance, friends, or family. The memories around traditions are likely to be good ones and you’ll look back on them one day thinking about how special it was to celebrate or observe that tradition with the people you most care about in the world. While the tradition may only take an hour, a day, or a week, the memories of it will stay with you for a lifetime.

Also, it’s important to remember that traditions only come around every now and then whether it’s once a year or sometimes less than that so it gives you something to look forward to. Traditions give people a chance to relax, to enjoy, to reflect, and to be at ease in their lives surrounded by people who feel the same way. While the planning and the execution of traditions can be stressful and filled with anxiety, the payoff is worth it in the fact that you’re carrying on what’s been done for years, decades, or centuries beforehand, and that fact is something to really be proud of. Good and worthwhile traditions will likely lead you and others to count down the weeks and days until you can observe, celebrate, and reflect upon the special occasion.

It can be very difficult to get family and friends together under the same roof and near impossible especially if you live in different states or in different countries. Traditions give families an excuse to get together, laugh, talk, eat good food, and enjoy time together. Once your family starts a shared tradition together, it can be hard to let go of it. When traditions are observed, everybody has a role to play so it gives a chance for family members to connect with each other by having a personal stake in making sure that the tradition is observed in the correct manner. The ability to bring families together is a beautiful thing in life and sometimes it is only possible through the observance of a shared tradition. It can be difficult for family members to agree on everything but it’s likely that the thing they’ll all have in common is a desire to keep the tradition going, and make it a successful one.

Having a sense of identity is another reason why traditions are powerful. By connecting people to ideals, values, and beliefs, greater than themselves, your identity can truly feel whole. Being able to belong to a certain group, or a certain place can be quite healthy for most people, and to celebrate a healthy tradition as a group can really help to create a good sense of identity within an individual. It can be easy to lose your sense of identity nowadays, but by tying your identity to a set of values and ideals related to a group or your family through different traditions can help you feel like a whole person.

In a world where the present and the future take precedence, traditions can connect us deeply to those who came before us and to the past itself. Traditions from the past are important to preserve and uphold, and it’s a way to connect generations to each other. For myself, my traditions involve thinking about those who came before me and the sacrifices and struggles they went through in their own lives. Traditions are always passed down from generation to generation so that others and I in my family could celebrate and observe the traditions that are rich in history, religion and culture. If traditions are not followed and maintained in the current generation, then they are doomed to die out before being passed on to the next generation. If you or other family members refuse to pass on traditions to a member of the next generation, they will go extinct one way or another.

Finally, not all traditions are worth keeping or observing. Certain traditions can be harmful and carry a heavy height that people should not be forced to burden themselves with. Not every tradition created by humans is worthwhile, fair, or just. You don’t need to follow traditions if they don’t align with your moral conscience. Traditions can be good or bad, and they reflect upon our human nature.

The beauty of traditions is that you are given the choice, which traditions you would like to uphold to preserve and pass on to other people. If a tradition is aligned with the core values, beliefs that you have as an individual, then you should feel at ease with continuing it into the future. However, you should not seek to force your traditions on other people, and you should not preach about the superiority of your traditions when compared to the traditions of others. When it comes to traditions, use your best judgment and figure out which ones would be best to observe and celebrate with your family and friends.

Our ties to the past whether its’ through our ancestors, our family history, or our understanding of the world as it once was, is tied to our traditions. If you decide to forgo all traditions, then you are doomed to forget the past. Having a connection to the past through our traditions is a powerful thing and being able to celebrate them in a healthy manner should be encouraged. The memories we make with family and friends, the identity we gain from them, and the values and beliefs we pass on to the next generation make traditions a beautiful part of our existence on this planet. Whether its’ sitting down to a yearly Thanksgiving dinner, going to church weekly, or marching in a parade to celebrate your heritage and culture, traditions are apart of both who we are now and who we once were.


You may ask, how did this tradition get started? I’ll tell you…I don’t know, but it’s a tradition!” -Fiddler on the Roof

English Corner – Zero and First Conditionals

These are the first two types of conditionals to be aware of when it comes to studying this particular grammar topic of conditionals. The ‘zero’ conditional is formed when it comes to discussing general truths and things that can happen under certain circumstances. It’s important to know how to form the ‘zero’ conditional, and how to create sentences using it.

