A Room with a Viewpoint

“The time has come,” the Walrus said, “To talk of many things: Of shoes—and ships—and sealing wax— Of cabbages—and kings— And why the sea is boiling hot— And whether pigs have wings.” (Lewis Carroll)

Monday, February 06, 2006

Movie Review

I went to see Munich. I hadn't actually planned to see it, but it got an Academy Award nomination and I usually try to at least see all of the best picture nominees.

I have to say, I'm pretty confused. I never quite know what to think of movies that are "inspired by real events." How am I supposed to know what is historical (or at least historical commentary) and what is dramatic license (i.e. fiction)? As a movie, it's excellent and very much deserves a nomination. As history, I have no idea.

It wasn't what I expected. I had read reviews that argued it is too sympathic to the Palestinian terrorists and gives short shrift to the murdered athletes. I didn't find that to be the case. It's true, it doesn't tell the athletes' individual stories, but that isn't the purpose of the movie. The purpose of the movie is to tell the story of and/or explore the aftermath. Having said that, the Munich murders aren't just relegated to a few minutes at the beginning of the movie. There are flashbacks during the movie that drive home the fact that these were brutal murders.

And I didn't think the movie is sympathetic to the terrorists at all. Sure, it shows one guy doing a poetry reading, it shows another with a wife and lovely child. But this said more to me that these murderers were able to go on living a normal, and apparently happy life, with the murders making no more difference to them than another day at the office.

It seemed to me that the movie was really intended to tell the story of the Israeli assassins. And this is where I get confused about what is real and what is fiction. Because these guys were amateurs. Even the Mossad agent, who had been a bodyguard to Golda Meir and who was obviously good at whatever it was he was trained at, wasn't a trained assassin. And the other guys were toymakers and antique dealers who happened to have a useful skill (though that is a bit dubious in some cases). Did Israel really send these novices out to assassinate terrorists? Sure, they managed to kill seven terrorists, but three of the guys were killed in the process. Their bombs looked more like Rube Goldberg machines, and they either didn't have enough explosive, had too much, or it didn't go off.

So no wonder these guys eventually had a hard time coping with the killing. They weren't trained killers. They were ordinary people sent out as assassins. And I want those kinds of people to have a hard time. Oh, they didn't have a hard time doing the killing, but it took a toll. It made them question whether they were same as the terrorists. It made them wonder if they were being lied to by their government. But of course they definitely were not the same as the terrorists. Although they did screw up and get some innocent bystanders, they took risks to try avoid harming anyone but the targets. And the very fact that they asked the question proved that they are not the same as the terrorists.

The movie did give one Palestinian the opportunity to state his case, but it was really more of a manifesto that they were never going to give up if it took hundreds of years and they would drive the Jews out of Israel. While I am sensitive to the suffering of Palestinians, this didn't exactly bring me around to their cause.

The one message that seemed clear and with which I have a hard time disagreeing, is that this conflict is going to last a long time and a lot of people are going to get killed, and when you kill one terrorist, another takes his place. It also showed that one side has no capability whatsoever of understanding the other side. But what are we supposed to do with that?

I have no idea what Spielberg was trying to say, and he may have been trying to paint some kind of moral equivalence, but that isn't what I saw.