I wasn’t likely to see Steven Spielberg’s Munich in the theater when it first came out. The thought of watching a subject that depressing and disturbing in a dark cave makes me shudder even now. Still any chance of my seeing it then was quashed by the political reviews of it in my local paper. I forget who it was writing that. I thought it was George Will, but I don’t find a column from him on the subject. I see Michael Medved and Dennis Prager wrote harshly about it in columns still on the web. The good reviews from actual movie reviewers didn’t reassure me. Those same reviewers liked JFK, too, despite how ridiculous some of that movie sounds to me. Just the image in my mind of Kevin Costner pushing a conspiracy theory about that makes me glad I didn’t see it. Even on TV I wouldn’t make it past that part. I can watch Ed Begley Jr. insist that 9/11 was a government hoax if I want to scrutinize the craziness of conspiracy theories, how they are such a house of cards built on one improbable interpretation after another, yet some people love them.
So those on the right claimed Munich was as preachy as that, saying that there’s no difference between Israelis killing Arab terrorists and Arab terrorists killing civilians. It’s not that I believed them, but it didn’t make the movie attractive to me.
Then I actually saw Munich last night. Did these critics? I guess they must have from the specificity of some of their comments, but wow. They watched this movie only to grind their axes, only to fill in the words for a reaction they were already going to take. People claimed it’s unrealistic. Yes, it’s unrealistic. So is how medicine and the law are portrayed in the movies and on TV. Real life is much less emotional, at least on the surface. And the detailed workings of real life can be very different than as portrayed in many movies, as with the plot device in Munich where our hero is sent off on his own, not a government employee, having to ally himself with people of questionable loyalty to carry out assassinations, when in fact it doesn’t seem the Mossad saw assassinations as requiring such deniability. So the major theme of disillusionment that comes over the main killer is not realistic, as he journeys from reluctant killer to more cold-blooded to going crazy over the loss of 3 comrades and the fact that his becoming a target also targets his family. It’s over the top. But how over the top is it? Does it dramatize a reality as Saving Private Ryan did for what it was like to hit the beaches on D-Day in 1944? Do espionage heroes have to be like James Bond?
Some of the right-wing commentators called this reaction “guilt”. No, this is not guilt. This is fear, determination, regret over the loss of comrades, regret for the loss of a normal family life, maybe regret for the loss of a normal job. I’m sure with a transcript of the dialog one could pick out phrases that makes it sound as though the hero thinks killing terrorists is wrong, but that’s certainly not the impression the movie leaves me. The movie makes me think our hero would kill anyone who threatened his family if there were no consequences for doing so.
Are right-wingers that afraid of emotion? Does it have to be so absolutely right for them that they feel nothing negative about what they’re doing, as innocent civilians die in the crossfire?
The attacks on Munich are so much like other expressions of opinions, whether it’s creationists attacking evolutionists or the left attacking anyone who doesn’t go as far as they do on immediate withdrawal from Iraq. Narrow point after disputable narrow point is made, all in service to the fundamental opinion that was made before any discussion began, whether that point is the Bible is right, war is wrong, or conservatives are 100% right and others 100% wrong. Debbie Schlussel makes many such points in her attack on Munich from December, 2005. She attacks a portrayal of Golda Meir as indecisive. That’s not how she looked to me in this movie. She writes the movie portrays the Mossad as killing innocent people at whim, when the movie shows the exact opposite. She complains that the movie shows one Arab target of assassination as having a cute, piano-playing daughter, as if it could only be a balanced presentation if families of the murdered Israeli athletes were shown similarly. Oh, please.
Other writers follow this pattern. Look at all these reasons we give. It must be true that we’re right, that this is terrorist propaganda Spielberg has made. Only they’re not right. They’re dead wrong on many facts. They’re dead wrong in not hearing every voice in the movie, which cover an entire spectrum from pro-Arab speeches by terrorists to unapologetic Israeli views.
As far as I can see, it’s this diversity that the wingnuts attack. They much prefer propaganda where there’s only one message, one right, one wrong. That’s not what Munich is, as much as the right wing now has their myth that this is terrorist propaganda. Munich is saying war is hell. It does not say war is wrong, unless someone is determined to find that message there, either from the left or the right.
That was my surprise in actually watching Munich. This is what got such caustic complaints? Yes, from the left and the right, there is such hatred for anything that is not with them. I don’t suppose those addicted to such rhetoric burn out the same way the hero in Munich did. They will fight until they die. Then a new generation may do exactly the same. Cultural evolution is a slow process. But culture does change. How much does it change? Is this “I’m right, you’re wrong” mentality destined to be with human beings for good, with only the exact issues changing or will there come a time when such strife is seen as counterproductive? I don’t know. I won’t live long enough to find out.
For now I know that the world could do with much less poverty and much less strife. Does that mean 90% less or 100% less? I don’t know. I don’t see wingnuts helping in any case, unless it’s the educational benefit of negative examples.