Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Munich Review --

Note - If you haven't seen "Munich" yet, perhaps you should wait to see it before reading this since I give away some parts of the movie.

I watched Munich a few days ago after reading a few reviews saying that it equated the Palestinian murder of the Israeli Olympics team in 1972 with the Israeli retaliative assassinations of the terrorists. Dennis Ross, on the other hand, said that it did no such thing, so I decided to watch it and see for myself; these are my perceptions.

If I could speak about the movie in the terms of an essay, I would say that its final conclusion is that revenge, ultimately, destroys, even if the intent of the revenge was justified. However, the movie didn't arrive me at that conclusion immediately, Speilberg navigated through a series of perceptions and gradually tried to get the viewer to see that point of view.

Example; the movie starts off with the Palestinian terrorists hopping the fence to the Olympic games, entering the hotel where the Israeli team was staying, breaking in, and beginning their hostage situation/rampage. During these few minutes of film, there were not many available emotions to feel towards them other than anger and resentment.

However, the table soon turns; when the Israeli assassination team targets their first terrorist by planting a bomb in his telephone, the same exact angles and shots are used to show the Israeli's entering his house as it did when showing the Palestinian terrorists entering the hotel. It's a subtle usage of footage, but the intent is to draw a parallel between the morality of the actions by making one scene remind you of another. In a movie, the producer is G-d and creates the necessary world to get the desired points across.

Again, the movie doesn't break the thesis to the audience immediately, it has them simmer in it before gradually slipping it to them. The plot of the first assassination was to call the house of the terrorist when he answered the phone and then to detonate the bomb. However, to the audience's horror, his young daughter answers the phone, only to show the assassination team abort the mission at the last second. They try again and succeed with their mission the second time around after the daughter leaves. Perhaps this was the movie's intent or perhaps it wasn't, but this made a clear delineation between the Israeli assassination team's effort to avoid killing innocents and non-combatitants, in contrast to the Palestinian terrorists' specific goal of the exact opposite.

What interested me is that as the movie unfolded, one saw that its primary emphasis was the moral question of retaliation to terrorism in the form of assassination (and the equation of the two), and not the moral question, or the way in which a culture of terrorism/hijacking develops, of terrorism itself. Clearly it would take a more complicated and perhaps expensive movie to explain the mentality of Palestinian terrorism within the context of the Israeli-Arab conflict; it is relatively easier to make a movie exploring the moral issues of retaliatory measures to such terrorism. Plus, for some, it is easier to point the finger at themselves than to accuse others.

All in all, the movie portrays the Israeli assassination team with the noble and justified goal of eliminating the terrorists. In order to do this, the lead assassin, a former Mossad agent (the actor does a less than good imitation of an Israeli) has to bargain with scum-of-the-earth international hitmen, who describe themselves to him as "ideologically permiscuous." After some double- and triple-crossing and general manipulation, it becomes apparent that the Mossad, with its righteous agenda, becomes likened to the hitmen it mingles with by way of association. In other words, it is as if to say, "Don't become what you hate." More patronizing would be to say, "Don't become what you hate, even if you have the right to hate it because it wants to kill you."

This message is clearly strewn throughout the movie, especially when the assassins become thirsty for revenge and go out of their way to target terrorists not on their list, basically, just for the heck of it. More shocking is when they go out of their way to kill a women agent that murdered their friend, and the way in which they killed her is particularly gruesome; firing darts at her naked body that cause her to choke on her own blood. They stand there watching it gush out of the holes in her chest, and when one of them covers her naked blood-covered body, another quickly opens her robe back up to add humiliation to her death. At this point in time it is hard not to see them as terrorists, but again, the producer calls the shots.

An interesting scene is when one of the assassins, the bomb-maker, a genuinely nice fellow, leaves the group when they go on their revenge rampage. His moral criticism is that of revenge and that Jews should take the moral high road, which is absolutely true, and wonders if the Israeli government should capture the terrorists and try them in Israel as was done with the Nazi's in the Nuremburg Trials rather than assassinate them. This morning, as I was waiting for my waffles to heat up before going to work, I thought of this; would it have actually been better to capture the terrorists and to bring them to Israel for trial? Would it have been better to travel to whatever country the terrorists were in, and one-by-one, infiltrate them and bring them to Israel? Would it have been better to cause a potential blood-bath by attempting to capture people that don't mind dying and killing innocents, putting them on a plane with the approval of their country's of residence government, and flying them to Israel, of all places? Had this succeeded, the entire Arab world would now see a group of Palestinians being tried and probably put to death by the Israeli government, and they would join the ranks of martyrs. Would it have been better to assassinate them and to end the story there? Either method produces martyrs, but one is out in the open and the other is covert. Furthermore, the German government held a trial to convict those guilty of war crimes, with America's supervision and in front of the whole world; there was no way for them to retaliate. The capturing of and bringing in of the terrorists of Black September would have not been as clean and much bloodier than the assassinations.

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