I saw Munich over the weekend, but had to wait to post my responses to the film.
First, I loved it. I loved it as much as you can love a film about terrorism and its aftermath, as much as you can love a film that reminds us that revenge is, in the end, fleeting. Spielberg again wrenches his audience with discomfort as he has in several of his other docu-dramas (Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan) to the point where you not only identify with the characters and experience their moral dilemmas, the film fills you with outrage on multiple levels.
Spielberg smartly begins the film with stupid Americans who unwittingly aid the Munich terrorists at the 1972 Olympics as they attempt to gain entry to the Olympic village. He then stays with the terrorists as they begin the raid—an uncomfortable yet hypnotic event. Spielberg does not let you look away.
But the film isn’t really about that event as much as it is about Avner, the man tasked with locating the Palestinian terrorists and killing them. Eric Bana turns in a career-making performance as the reluctant avenger and is supported along the way by a cast as wonderful (and various) as Daniel Craig, Geoffrey Rush, and the man who plays Caesar on that HBO show. Bana’s physical transformation during this period is searing: from fresh-faced father-to-be to creased paranoiac. For Avner, the mission becomes just that: a mission. To avenge Israel, to make the world safe for Jewish people everywhere. The weight is nearly unbearable.
Spielberg’s film is so genius because it raises more questions than it answers. In an exchange with a Palestinian freedom fighter, Avner asks (paraphrased), “You are willing to die so that your people can go back to a grove of dying olive trees and rock and live in tents?” And the Palestinian responds briefly that home is not negotiable. In this way, Munich is a classic Spielbergian film, thematically: where is home? Who is home? How do we regain what is lost? Although this film would be easy to make lean toward a blind pro-Israel bent, it’s more complicated than that. It is neither pro-Israel nor pro-Palestinian. Without sounding trite or corny, I think this is a film that is only anti-violence and pro-peace, seeming to recognize in the darkest of times how both the Jewish and Palestinian communities are only fighting for the same intangible thing: a place of their own.
As much as this film is about history, it’s naturally about the present. It forces us, as Americans who tacitly participate (or vocally oppose) an anti-terrorist war on foreign soil, led by idealists who truly believe war brings peace. As a political critique, Munich has bite: whether the war we fight is obvious or clandestine, no one wins: not us, not our people, not even the terrorists we seek. The sacrifice—our sense of global isolation and the safety entailed therein—has already been made. We can never be as innocent as we were in 1972, before Israel’s Olympic team were kidnapped and killed, or as we were again in 2001. Our only real luxury in life—our pre-2001 peace of mind—has been taken. It is time for us to recognize that we are of the world, not above it. Munich is both a caution and a hope.