At their very core, all films are orchestrated to sell tickets. Munich and Bloody Sunday are no different in this regard. However, when movies like these are released, it begs the question of whether there can be more to films than a temporary satiating of our senses or an escape from our environment. Is it possible to produce a film that both succeeds at the box office and sends the audience home more educated and richer for the experience? The simple answer is “yes,” but it would be irresponsible to leave it at that.  Films like Munich and Bloody Sunday both present the viewer with information concerning their respective historical events; however, the responsibility of discerning the demarcations between historical truth/context and cinematographic liberties still lies in the hands of the viewer.

This paper addresses the films Munich and Bloody Sunday and reviews them as a means for educating the public concerning historical acts of terror. Further questions regarding the use of films as a potential medium for spreading the impact of terrorist events will also be addressed.

It is important to first note that both films are based on historical events. This is not to say that on all accounts they were historically accurate. However, developing a film in this manner gives the producer and opportunity to educate the public on a scale that few can fathom. As such, the choices that are made as far as how to present the film, the cinematography used, and the storyline play a large role in deciding whether an audience leaves more educated or just emotionally satiated, with fear in these cases.

Bloody Sunday attempted to be an unbiased production and took the path of documentary, choosing to portray the clash between the Northern Irish and the British in a gritty, detailed manner.  This enabled the viewer to be in the action instead of merely watching it as a third party. Bloody Sunday also seemed to be written and filmed from a single point of view, that of being sympathetic to the Northern Irish. While billed as a documentary, it was just about as unbiased at Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, there was an obvious agenda. As I brought out in my previous paper on Bloody Sunday, “the clincher in persuading the audience towards sympathizing with the Irish is that the British relentlessly continued, killing innocent Irish who showed no sign of aggression, were waving white handkerchiefs, and clearly backing down and running away. The movie blames the massacre on the paramilitary, highlighting their miscommunication and self-justification.” This does not take away from the historical facts that were presented, but as the viewer, the job of discerning the underlying truth becomes more difficult when such biases are so glaring. Often times as a result of apparent biases such as this, the film/documentary lose some credibility.

Unlike Bloody Sunday (a documentary with cinematographic liberties taken), Munich is a film (not a documentary) that happened to be based on real life events. It makes no effort at billing itself as an unbiased account. At its heart, Munich is a story about an individual. As the viewer we are not a character taking part in the action, but we see the dilemmas that Avner faces and the internal struggle that he battles throughout the movie. Filming in this way allows us to develop a “relationship” with the character(s) and to identify with him in his plight. Munich very clearly sympathizes with one side, but at the same time calls into question ethics – though Munich favors the Jews and the movie follows a group of Jews seeking their revenge, it also reveals how futile their efforts are and shows them being transformed into terrorists themselves. This film also shows the Arab side. During a conversation in a stairwell Avner is speaking with a Palestinian Liberation Organization operative and the operative expresses his motivation for doing what he does – having a home for his family – which is exactly what Avner is fighting to protect.  Munich really calls in to question, “Who is right?”, “How do we know who is right?”, “Does terrorism justify terrorism?”

These differences between Bloody Sunday and Munich are fairly substantial when it comes to educating an audience to one side or another.  Because Bloody Sunday seems to be attempting to be an unbiased documentary and we can tell it’s not unbiased, it loses some credibility. Munich does not attempt to be unbiased, and because it is not hiding its perspective, there is more latitude to challenge the ethics of what the protagonists are doing. As a result, Munich is more successful than Bloody Sunday in exploring its event and offering … a fair and balanced…report (to use a phrase from Fox News).  If a message is purported to take the high road, then it must be above reproach.  If any chink is found in the armor than the message as well as the messenger suffer (Denning, 14).

Bloody Sunday and Munich also have some very important similarities.  Both movies list the victims’ names to draw support for one side; Bloody Sunday at the end, Munich at the beginning – both at the end of the event that fuels the movie. The framing of terrorism is also a similarity between the two films. As Barnett (5) states, “terrorism is framed differently depending on who is covering the story, where the story takes place, who the terrorist is, and who the victims are.” Both films are built from the perspective of one side; Bloody Sunday from the perspective of the Northern Irish and Munich from the perspective of the retaliating Jews. Because the victims in each movie are presented as being innocent to some degree, we automatically sympathize with them. The films leverage this sentiment, capitalizing on the victims’ innocence to sway our opinion toward the Jews and Irish and against the Arabs and British. At the end of the movie it is rather easy to root for one side or the other, even if it’s not the one that the film makers wanted you to.

Delving deeper into the issues though one realizes that as a viewer, watching and analyzing the movie, you have gone through the same ebb and flow of emotional zeal and vigor that the characters you watched experienced. The film in that instance has given credence to any number of things including terrorism, the retaliation, national agendas, and the choices of the characters. In a sense, the dirty laundry has been aired and now the viewer must decide what to do with it. Often times the viewer is compelled to take up the cross of the down-trodden, the victims, those shown to be wronged in the film they just watched. But how long does that fervor last? Does making films discussing terrorism bring about more terrorism; does it validate the cause of zealots? Again, there is a simple answer, “No.” As happened with President Bush (Bush’s Final Approval Rating), snap bracelets, poodle skirts, and platform shoes, the zeal of support often fades over time. The atrocities of terrorism are committed by those that remain convicted of their stance. That however is a small minority.

For the rest of us, we are left to ponder the motivations that inspired us in the first place.  As Avner asked at the end of Munich, “Did we accomplish anything at all? Every man we killed has been replaced by worse.”  Avner started out zealous to avenge his countrymen and to protect his motherland from terror.  In the midst of it all, his crew began to question their cause.  Carl asked, “It’s strange, isn’t it, to think of oneself as an assassin?” To which Avner told him to “think of [himself] as something else.” In the end he comes to the realization that “there’s no peace at the end of this no matter what you believe.”

This is the same conclusion that most of us come to after a short span of fanaticism for anything. It is not a film or political propaganda or television that causes us to act. Those decisions are ours alone. What we entertain as options, thoughts, and beliefs are our responsibility. This is not to say that we cannot be influenced by films, propaganda, or other media, but the final decision rests in our hands. We have to ask ourselves, “Did we accomplish anything?” We can weigh the arguments and take the opportunities to become more educated on a subject; we can blindly accept what we are being told; or we can run from the subject at hand and live in fear.  We cannot expect the latter two to accomplish anything at all.

Works Cited

Barnett, Brooke, Amy Reynolds. Terrorism and the Press: an Uneasy Relationship. New York: P. Lang, 2009.

“‘Bloody Sunday’ report excuses Army.” BBC. 19 Apr. 1972. Web. 16 Feb. 2010.

“Bush’s Final Approval Rating: 22 Percent.” CBS. 16 Jan. 2009. Web. 8 Mar. 2010.

Denning, Stephen. The Secret Language of Leadership: How Leaders Inspire Action Through Narrative. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons, 2007.