When it comes to popular culture, I can’t claim motherhood brought out my self-righteous over-protective mother tiger. I’ve always had a little Tipper Gore in me whenever we’re talking movie violence. I walked out of Pulp Fiction. Twice. Here’s a Pre-Kids argument between me and a teacher colleague during an English department meeting:
Me: Tony, I can’t believe you REQUIRED your American Lit juniors to see Sleepy Hollow ! It’s R-rated and some of those kids aren’t even 16 yet!
Tony: It’s an excellent example of gothic atmosphere. Besides, these kids have all seen R-rated movies, believe me.
Me: Tony, the Headless Horseman hunts down a child! And kills him! A child is killed!
Does motherhood give me a gimme, an out, an excuse to close my eyes to certain kinds of logic?
I know I’m admitting a narrow-minded view when I say I won’t go see Babel. I’m no fan of children-in-peril movies but this one has added something even worse: a responsible caregiver in agony. (I’m not giving much away here. This is no more than I’ve found in most reviews of the film.) The loving Mexican nanny who finds herself lost in the Sonora desert with her two young charges is excruciating to contemplate.
(Of course my response is complicated by my history, our devastating car accident. And the more recent memory of Jocelyn bursting into tears when I came to pick up Mia after her fender-bender. Mia was fine, the cop was polite, the other driver full of remorse, but I would not say, "It's all right, Jocelyn. It's all right." Not that I tried to make her feel any worse than she already did. I could see her torturous second guessing, the imagined alternatives she was putting herself through. So I didn't scold or blame. But I didn't comfort much either. Because everything was not all right.)
What piles even more revulsion on the Babel movie is my suspicion that the entire film is little more than the situations within it. Plot seems to be the filmmaker’s end, not his means. (Is that the definition of melodrama?) Sure, sure, the acting is supposed to be very good, but that’s window dressing. There is no heart in putting the poor nanny character and us, through the wringer. What’s the point? As far as I understand, the film’s theses are: “We all need to communicate.” Well, that’s obvious. “Failures in communication cause pain.” Blah blah blah. Babble. “We are all connected in more ways than we know.” Okay, alright, I’ll give you that one. These truths are simple, but important, universal. Perhaps universal because they are so simple. But don’t put her in the desert with the children to remind us.