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December 23, 2005
Movie Review: Munich

After giving the matter quite a bit of thought, I finally decided to see Munich at the theaters in order to make up my own mind about the film and the controversy that surrounds it. The film, which informs the audience that it was "Inspired By True Events", takes the bare bones of the Munich massacre and the Israeli intelligence operation which followed against the Black September organization which plotted it and turns it into ... well, an interesting if ultimately bankrupt morality play.

** Some Spoilers! **

On its most facile level, Munich is a gripping film. Had it been based on complete fiction -- if Spielberg had had the sense to manufacture a hypothetical instead of hijacking history and twisting it -- then it might have even had a valid point to make. Spielberg has lost nothing as a film director in a technical sense, and apart from Schindler's List, this is his grittiest film ever. Eric Bana gives a wonderful performance as Avner, the leader of the team tasked with taking the battle against Black September to the streets. Ciaran Hinds and Geoffrey Rush are just as good -- Hinds just finished getting significant American exposure as Julius Caesar in the wonderful HBO series Rome, and he will whet appetites here for more. The cinematography, music, mood, and all of the technical efforts put into the film are first rate, without a doubt.

And every last bit of it gets wasted by a silly sense of moral equivalency that comes from a fundamental misrepresentation of the threat Israel faces, and in the strongly suggested allegorical sense, the threat that faces the US and the West now.

A number of pundits have already linked to the reports of historical and factual errors in the Spielberg/Kushner script, but I'm less interested in the details of these deviations than the reason Spielberg employs them. He has the assassination squad argue incessantly about the morality of their actions, the futility of violence, and so on, even while killing off the Black September terrorists one by one. Most allegorically, they all wonder why they should bother when the PLO replaces the targets they kill with worse people than before. And while the movie gives a couple of references to the scores of terrorist attacks the PLO conducted through the 1970s, they never show any of them outside of the Munich massacre, and only then at the end of the movie after beating us over the head with the faux internalized guilt that springs entirely out of Spielberg's imagination.

The difference that Spielberg glosses over is that these agents targeted specific members of the PLO and Black September organizations, and in response to an atrocity that not only took place in front of the world, but for which the world refused to hold the Palestinians responsible. In the beginning, we find out that the BS perps live quite openly in Europe, but Spielberg never asks why -- not even once. Why did Europe and the West not arrest these terrorists and bring them to justice? Because the West made the same mistake then that Spielberg makes now: they felt that the Israelis and the Palestinians were equally guilty of the same terrorism. Never mind that the Israelis didn't hijack airplanes, didn't deliberately target and kill unarmed civilians, and didn't kill American diplomats (another Black September operation that Spielberg neglects to mention in Munich).

By equating the two sides, Spielberg and the world gave the perpetrators of terrorism the same moral standing as its victims, especially when the victims sought to ensure that their enemies could not live long enough to plan more such attacks. It's like saying that the perpetrators of Lidice were certainly naughty, but the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich was just as bad. It's absurd, and the absence of any mention of this fundamental, yawning chasm between the Israelis and the PLO/Black September terrorists provide the only true allegory in Munich -- the defeatism in which Avner and his compatriots indulge (in the film) matches perfectly with the Left's moral equivalency of Islamist terrorists and the supposed atrocities of the West, and their unwillingness to fight against Islamist aggression.

In fact, the problem with Munich isn't that it is a terrible film; the problem with it is that is so well-made. Without the context of the nature of the two combatants, viewers will buy into the defeatism and futility that Spielberg and Kushner want to sell so badly. That's why that context gets deliberately elided and shaded, especially when at the end Avner hangs up his spurs and retreats to Brooklyn with his family. He starts seeing cars following him and immediately jumps to the conclusion that the Israelis have targeted them, and winds up breaking into the Israeli embassy to make wild threats about going to the media to tell his story. Why in the world Avner would think the Israelis would want him dead never gets explained -- and if I were Avner, I'd be much more worried that the PLO had discovered his identity and his whereabouts.

Spielberg also has a scene that I found terribly objectionable. When Avner comes back to Israel at the end for a debriefing, he stays with his mother. She tells him how proud she is of him, and how he has helped make a home for the Jews on Earth. But when he asks her whether she wants to know what he had to do, she demurs, not wanting to hear. It comes as a strong indictment on the Israelis, and allegorically for the Americans, by implying that the war(s) are like sausage -- we like to eat it but refuse to watch it being made. It assumes that the Israelis have a cowardice about their efforts to defend themselves that didn't exist then and doesn't exist now, and in the US today gets expressed by the Left as "chickenhawk" slurs hurled against those who refuse to surrender to defeatism and the supposed inevitability of Islamist terror.

One other scene almost made me laugh out loud. In a paean to The Godfather trilogy, Avner's wife initiates lovemaking to take his mind off of his guilt. Spielberg then plays out the Munich massacre between thrusts, with Avner's orgasm coinciding with the gunning down of the Olympic athletes. Debbie Schluessel found this terribly offensive, but I just think it's the one truly sophomoric and self-consciously artistic moment of the entire film.

At some point in time, one hopes that Hollywood will grow up and realize that nihilism doesn't have a moral equivalency with Western values that celebrate life and civilization. Terrorism that deliberately targets women and children and non-combatants and celebrates their deaths do not and should not have the same moral standing as free nations defending those women, children, and noncombatants by killing the terrorists that prey upon them. It's this twisted moral viewpoint that destroys Munich and continues the reputation of the name as a symbol of foolish and benighted appeasement.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at December 23, 2005 7:05 PM

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» On Munich from damnum absque injuria
I have written several times about Steven Spielberg’s new movie, Munich without having actually seen it. But my little man (which is a reference to the film featured in our current NAME THAT MOVIE! competition) told me that this Munich would be ... [Read More]

Tracked on December 23, 2005 8:09 PM

» On Munich from damnum absque injuria
I have written several times about Steven Spielbergs new movie, Munich without having actually seen it. But my little man (which is a reference to the film featured in our current NAME THAT MOVIE! competition) told me that this Munich would be a shall... [Read More]

Tracked on December 23, 2005 8:12 PM

» Spielberg's Munich: Apparently Awful from Gina Cobb
Apparently Steven Speilberg's Munich is even worse than predicted. The problem is not Speilberg's skills as a film maker. The problem is his descent into a moral relativism that treats terrorists who deliberately kill and injure innocent civilians with... [Read More]

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