Friday, January 06, 2006

Spielberg, Kushner, & "Munich"

Hi X,

Ageliki and I went with a friend of ours on Wednesday to see "Munich." I think I basically agree with your assessment. It's technically a very well made film ... but intellectually and morally, it's banal and superficial. What makes it even more annoying is that the people who made the film clearly believe that they have achieved great moral depth and complexity. (And a depressingly large number of viewers and critics agree with them--in ways that usually involve simply projecting their own preconceptions onto the film.)

That doesn't necessarily make it a bad film. Some of the dilemmas it tries to deal with are real (though this is far from the first time they've been addressed), and it does have some striking moments. I suppose I would be less irritated by the film if it hadn't been so over-hyped. And the idea that carrying out these kinds of assassinations could have emotionally devastating effects on the people who do it--which is really the major theme of the film--is quite plausible in general terms, but the ways that this is actually portrayed in the film mostly struck me as psychologically unconvincing (which is the difference between art and editorializing).

Incidentally, I also couldn't help being struck by the extent to which the viewpoint of the film is so exclusively, almost solipsistically Jewish--and that's especially true at moments when the dominant tone is one of Jewish self-criticism and anguished hand-wringing. (We're an odd people.) My impression is that this Jewish claustrophobia hasn't been adequately noted in the reviews I've read. In that respect, this movie is oddly like movie "Exodus"--in genuinely human terms, Arabs barely exist except as part of the background. Europeans are a little more real, but not much. All this may, conceivably, have been intentional ... but it's still odd.

In fact, if I step back from my own reactions to the film itself, I suspect that understanding the range of viewers' reactions to the film would itself be culturally interesting. For example, I know that in the US a few people--not than many, but including people who should know better--have suggested that the film is anti-Israeli, or insufficiently sympathetic to Israel. This strikes me as absurd. The more general reaction seems to be that the film shows that "violence never solves anything"--which, in most cases, is just a mindless cliché. I'd be curious to know how people react to this film in Europe, where the cultural and political atmosphere surrounding these issues is very different (not least in terms of the pervasiveness of pathological anti-Zionism). I can easily imagine a range of possibilities: e.g., Europeans might respond (a) that the film is too sympathetic to the Israelis, or (b) that the film proves the whole problem is the Israelis' fault, or (c) that the film is too "American." (Maybe all three?)

At all events, these are my impressions.

Jeff Weintraub

P.S. Every time Avner and the others have personal contact with one of their targets, they seem to be constantly astonished by the fact that these guys don't LOOK like monsters, and this seems to have a big effect on them. For all I know, something like this may occasionally happen in real life, but the way it was portrayed in the film struck me as especially simplistic. And the only time that Avner has an extended conversation with one of the PLO people, namely the terrorist with whom he's sharing a "safe house" in Greece, what the other guy says makes it clear that compromise between them is impossible, since he won't stop killing "the Jews" until the ones in Israel have all been driven into the sea. (That was realistic, at least.) So why should Avner feel a moment of hesitation about shooting him later on? All these elements strike me (fairly or unfairly) as artistically weak.