'Comparisons are reductive. And the critical game of trying to describe a piece of art by naming two others is not only lazy, but cheating. If I were to say that this film is a blending of Jodorowosky's Holy Mountain and Terence Malick's The Thin Red Line (with the mystical terrorism of Michael Mann's The Keep), I would feel a sense of embarrassment about my ability to describe what I see to you. But I did mention them, and even in withdrawing them I leave something for you to go on (like a prosecuting lawyer who draws groundless pictures which will inevitably be struck out by the judge, knowing that the pictures are in the minds of the jury and cannot be unseen). A fake, maybe, but now you have a turnstile into the correct ballpark that holds And Tonight We Take Babel, and you can feel the ebb and flow of its game, restricted seating or otherwise.' Mitch Michener (1)
A spy has already given her life in exchange for smuggled footage, taken by microcameras hidden in her hair. Based on this information, the psych-drum was struck, calling the men. Soon, the corridors echo with humming nuns, one sitting in every home that has sent a soldier. Families launch night-time candlelit vigils through the centres of towns. Silently. They walk a strict route as an omen of disaster, the song of curlews at night, has been heard.
We will witness, from beginning to end, a military attack on an enchanted meadow of noise. The need for this land is never entirely clear, but we can gather from the bubbling voicebox thrum coming from it that it is more than a symbolic or strategic significance, and that the holy din therein can cause men to believe that they can swim new rivers and end all wars.
The weather spoils one advance, leaving platoons marooned at the foot of the hill. As they await instructions, their supplies, which consist mainly of powdered drinks, run low, and they are forced to brew soups from the spillages of wildlife. They haven't seen the enemy yet, but know that too long spent in the valley could see them fatally outflanked. The mood is itchy. The prophylactic errors in boudoirs of towns on the trail must be left behind, a new spiritual strength must be found for the assault. But where? The valley is filled with exotic foliage. Broccoli trees loom up to fifty feet, but are yellow and inedible at this time of year. Endless shining truths loom on the horizon, ready to poison a corporal. The men know that waiting until the solstice will make the attack harder. But striking on the night itself, the longest there is, might swiften the end.
In the meantime, the regiment's icon is placed on a tablecloth at the head of the advance. It sits, hot as an electric fence, crackling with premonitions of action. Soldiers take turns making offerings, hoping to wash their arms with oranged energy before battle. Their prayers seem to be grammatically unconnected lists, as if proving to their god that Babel Hill, with it's surfeit of language, must be delivered; without it their words have no meaning. Despite their claims to blankness, corrupt imagery seeps through their syllables.
Generals in their tent discuss ball games from home to avoid talking about the paradoxes of battle: We do not need to fight. But we need to win. We do not have a reason to fight unless we win. Then meaning follows.
One general, more thoughtful than the others, has been observing the men:
'Although the battle plan imposes few constraints on the movements of its soldiers, I learn with interest that individual performances do not diverge significantly from one another, nor does the regiment degenerate into chaos. The fact that this does not happen is of considerable interest, because it suggests that somehow a set of controls which are not stipulated in the plan arise in battle, and that these "automatic" controls are the real determinants of the war. Optimistically speaking, we are perhaps far more telepathic than we suspected. On the other hand, perhaps we lack any imagination. This is fascinating, and could prove decisive in either direction.'
Psychic soldiers behind our lines sit and project an invisible netting over the battlefield. Their concentrated efforts not only slow the movements of the enemy, but give our men the opportunity to advance through the air. Teams of six can, with a combination of molasses, Diet Coke and prayer, lift off the ground and spin over the battlefield. Many of these early scouts will be shot out of the sky and move on to Valhalla introductory ceremonies, but the drama of their percussive deaths allows our army to find new positions. The rest of us salute them, and run into our new positions. The objective is now in view.
The enemy sends shunts into our psychic field. These low-resistance connections in the circuit form an alternative path for a portion of the current. This bypass allows their guerrillas passage into our body channels, and if not stopped quickly, they can surgically divert blood from out vessels. Instructions to the front line become ever more damaged and confused, arriving as whispered rumours. The battle rages for days.
'Perhaps the only way to truly outflank this enemy is if we find a brand new pattern of assault. I propose that we send a platoon through the unguarded pass we call The Afterlife. Once there, these men can cause havoc with the minds of the enemy, who do not believe in what they cannot see. Once these men have plotted coordinates, a massive rush of men behind them will swing the battle decisively.'
An explosion, and suddenly we are in a quiet room.
Young, young men smile and escort us through the white. They are sort of astronauts, but with all the psychological aspects of sailors. Their calm smiles lead us to a banquet. We tell them of our orders, to take the pass, but they insist that we sit. Slowly, the guilt we feel about abandoning our colleagues fades, and as course after course of delicious food is brought to us, we begin to believe that perhaps we have won. For surely, only the owners of the melodious field of Babel could provide such a meal.
And Tonight We Take Babel Directed by Hans Van Den Boom Produced by Ronny van der Linden Written by Hans van den Boom Starring Willem Joos, Rutger Hauer, Herman Brood, Jeroen Krabbe, Hans van den Boom 102 mins OranjeFilm/ Rank Organisation Release Date UK: Sept 1977 US: N/A Tagline:'War Is Hill.'
1. First Lines From The Front Lines (MacMillan, 1985)