Munich and New York

It put me on edge. As I sat in the theater to watch Munich the other night, a preview of Flight 93, a movie about September 11th, came on: “EWR-SFO” gliding across a radar screen, with the voices of actors as passenger-heroes. The event is still too real to be faked and fictionalized already. I dread the dramatization and manipulation and having to ferret out exploitation from agenda.

But then I had to face all that in Munich, Steven Spielberg’s movie about what he wanted the story of the Palestinian murders of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics to be about.

Munich has all the subtlety of a terrorist attack.

Oh, the movie is impressively made. It’s Spielberg. But in the end, it can be reduced to the four key scenes in which Spielberg abandons drama and story-telling to hammer home his points like nails into the skull: There is the scene in which the oh, so likable Palestinian terrorist delivers his soliquey about not having a home. And then there is the scene in which the gentle Jewish toymaker and bombmaker wails and wonders about what it means to be decent when you have to fight to survive. And then there is the boggling juxtaposition between the story’s tortured hero shtupping his wife and the murder of the Israeli athletes; he explodes just as they do and, yes, violence is sex.

But the worst is the final frame, when Spielberg adds back to the New York skyline the twin towers of the World Trade Center. And just what is he trying to say: That killing the terrorists was futile, for they kept killing? Or worse, perhaps, that 9/11 was a counterattack brought on by the counterattacks from our side? I wish he were trying to say that we must continue to hunt down the vermin who perpetrated 9/11 as Israel hunted down those who murdered in Munich. But he leaves little doubt that he is not.

And I wonder what demons Spielberg is using his considerable filmmaking talents to pacify. After his quite laudable recording and dramatization of the Shoah, is he now trying to be fair and balanced to Israel’s enemies? But I can’t imagine him saying that the architects of the Holocaust should not have been brought to justice. Did he instead — to paraphrase the old Air America bit — get the fax with the Hollywood agenda? Well, I don’t believe in conspiracies and cabals, even from Hollywood. Is he paying some penance for Hollywood’s years of glorifying violence? No, he has always been the sweet antidote to movies’ mayhem. In the end, I don’t much care what made him make Munich. But I did not like it. I left angry.

And now I feel even more on edge anticipating the 9/11 movies to come — Flight 93 and Oliver Stone’s and God knows what else that is headed into production.

  • Kid with the hat from your lecture ,

    Check these out. Read with a critical eye, but still look at the entire picture. I know you were there, so your personal experiences probably added to your post 9/11 positions. Still look at the time lines of events and other interesting parts of these sites. Dont’ dismiss them because they challenge every rock your feet are set upon right now. Live a little and Dig Hard for information. \

    These 9/11 movies disgust me to the fullest. It is far too early, and i see no glory in what happened that day. I didnt live through 1972, so i dont know how munich compares to the real events, but i did really enjoy it because it made me really want to change the world at the end. That sounds corny, but it makes you think, and as far as fairness, i felt it displayed the desperation of both sides to do what they believed was right.

  • Wow. Well said, Jeff. You’re insightful when you write about the new world of tech and the internet, but you really shine on this stuff. Very passionate and convincing.

    I haven’t seen the movie but it amazes me to see that people still want to look for excuses for 911. This is a disgrace.

    How about Syriana?

  • Dennis Mosher

    To an earlier generation, Munich was shorthand for a 1938 peace conference hosted by Adolph Hitler. No one was killed in Munich in 1938. The Western democracies merely handed a country and its people to Hitler without a shot fired. But it was in fact a much greater atrocity.

    In both cases, ’38 or ’72, it’s Hobson’s choice: stand up to aggression/terrorism and you get war. Appease aggression/terrorism and you get a bigger war later.

    It’s been over a week, and I still don’t know what to think about Speilberg’s Munich. Up until the end, I looked at the film as a view of the Israelis as damned if they do & damned if they don’t. Either way, the result is more killing.

    The Israelis in the film had the humanity to be haunted by and have doubts about the killings their government assigned to them. I assume there must be some Palistinians somewhere who grieve for dead Israelis — but I never hear about them.

    Speilberg wanted us to stare at the World Trade Center in the final scene of the film. We Americans have the humanity to question the deaths of innocents in Afghanistan and Iraq.

    We question the wisdom and justification of the Iraq invasion, and Pres. Bush estimates 30,000 Iraqi dead, many of them civilians. Maybe there are some Afghans and Iraqis who grieve for dead Americans — but I never hear about them either.

  • Maier,

    Er, I understand that a degree of relativism is OK, but we’re not the terrorists. Got that? We are not the terrorists! Mohammend Atta is a terrorist. BinLaden is a terrorist. Terrorists deliberately put bombs where they will kill innocent civilians. I don’t care whose perspective you want to invoke, but we’re not the terrorists.

