Humanity is the Price of Vengeance

The beginning of Munich is filmed in quick, jumpy shots.  The rhythm of the shots mimics that of a frightened heartbeat.  It represents the fear and danger of what is about to happen.  It is compelling in all its gruesome glory.  “This is a film that harks back to the great, gritty thrillers of that decade–for many, the heyday of the genre–with its all-pervasive paranoia and palette of steely colors,” (Yomiuri Shimbun). Director Steven Spielberg uses techniques such as framing and color to illustrate the impending danger, fear, reluctance and pride seen in the efforts of terrorism and counterterrorism.  In the book Terrorism and the Press an Uneasy Relationship, Robert Entman says, “ to frame is to select some aspects of a perceived reality and make them more salient in a communicating text, in such a way as to promote a particular problem, definition, casual interpretation, moral evaluation, and/or treatment recommendation for the item described” (pg. 46).   It is with this technique that Spielberg has the ability to show the effects that acts of terror have on terrorist and how a guilty conscious and ethical obligation lose to the moral belief that one is fighting for a cause worth dying for.

Once the setting is established, the outcome of the fateful night is realized.  Spielberg shows this with:

A busy blend of news footage–ABC’s Jim McKay saying, “They’re all gone,” as             the athletes’ fate becomes clear–and dramatic reconstruction. The events in             Germany in 1972 are not Spielberg’s main concern; instead, he looks away             from the glare and into the shadows, where a team of operatives sidles             around Europe in the ensuing months and eliminates those responsible for             the massacre. Munich was merely the starting gun.  (The New Yorker)

After the news starts picking up the story of Munich around the world, Spielberg does not focus on the specific coverage but instead on the reaction that the families and countries have to the tragic incident.  This focus is a key point when developing either side of the tragedy.  Spielberg calls this his “prayer for peace” and it therefore draws sympathy toward the Israelis but by showing the effect of the news coverage in Palestine, it also shows the pain and suffering that gave life to the idea of the terrorist attack in Munich.  Even though the plight of the Israelis is clearly favored in the movie, the issues at hand are evident in both sides.

The message — broadly, that violence begets violence — could seem trite and             overly simplistic; however, Spielberg’s attempt to understand the mindset             behind the terrorists makes his “prayer” informed and sincere. (America’s             Intelligence Wire)

What was interesting about how Spielberg covered the Israeli counter-terrorism movement was that he showed the characters on a deep, emotional level.  Especially when it came to Eric Bana’s character, Avner Kauffman.  Spielberg delved into the innermost thoughts and issues surrounding the team of five that was put together to assassinate the Palestinians in charge of the executions at the Olympic Village.  This is a vantage point that news organizations would not get the chance to pursue nor develop.   These personal responses are seen most vividly toward the end of the movie when the Israeli team realizes that they too are being targeted and picked off.  This calls for a reevaluation of their duties and purpose for killing—besides defending the honor of Israel.  For instance with Kauffman, the man in charge of eliminating hostage takers, according to Spielberg, “is bound to try a man’s soul, so it was very important to me to show Avner struggling to keep his soul intact.” (Turkish Daily News).  In fact, the men’s souls are tested because they question whether they are killing with a purpose.  They see the cyclical motion of the killings and the Palestines or P.L.O. is just responding to their attacks with just as much force and even more casualties.

I’m always in favor of Israel responding strongly when it’s threatened, the             famous director told Time. At the same time, a response to a response             doesn’t really solve anything. It just creates a perpetual-motion machine.             (Turkish Daily News).

The way in which Spielberg shows the assassinations is brutal.  When the Israelis kill the first man in conjunction with Black September, they just walk up behind him and shoot him dead on, in fact in the movie one of the characters even says that he put a couple of rounds in him.  This killing is sloppy and animalistic and shows the disrespect and disdain these men hold for each other.

One of the strengths of the film is the way it charts the corrupting effect of             violence on all those caught up in it. Squad-leader Kauffman and his gang are             not super-cool assassins, unaffected by the grisly nature of their task. They             are ordinary men asked to do an extraordinary job.  Confronted with their             first killing, they are nervous, panicky and uncertain.  Their victim almost             talks them out of the act (Yomiuri Shimbun).

Even if they question their purpose and tire of killing, they do it for their home.  They do it for their past.  They do it for their children’s future.  They do it for their people.  They do it at the risk of their own humanity.

Due to the fact that the film focused on the revenge of the Israelis it obviously put the Palestinians in a negative light.  It showed them as ruthless and cruel and relentless; however, in the scene with Kauffman and a P.L.O. officer Spielberg sheds light on the mission of Black September and how behind the weapons and hatred and fear and attacks—these are just men, fighting for a better life for their people and for something they believe in.  Toward the end of the movie the Israelis’ European contact unknowingly gives them a safe house to share with P.L.O. members.  Even though this could lead to disaster, the Israelis’ somehow manage to pass for British intelligence therefore avoiding a catastrophe.  It is in this one on one where Kauffman talks to the leader of the P.L.O. entourage and realizes that they are very similar men, fighting for the same things and dreaming for a similar future—they are just on opposite sides.  This is the only positive moment that Palestinians get throughout the whole film.  In this second, they are not ruthless, violent murders but normal men who are conversing, smoking and listening to American rock’n’roll music.

Media plays a huge part in the availability of terrorism and is the main gauge of how much and what kind of publicity a terrorist action is going to receive; however, seeing a historical terrorist event through a directors’ eyes with characters and plot makes it more real and human, instead of it being sound bytes and taglines that are thrown at the audience like bullets shot at bullet proof glass.  It gets to a point when the audience is unresponsive due to the excess amount of the subject.  It takes a unique perspective on similar issues to make them interesting and important once again.  Spielberg does exactly this with Munich.  He uses a well-known subject and turns it around to show how the men behind murders and assassinations act.  He shows the hearts of the terrorist and this is something that CNN, MSNBC and FOX cannot achieve because of the lack of insight and availability.
Works Cited

  1. Barnett, B. & Reynolds, A. (2009). Terrorism and the Press an Uneasy Relationship. New York, NY: Peter Land Publishing Inc.
  1. “Blood will have blood in Spielberg’s ‘Munich’.” Yomiuri Shimbun/Daily Yomiuri. 2006. Retrieved March 09, 2010 from accessmylibrary:
  1. “In ‘Munich,’ Spielberg chooses explosive subject.” Turkish Daily News. 2005. Retrieved March 09, 2010 from accessmylibrary:
  1. Lane, Anthony. “THE OTHER.(Munich)(Hidden)(Movie Review).” The New Yorker. 2005. Retrieved March 07, 2010 from accessmylibrary:
  1. “U. Pittsburgh: FILM REVIEW: Spielberg makes valiant peacemaking attempt in ‘Munich’.” The America’s Intelligence Wire. 2006. Retrieved March 07, 2010 from accessmylibrary: