Critics and awards committees have not been very kind to Steven Spielberg’s new movie about the 1972 massacre of 11 Israelis at the Summer Olympics in Munich and its aftermath. Yet, it’s a much better movie than most of the other movies picked, especially the current favorite “Brokeback Mountain.”
Even so, MOVIEGUIDE? can’t endorse this movie, which is simplistically titled “Munich.” Not only is “Munich” filled with graphic and sometimes disturbing violence, it also contains strong foul language, sex scenes and explicit nudity. Furthermore, its political commentary on the fight against terrorism, including the current War on Terror, is weak at best, and offensive and disturbing at worst.
The movie opens with images of the Palestinian terrorists, calling themselves Black September, kidnapping the Israeli athletes and their coaches. It then switches to Avner, an agent with the Mossad, the Israeli spy agency. The Prime Minister, Golda Meir, wants Avner to lead a team of four other assassins to murder the Arab Palestinian leaders allegedly involved in the Munich affair.
Avner and his team are fairly gung ho about the assignment, although the separation from his wife and newly born daughter is agonizing for Avner. The movie shows most of the team relishing the intrigue and moral justice of their crusade. The team gets help in locating its human targets from a mysterious young Frenchman named Louis, whose father heads an organization that sells information to the highest bidder.
The assignments start to go slightly wrong, however. Then, when a female contract killer murders one of their own, Avner and his men track her down in revenge. In another sequence, Louis, who’s upset about catching Avner in a lie, arranges for Avner’s team to stay overnight at a safe house, which Louis has also offered to a group of Palestinian terrorists. Posing as a left-wing German terrorist, Avner converses with Ali, one of the Palestinians, who tells Avner that he’s just trying to find a home by killing Israelis. Later, Avner has to kill Ali when Ali and his men show up at one target’s location.
With Ali, the terrorist targets suddenly become more human to Avner. Also, another one of his men is killed. Avner becomes paranoid and torn by guilt. The emotional tension builds and Avner becomes almost literally haunted by his work. The comfort of his beloved wife barely assuages his nightmares. Avner starts questioning his boss, and even begins to withdraw his attachment and allegiance to Israel.
Though Spielberg directs “Munich” brilliantly, two scenes with gratuitous full male and female nudity and a couple of explicit sex scenes between Avner and his wife pollute his work here. The brutality of the violence by the terrorists and Avner’s team is also shocking. The gratuitous, immoral depiction of this content undermines the tense, complex, dramatic and poetic quality of the writing, editing, acting and directing.
“Munich” also has some thematic problems.
First, the movie sides with Avner’s comment to his boss that, instead of killing terrorists, Israel should just arrest them like Adolph Eichmann, the Nazi, and perhaps execute them, despite Israel’s lack of a death penalty. This, of course, is the solution that the Clinton administration and its Justice Department tried in the 1990s, a solution that resulted in the murderous attack of 9-11 (the movie ends with a shot of the Twin Towers in New York City).
Secondly, the movie sets up a kind of moral equivalency between the Palestinian terrorists who murder Israeli citizens and Israel, which tries to bring the murderous terrorists to justice by killing them. “Munich” also explicitly suggests that, by assassinating these terrorist leaders, Israel, and, by extension the Bush administration today, is just creating more Arab and Muslim terrorists who will simply take the dead leaders’ place. That, of course, is also true if you just arrest the terrorists and give them the kind of justice they deserve.
In the end, Avner is so traumatized by his experience that he not only stops working for the Mossad, he also refuses to return to Israel. Thus, he has become a man without a country. Like Louis and his family, Avner declares his primary allegiance to be his own family. Unlike Louis and his family, Avner decides that, for his family’s sake and the sake of his own sanity, he can no longer participate in the violent world of international intrigue and mystery.
It is written somewhere, Avner tells his boss at the end, that we should break bread together. Come and have dinner with my family, he offers. No, his boss tersely replies, then walks away. Thus, Avner’s newfound revelation has completely separated him from Israel. A distant image of the Twin Towers poetically and hauntingly foreshadows the climax of Israel’s War on Terror.
The argument in “Munich” that planting explosives to kill a terrorist does not work and probably is immoral does make sense. Planting an explosive is always a danger, because, even with timers, etc., you can never know if an innocent bystander, including women and children, will also get hurt or killed. Political violence like this is always evil, even if your target is a murderer. Murderers and terrorists should be spied upon, arrested, convicted and executed as soon as possible by the state, and the state should wage open warfare against them by military means. Governments and their citizens can also fight terrorism by spreading democratic capitalism and other conservative values throughout the world.
