review by Anne Lythgoe, OP
editor, Dominican Life
Set in the aftermath of the massacre
of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics, story follows
a secret Israeli squad assigned to track down and kill the 11
Palestinians suspected to have planned the Munich attack--and
the personal toll this mission of revenge takes on the team and
the man who led it.
MPAA Rating: R for strong graphic violence,
some sexual content, nudity and language.
acting like terrorists justify efforts to defeat terrorism?
This is the central question left hanging in the air in Steven
Spielberg's Munich. Spielberg directs
this violent and harsh film that follows a group of five Israeli
Mossad operatives assigned the task of taking revenge for the
slaughter of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. The
violence and mayhem created by these men is difficult to witness.
I frequently diverted my eyes from the screen.
Clearly they begin with a mission that seems like an urgent and
measured response to what was a horrible and mindless attack by
Palestinians. In an interview, Spielberg says that this film is
meant "to honor what happened to those athletes so that their
memory will not be lost." This is the central premise of
his film Shindler's List, that remembrance is a form
For me, the film raises lots of questions
about vengence and the rule of law
among nations. The players in this film all believe in the righteousness
of their cause. The Palestinians deserve a homeland and will do
anything to obtain it, thus, the attack in Munich. The Israelis
deserve a homeland and will to anything to retain it. Thus, the
irreconcilable conflict that has been waged for years. I don't
think the film answers questions as much as it raises questions
about how far a nation can go to protect its citizens. The reality
of our world is that when a country responds (even justifiably)
to violence as a way to eliminate an enemy, the result is only
a deepening of the conflict and a spiralling down of civilization.
Munich demonstrates this reality in
Avner, the main character ((Eric Bana) was a puzzle to me. He
accepts the assignment without the audience having any real insight
into who he is. In a few scenes his family life seems normal.
At one point his co-conspirators toast the birth of his new son.
But he seems to remains inwardly ambiguous toward his mission
and in the end is deeply disturbed by guilt and inner conflict
over his life. The film offers him no redemption other than to
make a choice to keep his family intact and to remain outside
of his homeland.
attempts to stir discussion of the appropriate response to terrorism.
In an interview he says that he did
not want to demonize the targets. Real people exist on both sides
of these issues. But I don't
think the film examined both sides of the conflict equally. The
Palestinian voice is barely audible.
If the acceptable response to violence is to revenge
a death and the perpetrator is replaced over and over again by
people more violent than before, then where does it end? How does
a nation protect itself from attack and create conditions for
peace at the same time? No obvious answers here.
Munich raises lots of questions: can
any nation be justified in a war on terror if there is no real
attempt at a solution to the roots of terrorism? The question
of a safe homeland for both Israel and Palestine has been lost
in the spiraling violence on both sides. What do terrorists really
want? The destruction of their enemies or a better life than they
presently have? When does a response to terrorism change us into
In two instances, Israeli operatives raise the
question of righteousness within the faith tradition of Judaism.
One of the five, the Belgian toymaker Robert (Mathieu Kassovitz),
who tinkers in explosives, drops out of the mission because he
cannot see how it accomplishes a sense of righteousness inherent
in Jewish Tradition. He leaves because he cannot answer the question
for himself. What does righteousness mean in this society now,
for Christians, for Jews?
In the film, Israeli Prime Minister Golda
Meir says, "Every civilization finds it necessary to negotiate
compromises with its own values." This compromise of values
is at the heart of the question. When do we sit down with our
enemies and find an alternative to violence? What conditions need
to be present so that each side can see the humanity of the other?
Can we expect that violence will bring an end to violence? What
gives a nation the right to decide who is guilty and then exact
Clearly, this film offers the Israeli side of the story, one that
needs to be told and Spielberg is the one to tell it. But had
more effort been made to give the Palestinian a voice in the film,
perhaps the film would have offered more insight into how violence
could be averted and enemies could see each other as human beings.
I don't think even the great Steven Speilberg could manage that