Thursday, July 27, 2006


I just finished watching Steven Spielberg's "Munich" last night. I felt rather compelled to write a few comments about it. As with most of the controversial films that have been tried and found guilty in the media, watching the movie almost a year after the initial release allows for much more "objective" analysis (Can one ever be really "Objective"?).

First off, I had absolutely no problem with the films politics whatsoever. I am a staunchly pro-Israel supporter on every level and kept looking for the imbalance, the equivocation of the films protagonist. Frankly I was unable to find it. While the main character struggles with his actions, I found them to be a human struggle that anyone would go through, the act of the taking of a life. When I spoke to a friend shortly after the film was released last year, he mentioned that he was most offended by the ambivalence that the main character experienced in carrying out Hamurabis code: an eye for an eye. Further, he claims that in "vengeance", the original source that the movie was based on (unable to remember the author at the moment), that the actual men who carried out these extra-judicial killings were not moved by conscience. That they were deeply stalwart and unmoving in their resolve. These were righteous acts supported by God and carried out with complete repudiation.

Perhaps. But the rendering of our protagonist (cannot remember his name at the moment, which is one of my criticisms of the film, it's agitpropness) as a man of moral quandaries struck me as quite moving. Tony Kushner, who along with Joe Roth wrote the screenplay, allowed me to experience this pretty fully. I really felt virtually no polemic here, which is rather a nice surprise from a man who creates polemicals as readily as Shakespeare created Mechanicals.

The films most remarkable achievement far and away is its terrifying depiction of violence. I remember about twenty years ago when the Louis Malle film "Atlantic City" came out. There is a scene of a murder on a Ferris wheel. Robert Joy, the Canadian actor, is stabbed to death in his little Ferris car by a street hoodlum. The act is so disturbing because it is so incredibly quiet. We hear street noises in the distance, cars driving by, children playing in the streets...Virtually everything in life continues on in its normalcy. The only thing that gives away that a murder is being committed is the look of shock and fear on the face of Joy. This image still haunts me today. The acts of violence in Munich startled me for its mundanity. The lack of control of the acts, their messiness (not in blood but in execution) and halted intimacy are jolting and abrupt. The first killing is clearly an homage to Coppola with Avner and the toy/bomb maker killing the first Arab in Italy as he is about to go up an elevator to his apartment. They ask him if he is who he says he is, produce a picture, and are completely unsure how to proceed. When they do finally, Avner drops his gun by accident then picks it up again. The shooting is horrifying for its unsureness, not necessarily its ineptness. This isn't the Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight this is something else.

Other images sear: the couple in the hotel room next to the Palestinian that is blown to bits, his bloody arm hanging from the ceiling as the only remainder of his corpse. The woman screaming that she can't see, naked and covered in dust and blood. The murders in Beirut, killing a family but Avner pleading they do not kill the son, he is left to witness the carnage. The creepiest of all being the strange James Bond like killing of the Dutch woman in her home with a bizarre silencer type of gun. They actually help her from falling down initially, she pets her cat in a death spiral, and then hemorrhages to death out of the mortal wound to her trachea. Incomprehensible!

The most disappointing aspect of the film, unfortunately, is its depiction of sensuality. Spielberg attempting to be Rembrandt through his Cinematographer Janusz Kamenski is awkward. He is simply not deep enough to capture the essence of this filmic painting with real soul. The shots of Avner and the food, of the French Patriarch and his food, food and sensuality, strikes me as pretentious. Of course, after Stanley Tucci did Big Night, food will never look the same on screen. The final image, a use of counterpoint between the final terrible moments of the hostages and their captors in the airport battle, and his tortured intercourse with his wife, struck me as vulgar and demeaning to the memory of the slain.


Blogger Jeff said...

It is interesting that you and are in temporal synch. I just saw Munich myself, three nights ago. I agree with you on all counts. I was sort of scratching my head at the sex and slaughter replay myself. I think it could have been a much better film, but I am not sure the blame should rest solely with Spielberg. The script certainly could have used some punching up in places and some paring down in others.

Let me ask this: Do you think Avner would have had such a moral struggle were it not for the fact that the killers were killers once removed? These were the planners and financiers, not the triggermen. Murder was more or less an abstraction for them, and they were far enough from its reality that for Avner they maintained the illusion of humanity. Imagine Avner going after the fellows that the Germans released, the ones who actually dealt death to the Israeli athletes. I don't think their execution would have kept him up nights, or caused him to lose sight of his naked wife wriggling below him.

Jeffrey Rush's character was a bit spooky, don't you think?


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