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"The Queen" & "Babel" 

            "There it was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth."

(Genesis 11:9)

            Ironically, the reference in the title “Babel” is to the biblical passage which explains why there are so many different languages in the world, when God’s people began as one.  It’s a macro-view, but the movie utilizes the micro-view of “it’s a small world, after all.”  A couple of boys who shepherd goats in Morocco are regaled with a hunting rifle from their Dad in order to keep the jackals away from the goats.  Dad provides them with all of five minutes of safety training.  The older boy has been entrusted with the weapon, but the younger one is the better shot.  He proves it by hitting a nearby rock, then he’s challenged to hit a moving target, farther away:  a passing bus on the highway below.  Tragically, his bullet strikes an innocent American tourist who just happened to be sitting in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Watch her frantic husband (Brad Pitt) desperately search for medical care in the middle of a desert where he cannot speak the language.  Babel, indeed.

            Ironically, at about the same time, the middle of the desert is where his two young children are.  It seems their Hispanic housekeeper had to go to her son’s wedding in Mexico, and couldn’t find anybody to keep the children, so she brings them with her.  Through a series of mishaps, she finds herself walking near the border alone, hoping to find help.  The authorities, of course, concentrate on her illegal status while she is frantically trying to tell them about the young children out there, alone.

            There is also a Japanese-American girl who’s all out there, all alone, in the middle of the big city.  She’s a deaf-mute, her mother has committed suicide, and she wants so desperately to be like “normal” girls that she shamelessly flaunts her sexuality just for some affection and attention.  She’s lost, as well.  Her well-meaning father is grieving himself, and also continually harassed by the authorities regarding the circumstances of his wife’s death.  Now they come to see him about a murder weapon on the other side of the world:  it seems that in gratitude for a successful hunting expedition in Morocco, he'd given the rifle to his guide.  And then, just to complete the circle, the authorities are also oppressive back in Morocco, where random violence begats more random violence, and the world seems to be a place where the innocent are victimized.

            Innocent victims also abound in “The Queen,” where the venerable and honorable Queen Elizabeth (Helen Mirren), in the context of the tragic death of Princess Diana, tries to respond to a culture that has changed faster than she has.  Somehow the young “commoner” recently divorced from her son, Prince Charles, has developed a celebrity following which endeared her to millions, for reasons unfathomable to the dignified monarch.  She can’t really bring herself to be overly grieved about Diana’s regrettable accident, but the English people begin to show increasing indignation at her apparent aloofness.  Somehow “keeping a stiff upper lip” and “carrying on with quiet dignity” are no longer valued by the thousands of her subjects who weep openly and place flowers for someone they didn’t know.  Here’s a world connected by relentless paparazzi, and shaped by the ubiquitous oppressive press.  The Queen's saving attribute turns out to be her pride, which is stung by the dawning awareness that a significant percentage of her subjects no longer hold her in favor.  She advises her new Prime Minister, the still-in-power-but-not-for-long Tony Blair, that the fickle populace will eventually turn on him, as well.  Just because she’s a living anachronism doesn’t mean she isn’t prescient.

            Yes, we are indeed of many languages and cultures, and the ongoing struggles for control over cultural values make the news every day.  Perhaps the “Babel” story is not only recounting historical reality, but also describing the human condition. 

Questions For Discussion:

1)      Should there be an “official language” in this country? In other countries?

2)      Should American employers be punished for hiring undocumented workers?

3)      Have you ever had to seek medical assistance in a foreign country?  If so, was your experience a positive one? 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Terrell, Texas