The second type of conditional to study is the ‘first’ conditional and is used for discussing possibilities that can occur in the present or in the future. I will be writing about the first conditional and how its’ made along with its’ usage in English grammar. The ‘zero’ and ‘first’ conditionals are the most frequently used and it’s important to be aware of how to use them and when to use them in sentences.

When you form a ‘zero’ conditional sentence, there are two parts or clauses to it that make it a complete sentence. The first clause in the sentence is the ‘if’ clause and the second clause is the main clause that completes the sentence. The ‘if’ clause usually begins at the beginning of the sentence followed by the main clause. It’s important to note that you don’t need to begin the ‘if’ clause with if but rather use ‘when’ instead to start the sentence.

Here are some examples of how to form and put the zero conditional into action:

Example:

If you cool water to 0 degrees Celsius, it freezes.

When you use the ‘if’ clause first, you’re going to have to put a comma there before using the main clause which in this case is ‘it freezes.’

However, if you were to put the ‘if’ clause second in the sentence, you don’t need to use a comma at all to connect the sentence’s clauses together.

Example:

Water freezes if you cool water to 0 degrees Celsius.

When it comes to the grammatical basis for an ‘if clause’ sentence, you’re going to want to follow this formula of formation.

‘if clause’ – ‘if’ + subject + simple present verb = complete sentence

‘main clause’ – subject + simple present verb = complete sentence

Now that you know how to form the ‘zero’ conditional, it’s important to see some other examples in order to get a better sense of how this particular conditional is used.

Examples:

  • If you heat the snow, it melts.
  • If it rains a lot, the flowers get wet.
  • Forest fires don’t start if there is no drought.
  • If you cross time zones, the time changes.

When it comes to the first conditional, you have to make sure to follow a similar formula to the zero conditional but with keeping a few differences in mind. The first conditional or conditional type 1 is used for talking about current possibilities or those that are possible to happen in the near future. Similar to the zero conditional, the first conditional has a basic structure that should be memorized.

A first conditional sentence has two clauses which consist of the ‘if’ clause and the main clause. Instead of simply addressing the simple present tense as the zero conditional does, the first conditional can reference the future with the simple future tense in its’ sentences. The ‘if’ clause can either come first or second in the structure of a first conditional sentence; it’s really up to your personal preference as the learner. You can have the main clause go first instead or have it come second after the ‘if’ clause. The most important thing to remember is that the first conditional must address the future primarily and not the present as the zero conditional does.

Here below are a few examples of the first conditional in action:

Example:

  • If you do your homework, you will pass the class.

The ‘if’ clause goes first in this sentence followed by the main clause and the use of the future simple tense with ‘will.’

Example:

  • You will catch the train if you run fast.

In this first conditional sentence, the main clause goes before the ‘if’ clause, and there is also no comma used because of this change in the sentence structure. You should notice that ‘will’ and the simple future tense is still being used regardless of which clause is used first or second.

Example:

  • I will dance Salsa if I hear the music.

For this particular example, you should note that there are two different verbs being used for their respective clauses. ‘Dance’ comes with the main clause while ‘hear’ goes with the ‘if’ clause for the second part of the sentence. Since the sentence begins with the main clause, you don’t need the comma to make a complete sentence.

Now that you know how to form the ‘first’ conditional, it’s important to see some other examples in order to get a better sense of how this particular conditional is used.

Examples:

  • If you drop the glass, it will break.
  • If the airplane is full, I will leave.
  • We will not go to the movies if the tickets cost $12 each.
  • They will not leave Disneyland if they do not get a refund.

Conditionals are a popular English grammar topic and it’s important to know how and when to use them with your sentence. The zero and first conditionals are only the first two types of conditionals that can be used in English. For the next ‘English Corner’ blog post, I will be focusing on the other types of conditionals that are sure to come up in your English grammar studies. Study the examples above and you should start seeing some progress with this particular grammar topic!

The National at Boch Center

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“Bloodbuzz Ohio” by The National (Video)

Camera: iPhone 6

Location: Boston, Massachusetts; The Wang Theatre at Boch Center