    If you took your argument to its logical conclusion, nothing is worth figting for, and every war (WW2 included) was wrong. Violence ended the Nazi regime and violence ended Japanese militarism. War is ugly, real ugly, but if we had given in to Nazism or tried to coax it out of its ways, you would not be enjoying the freedom you now have. Some things are worth fighting for.

  • Dennis Mosher


    You refer people to a website claiming that the 9/11 was really a U.S. government conspiracy.

    You can find websites offering irrefutable proof that we have been visited by flying saucers. They will go on about how the government and mainstream media have conspired to cover this up. They will cite references to other flying saucer websites to give the appearance of “documentation.”

    You can also find neo-nazi white supremecist websites who warn that the U.N. has thousands of troops ready to seize control of the U.S. They will go on about how the government and mainstream media have conspired to cover this up.

    In Los Angeles, someone is advertising on the radio an herbal supplement that will help your children grow taller. (100% money back guarantee.)

    The point here is that just because somebody says something, it ain’t necessarily so. There are hucksters out there, and some of them are very skillful. You tend to find them on the far fringes of political thought, religion, and alternative health.

    Please be more skeptical. This world is full of scam artists.

  • Dennis Mosher

    Apologies to Maier!

    The post to which I replied was written by “Kid in the hat from your lecture”

  • Maier

    I didnt say these websites are the be all and end all of the issue. I am not convinced of the official accounts of 9/11. I dont know what to believe, but judging the amount of time you took to respond to my post, it seems you havent spent as much time looking into these websites as I have. I do not know the truth, but i say be skeptical of everybody, because alot of things dont make sense here. Keep reading and open your eyes to the lies.

    And I am the kid in the hat. That was so Jeff could have a reference point.

    – TO Ken, i definitly didnt call the US terrorists, I said that it could be seen that way by someone on the other side of a bomb. We all breathe the same air and have the same genetic makeup.

  • The fun thing about politics and movies and opinion is that every single one is different.

    I’ve read scholarly papers defending terrorism as a tactic. There are arguments.

    As to Munich, I think it was a fantastic movie. Jeff seems to have found some of the more striking imagery in the film and either misinterpreted it or ignored the fact that he was probably having the reactions they were intended to create.

    There is the scene in which the oh, so likable Palestinian terrorist delivers his soliquey about not having a home.

    The point is that Palestinians are people, too. And many of them feel like they do not have a home. So much conflict in the world arises from the fact that we forget to paint a picture of humanity on those we would consider our enemies.

    Is it such blasphemy to think that there might be a Palestinian terrorist who considers his fight to be worthwhile? How can you suggest that a movie about this kind of topic should be so patently two-dimentional as to ignore the humanity of Palestinians?

    And then there is the scene in which the gentle Jewish toymaker and bombmaker wails and wonders about what it means to be decent when you have to fight to survive.

    Frankly, I don’t see why this is a bad thing to include. It seems like a valid question to me, and one that would certainly occur if one spent too much time thinking about it.

    To say that “fighting to survive” is a means and an ends in itself that justifies all kinds of violence found in Munich is a disturbing suggestion.

    And then there is the boggling juxtaposition between the story’s tortured hero shtupping his wife and the murder of the Israeli athletes; he explodes just as they do and, yes, violence is sex.

    This seems to be misaligned. After spending so much time living undercover, in fear of his life, and killing people who are not, stricly speaking, looking very threatening, the main character’s head has been taken for a spin.

    The imagery shouldn’t suggest so much that sex is violence as it should suggest the level to which these events have tortured his psyche. He can’t make love to his wife without these images passing through his head. There’s an association between the intimacy of sex and the intimacy of the violent situation. There’s a sense of things being “wrong” in both parallel scenes.

    Certainly there’s that association, but it’s not the main point.

    But the worst is the final frame, when Spielberg adds back to the New York skyline the twin towers of the World Trade Center.

    I think this has been covered by Dennis

  • Phantom Flight 93: The Shanksville-Flight 93 Hoax puts forth an extremely convincing argument that Flight 93 did not meet its demise in Shanksville, Pa. on the morning of September 11, 2001, but was instead shot down by U.S. military forces and subsequently crash landed in the rural hamlet of New Baltimore, Pa., 6-8 miles away from where the government alleges this event took place. Furthermore, to create a massive diversionary site to draw attention away from the actual wreckage in New Baltimore, a missile was fired into an abandoned strip mine in Shanksville, Pa. – the result of this ordnance blast being a 200-foot mushroom cloud and an 8-10 foot deep crater, but absolutely no airplane wreckage whatsoever. In other words, while the media’s attention was focused on Shanksville, the actual debris from Flight 93 was clandestinely being scuttled away from New Baltimore, Pa., which had been immediately cordoned-off by the FBI and local State Police.


  • Mumblix Grumph

    What do you expect from a gay Marxist screenwriter (Tony Kushner)?

    He and the President of Iran both agree that Israel should not exist.

    God, I’m beginning to loathe the Left.

