Babel (the film) reminds us of is the ultimate unpredictability of living. The junctions and intersections often cause unintended pain, from which people pick up and do the best they can. Babel asks us, ultimately, to consider ways in which we could be more thoughtful about the impact of our actions on others. What meanings do we make? What meanings do we make, together?

Awareness is a start.

The students assignment is to respond to this prompt: What does watching Babel have to do with the subject matter of this course? Hint: page vii in the textbook, The Critical Method: Semiotics.

I do not want to give away too much of my own view, as I’m curious what knowledges and perceptions students will bring to viewing this film. Which intersections will they notice? What ideologies might they recognize? How will they represent their own point-of-view? What assumptions might become apparent; which will they name and engage? What role will language have in the formation of their opinions? For now, I must be patient and exercise restraint.

I cannot say whether the students were as “in” to it as I was – even my second time around: we will find out once they begin posting. Roughly half of them took notes diligently – which is not to imply the notetakers are necessarily the ones who will write the best two-page essays. Sometimes, allowing oneself to be engulfed – and then digging out of the phenomenology of the experience, leads to greater insight and more depth.

Because I know how the storylines develop and ultimately end, I was able to watch with a bit of emotional distance (although I was not untouched). The interplay of generation was more evident to me on the second viewing, balancing the national/linguistic/socioeconomic identities most apparent the first time I viewed this amazing film. The first character we meet seems old, but the children move the action. I am reminded of an American Indian proverb:

Treat the Earth well: it was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children. We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children.

Boys. Children with a weapon. A gun purchased for the particular purpose of shooting jackals and protecting the family herd of goats. A tool of tremendous power, manufactured in a faraway place. Used. Played with as a toy.

It is not that the boys are inconsiderate of consequences. Who has not had the stomachache of deepfelt wrongness or internal agony, “Oh shit, we’re in trouble now”? They lacked the experience to know, they lacked the structure of belief. How else to learn the limits and capabilities of such a foreign-yet-familiar object?

How is one to balance the fear of unknown outcomes with the thrills of living outright?

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