War of Our World — Spielberg has crafted a masterpiece with Munich

Munich is a Universal Studios movie directed by Steven Spielberg. The screenplay was written by Tony Kushner and Eric Roth. It is based on the book Vengeance by George Jonas (1984). The movie has a running time of 164 minutes and is rated R for strong graphic violence, some sexual content, nudity and language.

“Home is everything” is the concluding statement from the leader of a Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) group in a conversation with Avner (played by Eric Bana), the character is a leader of a secret Mossad group formed to avenge the deaths of eleven Israeli coaches and Olympians during the 1972 Munich Olympics. The Mossad group is tasked with hunting down and eliminating the Palestinians who were responsible for the massacre. I won’t ruin the set up to that scene, but it is a comically eerie chain of events that leads to a chance encounter between an Israeli and a Palestinian in a stairwell in Athens discussing the endless conflict between Palestine and Israel. This scene, like the rest of the movie, is incredible and very memorable.

Vengeance was written by George Jonas as told to him by “Avner,” who after becoming uncomfortable with the Mossad, came out of hiding to tell his story. Is it true? Only a handful of people know for sure. Palestinians connected to Munich and other assaults against Israel were murdered, and someone committed these murders. The book has caused some controversy within both the Mossad and the PLO groups who both say it is fiction. In making the film, Steven Spielberg has also caused some controversy, in that many Israelis feel that the film wasn’t sufficiently sympathetic with their side. But that is not the point. Certainly Spielberg, being Jewish himself, could have painted the PLO more monstrously and the Israelis as innocent victims, but to him, that would have been fiction. His point in making Munich is to say that both sides are guilty, both sides are capable of being monsters, and both sides have victims. It’s the cycle of ceaseless tit-for-tat and revenge mentality that ought be brought to the surface. Without any attempt at compromise, the hatred will continue to grow for years and generations, like it has today.

The movie starts out with a recreation of the Munich attack, which also uses original footage from the actual event. The whole attack is gradually revealed to us through the nightmares and images that Avner has, which play out throughout the movie, until it is completed with the final horrendous moments at the airport in Munich. As a result of the attack, Golda Meir, the Israeli Prime Minister, asks that a team of Mossad agents be assembled to exact revenge against the Black September terrorists and the people responsible for the attack. We follow Avner and his partners across the globe as they cross paths with various government departments and pay incredible amounts of money for information that will lead to the whereabouts of the targets and hopefully to the demise of the targets. Soon the hunters become the hunted and Avner starts to question the mission as he tries to grasp what is really going on and if he and his men are accomplishing anything at all. He even questions if they are killing those responsible or just perpetuating the violence. He asserts that for every man they kill, someone worse takes his place and more Israelis are or will be murdered. His belief is that this is not what his God would have wanted; these men should be arrested and brought to justice. But that of course would not spill Palestinian blood and thus the revenge his employer seeks would not be achieved. Through the personal struggles that Avner and his men experience, Spielberg humanizes the men — not a great trait to have when you are an assassin.

Munich is one of the best films of 2005. It is both a very well done drama and also very relevant today, even though its setting is the early seventies. In order to coexist with enemies, we need to work more on compromises and understanding differences and less on building bombs and seeking revenge. If a group finds it extremely offensive for others to publish cartoons of their God, perhaps we shouldn’t publish them. If the same group takes offence to cartoons that are published, perhaps the issue could be debated in a civil forum. Should people be dying over cartoons? Is that the intent of any religion? Towards the end of Munich, Avner returns to his wife and child in New York City. He has sex with his wife as he imagines the final moments for the Isreali victims in Munich. Perhaps during that moment, his wife conceives. Would it be hard to believe that his child will grow up to hate Arabs? At least his child will grow up away from all the violence. Spielberg wants the violence to end. If nothing changes, the violence and attacks will go on forever. I wonder if Avner was still in New York on September 11, 2001? Was he far away from home and the violence that plagues the Middle East?

Reference
Jonas, G. (1984). Vengeance. HarperCollins Publishers.

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