"Kill or be killed."
That credo keeps an American mercenary named Toorop alive—and continually employed—in Babylon A.D.'s dystopian, conflict-ridden vision of our planet in the not-too-distant future.
Toorop, however, is weary of his violent existence. So when a criminal warlord "recruits" him (i.e., has him kidnapped) for a job that will pay enough for him hang up his guns forever, Toorop grudgingly agrees.
The assignment: Transport a woman named Aurora and her guardian, Sister Rebeka, from their secluded convent in Mongolia to New York City. Never mind that Toorop has been branded a terrorist and expelled from his homeland. Or that most of the territory between the two points in question is a wretched wasteland.
Toorop knows nothing about Aurora's identity, who wants her in New York, or why. And he doesn't care. After all, a job's a job.
But Aurora's intercontinental "special delivery" proves anything but normal. She senses danger before it happens. She reads minds. And the death of anyone around her is almost her undoing. Could she perhaps be a messiah destined to save humanity? Or is she merely a pawn in a darker, more sinister scheme? Clearly the pseudo-Christian sect (dubbed the Noelites) from which she's come considers her special indeed ... and has big plans for her.
Toorop, it turns out, has little time to puzzle out the answers. Just keeping Aurora out of the clutches of various pursuers occupies most of his attention. But as the trio inches inexorably closer to New York City, Toorop is forced to make a choice: Will he turn Aurora over to those who've paid him? Or will he tempt death yet again in order to help Aurora discover the truth about who she is?
[Note: To explore this film's often muddled spiritual themes, the following sections contain plot spoilers.]
These days, you can forget looking for squeaky clean, earnest-to-a-fault heroes. We're going through a season in which antiheroes rule. In which men and women of dubious character somehow find it in them to do the right thing ... even if they grumble most of the way.
Toorop fits this now-clichéd bill to a T. He's shows little affection—OK, zero affection—for Aurora and Rebeka at first. Slowly, however, Aurora's relative purity and compassion for all living things (even caged, cloned Siberian tigers) defrosts Toorop's cold heart. By the end, he's protecting her and Rebeka because he wants to, not just because it's his job. And that means sacrificing himself in order to save them.
It seems that his growing loyalty to Aurora is well-placed. Aurora is about as unsullied as Toorop is soiled. That's demonstrated in part by her deep concern for every person she encounters who is in pain. And as Toorop, Rebeka and Aurora repeatedly put their lives on the line for one another, Aurora is convinced that this sacrificial bond has made them a kind of family. In the end, then, it's fitting that Toorop raises the twins Aurora is pregnant with.
Early on, both Rebeka and Aurora seem to possess a very genuine faith in God. There's talk of prayer, and Aurora quotes Genesis 1:26-27 when she says that humankind has been made in God's image. She takes that idea a step further and argues with Toorop that even cloned tigers created by man are, by extension, a representation of God's handiwork. Toorop disagrees, saying that second-generation cloned tigers are merely "copies of copies," organic articles made by man.
Indeed, whether God creates or whether it's all the work of humans proves to be the film's principal philosophical question. We eventually learn that Aurora is the result of the Noelites' clandestine effort to genetically bio-enhance a fetus whose skills and abilities would be so advanced that the sect could pass her off as a messiah and gain further sway over its followers. In the same way, it's implied that Aurora's pregnancy is the next step in this bioengineering process. That her twins' have incredible powers even in the womb, bequeathed by technology, not God.
Christian imagery permeates scenes, especially via shots of crosses and crucifixes, and the Noelites are thus depicted as some kind of vaguely Christian offshoot. Yet the high priestess of the Noelites is shown to be a cruel, manipulative murderer who'll do anything to extend the power and influence of her sect—including creating a false messiah. One man says that she wants to organize "the dominant religion on earth." So the film's overall take on organized religion is dark, similar in a way to V for Vendetta's portrayal of power-mad religious leaders. Rebeka tells of how she traded in a dead-end life for the spiritual promise offered by the Noelite sect.
For her part, Aurora, who is compared in some ways to Jesus' mother, Mary, because the twins she carries are not the result of a sexual encounter, gradually loses her will to pray as she witnesses how horribly cruel people can be to one another.
Aurora is depicted as a childlike innocent, even though she's perhaps 20 years old. But she's also curious to try new things. When Toorop gets out of the shower (we see his bare, tattoo-covered torso as he washes and then see him with a towel around his midsection), she walks up to him and leans in to kiss him as she touches his chest. (She's wearing a tight tank top and panties.)
