"Babel" (Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2006) A nice little movie that no one has ever heard of is John Sayles' "City of Hope" made in 1991--it presents a limited space in time in the life of Philadelphia where the decisions of every character over the disposition of a single city block affects every other character in a way that negates any sense that lives can escape the self-imposed limits inflicted by others (and placed on themselves).* Everyone is trapped and without any hope. Paul Haggis, when he copied the form in "Crash" offered the same bleakness but leavened it with individual rays of hope. One can look at these movies and quibble about coincidences and manipulation, but speaking as someone who's lived in one city and worked, basically, in one field for most of his life, those aspects of rubbing too many shoulders has never seemed like much of a stretch. It's pretty amazing how a large city can become a "small town" fairly quickly and without irony.
"Babel," though (named after the tower in the bible-story that created so many ESL programs), takes it one planet further. From its opening image of a Moroccan hunter trudging the desert to its last shot of a man holding a naked woman on a Japanese balcony, every single life is intertwined in a way that makes one wince, and actually creates dread over the next revelation of inter-connectedness (there's one character, whose absence sets in motion an unfortunate series of events, that we never see--supposedly she'll be in "Babel II"). It's a bit of a stretch, lessened somewhat by the global investigation of a mistaken act of terrorism. Nothing brings the world together like Homeland Security.
Still, if one can overlook The Big Skein that hangs over the movie like a shroud, the individual segments are involving, dramatically impeccable and present worlds that are never less than intriguingly realized. One wonders throughout where the stories will lead, even if the answer on an occasion or two is nowhere.
To reveal too much would be robbing the movie of any freshness it possesses, but suffice it to say that lack of communication is a key in all of them and that they are resolved (when they're resolved) by a recommitment to family (except when they're not). It's a bit messy in that regard. What world isn't?