Barnett & Reynolds describe framing as a way to provide a “context and suggest what the issue is through the selection, emphasis, exclusion and elaboration” this in turn can influence the audiences opinions, “the way terrorism is framed dictates the way the public will perceive it”(2009, p.4). In Steven Spielberg’s movie Munich, framing strategies were used to describe the retaliation of the massacre that took place in 1972 at the Summer Olympics in Germany. Spielberg described in the director’s introduction to Munich that the movie is “not meant to be a documentary” rather a story based on a historical event (Munich). Knowing this, how is it that Spielberg framed the story line of Munich for the audience and are these historical events depicted in an accurate manner?

The story line for Munich is based on a book by George Jonas called “Vengeance”, the story of an Israeli operation to assassinate the terrorists responsible for the Munich killings also known as “Operation Wrath of God” (Charlotte). According to Steven Spielberg, this is what he thought was to be the most accurate source describing the operation and though many argued the story, it was never discredited. Spielberg however, stated that the only three things known for a fact in the movie were: the massacre in Munich, the Prime Ministers approval for the operation to take place and that the names of the people that planned the massacre in Munich were killed thereafter (Munich). All the other events that occurred in the film therefore were described based on obscure facts mentioned in Jonas’ book and were framed to depict a particular message to the viewers.

             Barnett and Reynolds also discuss how both the visual and verbal framing may impact the audiences’ opinions which are especially true in theatrical performances (2009, p.4). In the opening scene of the movie there was a display of heavy media coverage. We were shown how the massacre occurred, three different media channels portrayal of the incident and accordingly, the reactions of the diverse audiences. The first coverage shown in the movie was a news reporter stating on television that “peace, of what had been called the serene Olympics, was shattered.” Spielberg then portrayed the Israeli audience that was watching the coverage with intense fear on their faces. The use of the words “peace” and “shattered” in the news coverage was used by Spielberg to emphasize fear in the Israeli audience.

            The second form of framing by the media was shown when another reporter described how a piece of paper was thrown off of a balcony stating that Black September wanted the “Israeli war machine to release two hundred Arabs which they insist are political prisoners or hostages will be killed.” This coverage was then followed by a shot of the Palestinian audience’s reaction, cheering in Arabic: “بالروح بالدم نفديكي يا فلسطين”. This statement translates to: “With our souls and blood we will fight for you Palestine” which is a very powerful chant in the Arabic language that describes the perseverance of the Palestinian people (Arabic). By describing the Israeli government, as “war machines”, it is apparent that this media coverage was framed to be directed towards the Palestinian audience and invoke a feeling of victory and strength.

              The third form of press coverage shown in the movie was a shot of the terrorists watching the coverage of their doings live on television. In this scene, Steven Spielberg promotes the idea mentioned by Barnett & Reynolds of terrorists using the media as a way to promote their cause through publicizing an attack. The media is making the terrorists voices heard just as they wish to be done and promoting their cause through the “oxygen of publicity”.

            Framing is a quality of communication that leads others to accept one meaning over another (Framing). I felt as though Steven Spielberg did a reasonably accurate job at attempting to frame the press through offering the audience a variety of different perspectives. By doing so, Steven Spielberg was able to paint a well rounded picture of both sides’ media coverage of the incident and how the different audiences reacted to the press.

              In the director’s introduction to Munich, Steven Spielberg described how the question this movie is trying to answer is, “is the best defense against violence, counter violence?” Spielberg described that he attempted to answer this question by the use of empathy (Munich). Sympathy with the assassins was attempted to be instilled in the audience through the depiction of the characters personal lives and emotions. This was done by showing Avna, the main character, crying on the phone with his wife and new born baby and showing how he misses them. By doing so, it raises the question to the viewers, is the operation worth leaving his family for? This was done so in order to portray the dedication that Avna shows towards his country.

            Counter violence and how successful it is at solving current issues was the main highlight of this movie. “Why should I cut my fingernails, they will just grow back?” This statement was used a couple of times throughout Munich during scenes where the operations members were beginning to feel that bloodshed was not the solution. Spielberg displayed the face to face terrorism/counter terrorism issue in the scene where Avna, the Jewish operations leader and Ali, the member of the PLO, were having an open conversation describing their motivations behind their actions. Neither of the characters in this scene knew of the others position however they expressed their feelings openly towards the conflict. “If you keep killing, the world will just think you are animals”, Avna described to Ali about the “terrorists”. Ali then responded, “Eventually they will look inside our cage and see why we do what we do.” This scene was framed in a way to depict the idea described by Barnett and Reynolds that “one man’s terrorist, is another man’s freedom fighter.” Both groups are fighting for a cause that they hold dear to them but are able to discuss this matter on a friendly basis, not knowing who the other person really is. Eventually Ali is killed by Avna in a shooting. Spielberg frames this event by using the film technique of slow motion as Avna looks back at Ali falling to the ground dripping blood. This shot was framed in such a manner to invoke a strong emotion in the viewer through empathy.

            My pen pal, Winston Smith*, from Beirut Lebanon, and I had the opportunity to discuss the idea of counter terrorism as displayed by Steven Spielberg in Munich. An argument that occurred towards the end of the film between two of the men on the Jewish operations team went as follows, “Unless we learn to act like them (the terrorists) we will never defeat them.” One of the other Jewish men that was beginning to feel a sense of guilt responded, “We act like them all the time. Do you think the Palestinians invented bloodshed, how do you think we got control over the land, by being nice?” This conversation was framed to display the idea that violence cannot be solved by means of counter violence.

Mr. Smith expressed to me his feelings on the matter by stating, “I feel as though this statement had a lot of power to it, especially coming from Steven Spielberg himself who is Jewish. This is something that a lot of people in the Middle East feel very strongly about. There is a lot of injustice in the way the media often times forgets to look at both sides of the story.” Spielberg portrayed this opposing view by having it said by a Jewish man himself which, through acknowledging a potential self blame, shows accuracy in the framing of the story.

            The message that Steven Spielberg was trying to depict to the viewers was done so through framing. Spielberg used press coverage, visuals, filming techniques and dialogue to potentially infuse to the audience the never-ending cycle of violence that began in 1972 and continues on till this day.

Works Cited

Arabic Language. Web. 09 Mar. 2010. <http://www.arabic-language.org/>.

Barnett, Brooke; Reynolds, Amy. Terrorism and the Press. New York: Peter Lang Publishing 2009.

Charlotte Abbott, Sarah F Gold, and Mark Rotella. “One Day in September: The Full Story of the 1972 Munich Olympics Massacre and the Israeli Revenge Operation “Wrath of God”. Publishers Weekly  24 Apr. 2000: ABI/INFORM Global, ProQuest. Web.  9 Mar. 2010.

“Framing.” Opleidingswebsite Communicatiewetenschap (CW) En Communication Studies (CS). Web. 09 Mar. 2010. <http://www.cw.utwente.nl/theorieenoverzicht/Theory%20clusters/Mass%20Media/Framing.doc/>.

 

Munich: The Introduction by the Director: Steven Spielberg. Dir. Steven Spielberg. Perf. Eric Bana and Daniel Craig. Universal Pictures, 2006. DVD.