Reality Conditions

Sunday, February 19, 2006


So I've just come back from seeing Steven Spielberg's Munich. In the unlikely case you didn't know, it is about the hunting and killing of the responsibles of the terrorist attack on Israeli representatives during the Olympic Games of Munich 1972 by a special Mossad team operation. Both my suspicious and my cynical friend had been recommending it to me for a while. (There you have, Cynical, don't complain anymore that I don't link to you. I even link to your comments on the film!). So below is my review.

It is certainly a powerful movie. I don't think it is one of Spielberg's best (I can think of several better ones*) but it is perhaps the most complex, less linear and straightforward (of those I have seen at least, which looking at IMDB I reckoned to be about half of those he made since Jaws... less than I thought). It tricks us at the beginning into making us believe that it will be a direct tale of revenge: one by one, the terrorists will be shot or bombed in increasingly suspensful and exciting ways, and at the end the good guys (or those that remain alive) will say "mission accomplished" and return to their lifes. The killings are indeed incredibly suspensful and exciting, to the point that once and again I found myself gasping or jerking at the moment of the shot or the explosion, even if I knew it was coming -a tribute to Spielberg's mastery. But after the third killing or so, things start to get amiss. Things don't go as planned; someone is killed even though he was not in the original target list but is a replacement for one of them; the motivations and sincerity of the mysterious French informers to the group become suspect; the hunters become hunted. The film ends with all the plot threads still open, as if making a point that there is no conclusiveness to the cycle of violence.

Many commentators have focused on the way Spielberg makes the characters doubt and question their own mission, and before seeing I had the impression that the film would leave us a definite moral or message, such as "if we use the same methods than the terrorists we become no better than them". There are a couples of dialogue lines of this kind, but never so explicit and preachy: Spielberg knows better than that. It is true that he displays a typical Hollywood-liberal-sensitivity in making the characters discover moral dilemmas in a perhaps unrealistic way for hardened Mossad agents**, but for me the main "message" of the film insofar as it has one was not a moralistic one in that line, but a deeply pessimistic one. Retail missions against Palestine terrorism are necessary for the survival of Israel, because if they were not done terrorists would only be emboldened; but if they are done, more terrorists appear with fresh cause for revenge and the violence never ends. The movie shows this dialectic but does not offer any way out of it***, and leaves therefore a very sad impression.

There are other important subjects that the film touches upon, but one I would like to mention is the significance the state of Israel has for a Jew. There are several explicit references to this, including one by the protagonist's mother and one by his boss near the end, but there is one moment that does not intend to make such a reference, and nevertheless worked as one for me: After the introduction to the film where the kidnapping of the athletes is shown, news clips with the news of their deaths are shown while the Israel national anthem "Hatikva" is heard in the background. I had not heard it for years, and suddenly hearing it in this context was extremely moving.

*I don't think any of Spielberg's "serious" films, excellent as they are, is as perfect as his earlier adventure masterpieces like the Indiana Jones trilogy or Jurassic Park.

**In fact I have read that paradoxically (or perhaps not) this has lead both pro-Israel and pro-Palestine commenters to criticize the film in a perfectly symmetrical way: the former complain that the movie is anti-Israel because it shows the war on terrorism as something that can be subjected to moral doubts, while the latter complain that the movie is pro-Israel because it portraits Mossad agents as people with ethical principles and conscience instead of as remorseless killing machines.

***Hey Cynical friend, I bet you would never have expected me to use negative dialectics, eh?


  • As a matter of facts didn`t like nor pro-Israel and pro-Palestine, and not even Americans. "Munich" had a 70 millions budget, and it gross nowadays to nearly 30, only in US, of course, but it`s clearly an economic failure for Mr. Spielberg. Not the first, considering "1941" or "IA".

    What that it means? That we`re talking of a real filmmaker, although all those wonder boys that argue that it`s only a pop corn one, etc. Only Spielberg (and perhaps James Cameron) can decides what his next step, and taking risks, and loose, like in this case. But of course, sometimes, when you loose, you win.

    By Anonymous your cynical friend, at 9:56 PM, February 20, 2006  

  • Wow! Great review (I totally agree with everything the blogger said, and he said it in a clear way) and great comment! No wonder you two are friends of mine...
    By the way... did you notice that the cynical friend has an almost Moreiran style of English writing? We would have guessed that he knows better.

    By Blogger Merrick, at 2:59 AM, February 21, 2006  

  • Thanks again, Merrick. As for our cynical friend... well, we know he is dyslexic even in Spanish, so, what's the surprise? ;-)

    By Blogger Alejandro, at 2:36 PM, February 21, 2006  

  • Well... perhaps my low level english is because... I was rejected in the greatest high school from Buenos Aires... Only for wonder minds... (but, please, tell me, if they`re soooooo wonder, why do they play role and net games considering that they`re so adults, and so brilliants of course...?)

    By Anonymous No more your friend, at 2:30 PM, February 22, 2006  

  • And for Mr. Merrick... now you can finally say goodbye to your Frank Sinatra`s CD...

    By Anonymous No more your friend, at 2:32 PM, February 22, 2006  

  • First of all... no one ever said that assisting to the CNBA makes you more adult (or adulter). And don´t forget that Mr Moreira is a proud former student of this institution. So please, Mr Cinism keep in mind that not everything we say has to do with our secondary school.

    Alejandro: great post... great movie

    By Blogger DrNitro, at 10:07 PM, March 07, 2006  

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