Viewed in this light, President Bush is right about the War on Terror. Democratic capitalism and conservatism will indeed help to transform the Arab and Muslim world. These things are not enough, however. The moral and spiritual values of the Bible and of Christianity must be coupled with democratic capitalism and conservative values, however, if the War on Terror is to be won. Thus, we should fight the ideas of Islamic terrorism and political murder with another, better idea – the Gospel of Jesus Christ!
Ultimately, Spielberg presents a liberal, pacifist worldview in “Munich.” Such a worldview is neither democratic, capitalistic, conservative, moral, nor Christian. Furthermore, not only will it not work in the Middle East (or anywhere else for that matter), but it most likely will create far more problems than it solves. Liberalism and pacifism did not defeat Adolf Hitler and the National Socialists in Germany, Japan and Italy. Nor did it defeat the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
Thus, Spielberg’s obvious desire at the end of “Munich” to make an argument for peaceful co-existence may be commendable, but it seems to violate biblical standards of justice, if not morality. It also doesn’t seem to be workable, especially with the kinds of neo-Marxist and Islamo-fascist terrorists who have been so actively murderous in the Middle East and around the world since the 1960s. (Some of the Arab and Palestinian terrorists in the past were pushing a neo-Marxist, leftist agenda rather than an Islamo-fascist one.)
Historically speaking, it should be noted that the idea of a “Palestinian” homeland is a flawed idea. In the first place, the word Palestine is a derivative Latin reference to the Philistines, an ethnic Greek group that God, using King David and the Israelites, kicked out of Israel. The crusaders used the Latin word Palestina or Palestine to denote the Holy Land, and the British brought back the English word after World War I. Thus, Palestine is not an Arab or Muslim name at all! Moreover, anyone who lives in the area, whether Arab, Jew, Christian, or even atheist or Buddhist, rightfully can be called a “Palestinian.”
In 1923, the British took part of Palestine, re-named it Trans-Jordan or Jordan, and gave it to the Arabs. In 1947, the United Nations gave part of the remaining Palestine to the Jews, who re-titled it Israel, and part of the land to the Arabs, but the Arab Muslims rejected the offer because they wanted all of Palestine. The Arabs, including Jordan and other Arab or Muslim states, waged war on the Jews in 1948 and 1967 and lost both times. Even though it lost in 1948, Jordan retained control of part of the U.N.-mandated Arab territory until 1967.
In an effort, therefore, to support his liberal plea for peaceful co-existence and moral equivalency between the Arab-Muslim terrorists and Israel, Spielberg has had to ignore, revise and distort both language and history. Of course, all the land in the Middle East does not belong to Arabs, Jews, Christians, or any other non-divine person. It actually belongs to God!
Thus, although “Munich” is a mesmerizing, provocative work by a genius filmmaker, intelligent conservatives, friends of Israel and Christians most likely will be disturbed by its liberal political conclusions about Israel, Arabs, Muslims, and the War on Terror. Many will also be asking themselves: Was all that blood, sex, nudity, and obscenity necessary to tell this story? MOVIEGUIDE? doesn’t think they were necessary.
A final note
In the past, some pseudo-intellectual left-wing critics complained that Spielberg was wasting his talent on “manipulative” movies for a broad audience, movies with a “childish” or more innocent attitude toward adult sex and romance. In the last 10 years, Mr. Spielberg has been listening to them and including more sex, nudity and strong foul language in his movies.
Mr. Spielberg should stop listening to the left-wing critics who want him to include humanist notions of sexuality and language in his movies. They add nothing to his work, and prevent his work from being seen by a broad audience, much less a family audience. Mr. Spielberg was far more successful as an artist, and as a human being, when his movies re-invented the classical storytelling techniques of the Golden Age of Hollywood, in a profound style that serious adults could also really enjoy.
It’s been a long time since his movies reflected that uplifting, redemptive, old-fashioned, pro-American spirit. We miss that Spielberg. It’s time to bring him back, or at least re-invent him in a new way that all types of audiences (including more intelligent ones) can enjoy. If the iconoclastic, pseudo-intellectual leftists and atheists don’t like it, well, tell them they can lump it.