Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Munich - another betrayal

Steven Spielberg's Munich might be a good movie techically but its "inspired by real events" portrayal of an alleged Israeli "response" to the murder of 11 Israeli Olympic athletes by the Palestinian Black September group in 1972 does Israel a great disservice. According to Bret Stephens in OpinionJournal this past Sunday:

Maybe it has something to do with his choice of a screenwriter, Tony Kushner, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright brought in by Mr. Spielberg to rework the original screenplay by Eric Roth. Mr. Kushner (who, like Mr. Spielberg, is Jewish) believes that the creation of the state of Israel was "a historical, moral, political calamity" for the Jewish people. He believes the policy of the government of Israel has been "a systematic attempt to destroy the identity of the Palestinian people." He believes that responsibility for making peace between Israelis and Palestinians lies primarily with the Israelis, "inasmuch as they are far more mighty." He believes Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is an "unindicted war criminal."

Maybe it has something to do with Mr. Spielberg's curious use of "Jewish" tropes. Again and again in "Munich," the Israelis are seen counting the cost of each kill, down to the last dollar: $352,000 for an assassination in Rome; $200,000 for a bombing in Paris...

Maybe it has something to do with the historical liberties Mr. Spielberg takes in telling the story. "Vengeance," the George Jonas book upon which the film is largely based, is widely considered to be a fabrication. The book is based on a source named Yuval Aviv, who claimed to be the model for Avner but was, according to Israeli sources, never in the Mossad and had no experience in intelligence beyond working as a screener for El Al, the Israeli airline.
Maybe it has something to do with Mr. Spielberg's decision to depict the actual slaughter of the Israeli athletes (bizarrely interwoven with an especially vulgar sex scene) at the end of the film rather than at the beginning. The effect is to jumble cause and consequence; to make the massacre seem like a response to Israeli atrocities; to turn Munich into just another stage in the proverbial cycle of violence, or what Mr. Spielberg calls a "response to a response." Mr. Spielberg has said he made this film as a "tribute" to the fallen athletes. What he has mainly accomplished is to trivialize their murder.

Even the New York Times review notes the potential inaccuracy of Spielberg's depiction:

"Munich" is one of those Hollywood fictions that seem to befuddle those who miss the nuance in the words "inspired by real events."

Munich is opening nationwide this week and so far seems to be quite popular based on IMDB (7.7/10) and NYTimes (3.7/5.0) polls.

It's one thing to dramatize "Saving Private Ryan" and quite another to diminish the brutality of the Munich attack by making a popular film that in some form compares that act with the (probably false) depiction of the Israeli retaliation. It'll be up for Best Picture along with Good Night and Good Luck, another paragon of accuracy.

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