The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Munich (2005)

How I wish I’d seen this film in December.  Then, and only then, could I say I’d experienced one great film in 2005.  Lots of good ones.  None great.  Yesterday I saw Munich, Steven Spielberg’s newest work, and one of his greatest. 

It’s his first without storyboarding, doubtless an attempt to convey some of the haphazard, chaotic energy of his subject matter: the Israeli retaliation for the 1972 Munich kidnapping and assassination of Israeli athletes.  What in the world could be more natural than the desire for retaliation?  And in the action-reaction world of Newtonian politics in which we live, what could be more appropriate?

Or, ultimately, futile? 

I forget who said it, but the directions for how to get out of the box are written on the outside of the box.  To escape a trap of endless tit-for-tat, one cannot just be better at tatting.  Believe me, as long as we are IN that box, I want to have the biggest tats around (and of course, as some conservative pundits from America to Israel are bound, and correct in saying, if someone has to have them, it better be us), but that is not the way out of the box.

Eric Bana (The Hulk) plays the Israeli agent who goes underground for grueling months to seek revenge against the 11 Palestinian men said to have planned the action.  And the revenge is brutal, sloppy, breathtaking, violent, and bloody.  And it triggers more violent actions from the Palestinians.  Which triggers more from the Israelis, and on and on.  And one drop at a time, you can see the very life blood sucked out of Bana, as he descend to a moral netherworld.  THIS is the price that our warriors pay, even moreso when they cannot wear uniforms and proclaim their honor to the world.

THIS is one of the major reasons I fear the policy of torture our government wants in place.  Yes, I LOVE “24”, and can’t wait for it to come back on in ten days, so that the infallible Jack Bauer can break laws and screw information out of more bad guys.  But it’s fun BECAUSE he is infallible. Superman’s heat vision wouldn’t be so nifty if he roasted a few innocent bystanders.  And you know what?  Human beings make mistakes.  We are in a war now, with at least ten times more Iraqi’s dead than Americans killed in 9-11, because of faulty intelligence (and I’m being kind to blame it purely on a mistake.)  In the real world, the “wrong” people will be tortured, rendered, murdered in the dark.  God, I can’t believe I actually wrote that sentence.

And what if they are “right?”  Have you ever talked to someone who has tortured?  I have.  Ever talked to someone who has killed, in uniform or out?  I have.  And it costs, terribly.  Horribly. Even with the full sanctions of society, the blessing of priests, the applause of the crowds, gifts of sex and land and medals, it strip-mines something precious from a young man or woman. 

Yes, if I thought a nuclear weapon was going to go off in Los Angeles, I’d torture someone to get the information…because I’d be willing to die to protect my family.  I DON’T WANT IT LEGALIZED.  The act of legalizing such acts diminishes the value of the country I’d be trying to protect.  If it must be done, let it be done by patriots willing to be prosecuted, or even killed, because in that fine old phrase, “The secretary has disavowed knowledge of their actions.”

War under the very “best” of conditions is hell.  Here, in Munich, it becomes something even worse, a living hell.  A walking death.  The death not of the body, but of the soul. 
I thought for sure, was absolutely certain that when South Africa fell, there would be blood in the streets, a slaughter of the guilty and the innocent in one ear-shattering scream of vengeance.  Then a man named Nelson Mandela created the Truth and Reconciliation trials, where killers and torturers could confront their accusers.  I never thought it could work.  But although there is terrible crime, and high rape statistics, the wholesale bloodbath I expected never happened.  A miracle, by my way of thinking.  An exceptionally spiritual man thought “outside the box.”
Spielberg doesn’t say this would work in today’s terrorist world.  He doesn’t say he has answers, any more than Spike Lee did in “Do the Right Thing.”  Munich is a plea for wise men and women to rise, to cut the Gordian Knot of violence tying east and west, Christian and Muslim, Jew and Arab together so tightly that the knife cutting one throat cuts both.  What more can an artist do?  Munich is a brave, brave film.  Not perfect, but to see this movie flow from the mind of the man who has created such a wide and varied palate of entertainments over the last thirty years makes me want to go out on a limb and say:

We have never had a director like Spielberg.  No one has EVER used popular film-making to greater more successful, more intense an effect.  No one has ever exceeded his range, his power, his social conscience.   I would love to see a filmmaker from the Right explore the themes that touch his heart so well, and yet also make rousing “Jurassic Park”-style popcorn movies.  Please.  The dialogue MUST be conducted, from the Left and Right sides of the social brain across the Corpus Collosum of cinema, of literature, of the collective creative consciousness.

There are geniuses out there, waiting to rise.  Somewhere in the world, there are young men, young women, who will see this film and others like it, and say “I have a solution no one has ever thought of.”  And be willing to die to bring it into existence.  That young man, that young woman will help to save this troubled world.  God bless the artists who take such chances, of whatever country, politics, race, creed or religion they may be.  I honestly believe they are our hope.

See Munich.

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