Elsewhere, a scene at a dance club shows two women wearing bikini-like outfits spinning around a stripper pole. Two women in the armored personnel carrier of a Russian crime lord are drinking and have their arms wrapped around one another suggestively. In their initial meeting, Toorop tells Rebeka not to mess with him or she'll have to "sell her a--" to get back home.
Most of the movie's violence—which is fairly constant—can be separated into three broad categories: fistfights, gunfights and vehicle chases. There are several of each, resulting in the deaths of perhaps dozens of pursuers who get shot in various confrontations, pummeled to death or blown up when vehicles careen into all manner of obstacles. Suffice it to say there are explosions aplenty.
The two most egregious shootings involve men who are shot in the head at point-blank range with pistols. And it's Toorop himself who is the one pulling the trigger on a subdued assailant he is simply annoyed with. We don't see the actual impact in either shot, but there's no question about what's happening. A hand-to-hand melee worth mentioning involves Toorop's intense fistfight with a cage-fighter at a bar. Toorop apparently kills the man by choking him, even as Aurora pleads with him to stop.
The remainder of the violence is intense and frequent, but not as graphic or gory.
Near the finale, Aurora shoots Toorop in the chest in order to trick a sophisticated homing missile. (If he's dead, it'll have nowhere to go.) We later learn that he was dead for two hours and then in a coma for five days. Darquandier resuscitates him, and he gives Toorop a prosthetic leg to replace the limb apparently blown off by the exploding missile.
Crude or Profane Language
About 10 s-words and one f-word. God's name is paired with "d--n" once. Jesus' is also abused once. There are half-a-dozen other vulgarities ("h---," "a--" and "b--tard"). One scene includes two crude references to the male anatomy.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Toorop smokes several times. He drinks wine and takes a swig from a small metal flask. Aurora is curious about what he's drinking, and she takes a sip despite Rebeka's protests. (Aurora doesn't like the way it tastes.) Rebeka initially says no when Toorop offers her a drink. After Aurora predicts that they'll all die in New York, however, she grabs it and knocks back a mouthful. We see other people on crumbling city streets drinking. Toorop finds an empty bottle of vodka in a car.
Other Negative Elements
Walking through an outdoor bazaar, Toorop steals several items (that Aurora needs) from vendors.
Whereas most of the world is engulfed in chaos and war, New York City is shown to be a spectacularly lit paradise of cosmopolitan perfection. The implication seems to be that the United States prospers wildly while the rest of the world burns.
One plot twist involves the unsettling possibility that Aurora is carrying a virus as a biological bomb intended to destroy New York City. Toorop says that if this is true, he'll kill her and burn her body. Ethicists could squabble over the right choice (are the many more important than the one?), but the ease with which Toorop make his morbid determination is disturbing.
You know a film has got problems when its director pans it. French filmmaker Mathieu Kassovitz hasn't minced words regarding the role Babylon A.D.'s distributor, 20th Century Fox, played in wrecking his project: "I never had a chance to do one scene the way it was written or the way I wanted it to be. The script wasn't respected. Bad producers, bad partners, it was a terrible experience."
The result is jumbled and violent. Oh, and familiar. Babylon A.D. borrows heavily from Children of Men, V for Vendetta, Blade Runner, Minority Report and The Fifth Element.
It's confusing enough that it made me doubt some of my own observations while watching it. It's ending raises so many questions I figured I had to have missed something along the way. In fact, it won't surprise me a bit if fans of the film—and there will be a few—write me after reading this review and try to "correct" some of my "facts." I'll just shake my head and sigh, because this is just that kind of movie, one that's so unclear on so many levels that you're left arguing with your row mates about what really happened.
What is clear is the movie's near-constant violence and significant profanity. Also its ultimately hostile attitude toward organized religion. Sure, the Noelite sect has more in common with a cult than anything in mainstream Christianity. But the film appropriates so many ideas from the Christian story—not to mention frequent images of a cross—that it leaves little doubt about which religion it's indirectly slamming.
A postscript: Babylon A.D. is loosely based on the 2005 novel Babylon Babies by French novelist Maurice G. Dantec. It has nothing to do with the show Babylon 5 which ran for 110 episodes on cable TV in the mid-'90s.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Vin Diesel as Toorop; Mélanie Thierry as Aurora; Michelle Yeoh as Sister Rebeka; Gérard Depardieu as Gorsky; Charlotte Rampling as High Priestess; Lambert Wilson as Darquandier
Mathieu Kassovitz ( Gothika)
20th Century Fox