Munich

posted 12 February 2006

[Spoiler content warning: low. The historical events that are the basis of the movie are mentioned, without any specifics.]

After a frantic day of house cleaning and packing (no actual moving yet... that all happens in two weeks) I caught up with O and went to see Munich. It's excellently acted, very well directed, and has a lot to say. Unfortunately, I fundamentally disagree not with what it says, but the way it says it.

It starts off weakly, with some heavy-handed historical lecturing and clunky plot exposition. It then takes off, covering the endless sequence of assassinations in a gripping and suspenseful manner.

And that is the problem. This is not just some thriller, where you know the excitement is illusory and the dead are just actors. Notwithstanding the large amount of creative licence that has been taken, this a record of real deaths, murders and bombings that actually happened. It doesn't matter whether you agree that those who died deserved it or not; dramatizing the murders in this way is just dancing on graves, and it is both arrogant and distasteful.

In a situation as complicated and emotionally charged as Israel versus Palestine, impartially cannot be expected. But even so, this movie is disgracefully one-sided. The deaths of the eleven Israeli hostages are covered in minute and gory detail, but Israel's immediate retaliatory strikes that killed upwards of 60 Palestinians merit no more than a single line of dialogue, mentioned in passing. To claim impartiality on the basis that both facts are revealed without taking into account the amount of emotional weight given to one and not the other is intellectually dishonest.

What is the message of this film? Is it a cry of anguish at the futile and self-perpetuating nature of the cycle of Israeli-Palestinian violence? Is it a deeper message, that whatever gains one side may make over the other in the struggle are not worth the tremendous emotional costs paid on both sides? Both those messages are there, to be sure. But the overriding, primary message, the one that is genuinely controversial, is actually spoken by one of the main characters early on in the film, and that message is don't fuck with the Jews.

It is a message that is inflammatory and self-defeating. This movie glorifies and idolizes the Israeli struggle at the expense of the equally valid struggle of the Palestinians while masquerading as something more, clinging to the trappings of impartiality and deeper introspection while sacrificing both to a visceral, violent urge for on-screen revenge.

This is a horrible movie, brilliantly executed.

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