Monday, February 20, 2006



I finally saw Munich, a film I did not want to see because it sounded like homework. I also didn’t want to see Munich because of all the articles I had read from people I respect saying that Speilberg (however, inadvertently, since Speilberg directed Schindler’s List and funded the Shoah project preserving the memories of Holocaust survivors) had done Israel (Zionism? Jews?) a disservice by providing more balance to the Palestinian side than events warranted. I also feared that the screenwriter, Tony Kushner, who wrote Angels In America, would be likely to bring a “victim is right because they’re the victim” mentality to the proceedings.

I am happy to say that my fears were not realized.

Munich deals with a squad of Israelis who have been commissioned to kill a list (there’s that word again) of people involved with the murder of the Israeli wrestling team at the 1972 Munich Olympics. The film claims to be “based on true events.”

Munich portrays the entire spectrum of Israeli responses towards vengeance, from the “Jews don’t do this sort of thing” position to “the only blood I care about is Jewish blood” position. Eric Bana plays the group leader, Avner, and the further he goes down the road of revenge, the more he wearies of the whole thing. Other characters become more doubtful as well. But other characters maintain their basic point of view throughout the whole film. Still others seem to become more like vampires – seeking more and more blood.

Speilberg clearly prefers less violent solutions to the problems he poses. Several times the film directly states that five terrorists arise for every one who is fallen. However, there is always someone like Geoffrey Rush saying that all you can do is the work in front of you.

Munich also shows that vengeance is very hard on the people like Avner, who are the ones who pull the trigger. Placing a character such as Avner as the lead in a movie like this again tips Speilberg’s hand in a direction against revenge. But then, the film also shows other characters that Speilberg clearly likes and cares about, praising the acts of vengeance, addressing Avner with respect, love and passion, telling him the work is necessary.

Munich is not pro-Palestinian. Despite all of the neo-con banter I have been exposed to, the film offers no moral equivalency regarding Palestinian suffering. It is not about Palestinians at all. Several of the Palestinian characters voice their defense of what they feel they need to do in order to create a Palestinian homeland. None of these defenses are placed in the mouths of Martin Luther King or Gandhi. They are voiced by terrorists. Anyone in Avner’s line of work would have heard these arguments, and would be forced to factor them in. Of course people who feel the need to blow up buildings have quiet moments, and have their reasons, and can express them rationally. They have their children, and they can love them dearly. That is why these situations are tragic, both in the news, and in the movies. However, it is not a trump card. People are going to resort to violence. And equally calm, rational, intelligent, family-loving people are going to have to respond violently against it. Speilberg clearly is not happy with this state of events. However, I do not believe he ever dismisses the need for violence out of hand.

Your response to the last scene depends on your predisposition towards the issues that Munich addresses. I guess it allows you to consider whether or not the film has changed your point of view. Clearly, Speilberg wants us to understand that he is not only telling a story about 1972, but wants the film to stand as a metaphor for how the United States is reacting to events today. I have read some say that Speilberg is blaming the Israeli reaction to Munich for beginning a cycle of violence that lead to 9-11. I think that’s rubbish. I think the point Speilberg tries to make is that there is no safe haven, and that we all need to be more engaged in finding peaceful solutions.

Munich is a very good movie, and well worth your time. In both Munich and Schindler’s List, Speilberg is pitch-perfect. Yes, there are movies that could be made about the concentration camps and about the Munich massacre more complex and realistic than the movies Speilberg chooses to make. But no one could bear to watch them.