Those who went to synagogue Saturday morning and then to the movies Saturday night may have experienced a little bit of déjà vu. The section of the Torah read in synagogues last week included Genesis 11:1-9, the story of the Tower of Babel, and among the movies that hit theaters last Friday was “Babel,” the new film by Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu.
In the Torah portion, residents of the land of Shinar (in modern-day Iraq) work together to build a tower “with its top in the sky.” Dismayed by their hubris, God prompts the builders to start speaking a multiplicity of languages, rendering communication impossible and grinding construction to a halt. In the film, an American man vacationing in Morocco is in a desperate race to save the life of his injured wife. Parallel storylines and characters in Mexico and Japan are woven into the action, resulting in a fast-paced back-and-forth set in four countries and seven languages.
The film, which stars Cate Blanchett and Brad Pitt, is the third of Iñárritu’s full-length features to be released in the United States, after “Amores Perros” (2000) and “21 Grams” (2003). It earned him the best director award at the Cannes Film Festival. Executives at Paramount Vantage, which released the film, say that it evokes the major themes of the biblical story of Babel — namely “the mistaken identities, misunderstandings, and missed chances for communication that, though often unseen, drive our contemporary lives,” according to the studio’s production notes. As for the timing of the film’s release, “it was a coincidence,” a studio spokesperson said.