Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Violence of Munich

I did not see Munich back when it was released in 2005.  I liked the idea behind the story, and I'm a fan of Eric Bana.  What I'm not a fan of is Steven Spielberg (director) handling "serious" material.  Mossad agents hunt down members of Black September after their own agents carry out a terrorist event at the Olympics.  That's serious stuff, and it is, of course, based on a true story.  I don't mind Spielberg's lighter efforts, but when it comes to the heavy stuff I think he fumbles the ball more times than not.

This was one of those times I was wrong.

Munich is a good film.  It's even an important film.  It says a lot about the ideas of revenge, state-sponsored violence, terrorism, and, perhaps most importantly, what this does to people.

Bana plays the head of a group of assassins sent by Israeli government to make Black September pay for its transgressions.  What follows is a series of assassinations that start to take their toll on the group.  They are isolated from friends, family and even their own government and are forced to deal with people who have little in the way of morals or values.  In the end this leaves some of them dead and the others paranoid to the point of insanity.  These are some of the same themes I've dealt with in my writing, and I find them fascinating.

Violence does some strange things to people.  It empowers them.  It destroys them.  It empowers others.  It destroys others.  It propels stories and changes lives.  It's something you can't take back no matter how hard you try.  Spielberg's film wasn't trying to tackle this on a worldwide level (which would have been a mistake), but it was trying to show it at a governmental level that is akin to a tiny war.  Bana and his men were soldiers, only they had no country and no spiritual backing.  They were on their own, with only Israeli money spurring them on.  If anyone came out of this film not believing this sort of thing goes on, they missed the idea that it goes on everywhere.  People are used by their governments to do the governments' dirty work.  They don't get the health benefits and pride of being a paid soldier with a uniform and a country to call their own.  They are ghosts, and in the end that leads to perhaps the film's most interesting question:  What if the government you are working for is lying?

I don't think Munich will change anyone's life.  I was wrong to dismiss it, however.  Spielberg, who only directed the story and did not write it, crafted a powerful movie.  I also take offense to the critics who thought Spielberg was wrong in delivering the question of whether or not Bana and his crew were terrorists like those of Black September.  Looking at the pull Israel has with our media and our government, I must say I am not surprised that people would think this, and I don't even think that was Spielberg's intent.  He was simply throwing out the idea that violence, no matter for what reason, has direct consequences and if you are following someone else's orders, you better be sure you can trust what they are telling you ... and can that ever be possible?  The terrorists in this film believed in what they were doing.  The agents who went after them, some of whom wanted revenge, were essentially doing a job.  If there was another group that could be called terrorists, it wasn't Bana's group, it was the government who paid them, and maybe that is where the critics' real contention lies, though they would never say that in a public forum.

Governments are capable of great evil.  It can be a bomb dropped in Japan, or a man gunned down on a street.  Spielberg was not reminding us of this.  He took for granted that we already know this at one level or another.  He also took for granted that we all believe terrorists act as terrorists do, and this is to be expected.  What I believe Spielberg wanted us to take from the movie is that while governments are capable of great evil, it can't be done without someone carrying out the plans.  And that is something we can stop ... if we really wanted to.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer:  I did not receive this movie to review, which you could easily determine from the first paragraph.  If you click on a link, however, I may earn a commission.

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