Munich

The kidnapping and murder of the the Israeli Olympic team in 1972, obviously was a lowpoint in the tumultuous era of the early 70’s. Not only did it forever soil the innocence of international sports competition, it changed the world forever. Never again would people be so trusting and open.

What happened after the massacre is not so well known. In fact the details of Israel’s revenge against the planners of the Munich massacre and the surviving kidnappers are not known at all and probably never will be. So, in the opening titles, Steven Spielberg lets us know that Munich is inspired by true events, not based on them. It is, in fact based on a memoir that has been discredited.

But I don’t think that effects Munich’s overall theme. Nobody pays much attention to the old saw, “two wrongs don’t make a right,” especially in international relations. After ’72 Israel felt they needed to show that such attacks would be meant with strength; that there would be a price for killing Israelis. It’s the politics of the playground. But when you move these simple rules to the streets of foreign cities with local laws and the possibility of collateral casualties, what you get are complications and moral compromises, adding up to a hopeless muddle. The participants may not even realize the ambiguity, or tragically, they may.

Avner Kaufman, played by Eric Bana, is one of those in the latter category. A former bodyguard to the Prime Minister, he is a decent man with a child on the way. He’s definitely of the pre-massacre world when things were simpler. He’s recruited to lead a team of similar amateurs to go deep into the cold and track down the Black September members who were responsible for Munich. At first he’s committed to the project, if a little uneasy with the nature of it. Then, as he examines the totality of the Arab-Israeli struggle and sees that his efforts are not very effective in stopping the violence, he begins to question the mission. And yet, he dreams of that horrible incident in Munich and longs for revenge. The confusion in his heart mirrors the situation.

Steven Spielberg has made an effective and courageous film about the Arab Israeli conflict. He gives both sides their say, thus insuring that neither side will be happy with the result. But if there is to be peace in the region, both will have to let go of long cherished grudges and blood feuds.

Needless to say, Munich is very depressing.

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