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  • ed

    Mumblix, in bitterly pointing out the screenwriter’s irrelevant to the discussion sexuality, it would seem your loathing already had a substantial foundation.

  • Fronts

    The reading of “Munich” as “terrorists = good, responding to terrorists = bad” proves that the poster either did not see the film or lacks the intellectual capacity to metabolize anything beyond Sean Hannity. Spielberg’s “Munich” is by far his best film, because it doesn’t have the same kind of easy to understand, bang you over the head, emotional cloying of some of his other “serious” films. The core message of the film is about being held hostage by history, which seems to be defined by an endless cycle of bloodletting, it contrasts the Israelis and Palestinians as people abused by history and desperately trying to find a sense of “home” and “safety.” It reminded me of the quote from Joyce, “history is a nightmare, from which I’m desperately trying to awake.” Nothing could sum this film up better. The real “message” of this film is not that we are totally responsible for terrorism, or that its ever justified to kill innocent people, but that one should never be more loyal to an idea, a nation, a religion, a culture than to your own family and friends, which is what is truly important.
    The actual Munich massacre is shown in such full and unsparing detail, it is hard to imagine how anyone could read this movie as being an apologia to terrorism, the Palenstinian terrorists that are targeted for assassination are hardly characters, but when they are portrayed–the “Oh, so likable Palestinian terrorist” Mr. Jarvis describes–are seen as neither inhuman monsters or misunderstood freedom fighters, but simply as human beings, who like all of us are capable of doing horrible things in the name of what they believe is right. I can understand why this offends many of the simply minded so deeply. If anything Spielberg let the Israelis off lightly by having the main character Avner be so conflicted about his grim task. The film also leaves out the facts concerning the case of Mossad agents abducting and killing a completely innocent man in their pursuit of retribution–see the new book “Striking Back”–at the end of the day the film does not make the case that there is no difference between terrorism and counter-terrorism, and provides no easy answers as to the use of violence in confronting terrorism, but what it does show is that all violence in the service of making a political point is ugly, dirty, and ultimately hopeless. The use of the twin towers in the final shot underscores the sense of being trapped by history, Avner decides to live with his family in Brooklyn and not return to Israel, feeling alienated from his homeland, but Spielberg reminds us with the final shot that no one can really escape history, that everyone is part of the game whether they like it or not.

  • Dr. Mathews

    Terrorism. Genocide. When is Mr. Spielberg going to produce a movie about the genocide and on-going terrorism in the Congo? Ever since Mobutu’s bloody regime was overthrown in 1997, the Congo has suffered the equivalent of the Holocaust in a civil war that involved eight other nations — Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Angola, Namibia, Chad, Sudan, and Libya – as well as various armed groups. Although officially over in 2002, with a death toll estimated at 3.3 million, the death-rate continues albeit at a much subdued level. Need documentation? Go to Human Rights Watch: or read the (British Medical Journal) Lancet’s report on mortality in that country.

  • Devi

    “violence in the service of making a political point is ugly, dirty, and ultimately hopeless.” Amen.

    ” The use of the twin towers in the final shot underscores the sense of being trapped by history …” Maybe, but Spielberg said he put them in for historical accuracy. It just happens to be ironic and thought-provoking and gut-wrenching.

    I wonder if he also deleted skyscrapers built since the ’70s?

    Hey, Fronts — nice analysis, btw.

  • Andrew

    Well I just saw munich and enjoyed it for being an intelligently written movie that gets us thinking about what we are told, and the real reasons we fight.

    With respect to its angle on terrorism it sits very comfortably with another movie out now called ‘Why we fight’ a BBC documentary detailing the business of terrorism/counter terrorism/defence. A definite msut see!

  • As much as we would like to be objective, subjectivity has got most of us by the horn. The best thing that can possibly happen to the average person is to instill in them a sense of self-reliance and the ability to objectively disect any story presented to them and arrive at their own individual judgement. Then, we won’t need to engage in long conversations to try to undo the damage that some individual’s way of depicting a historic event has caused.


  • Barry

    Where to begin?? First off, kudos to Spielberg. He seems to have left the schmaltz in the shit pipe where it belongs and hit us with a realistic depiction of the nastiness of violence. The final shot of the twin towers was like a mule kick to the jewels. Powerful stuff indeed. There seems to be much kvetching on this site about the bomb maker and his demons. All he was saying was in reference to the karmic ramifications of bumping people off. Yes, the terrorist s were absolute scumbags. There can be no argument made to refute this. Not even by the most leftist liberal douchbag. And there are many of these. Put them in a foxhole I say and watch that crap fly out the window with the rest of the phoney shit that prevails from left leaning pussies these days. They needed to be taken out but it was a wine cork in the levee me thinks. On the flip side the right wing fuckwits that prevail in certain regions think that life is a John Wayne movie where the killers can return to life as usual after ending somebody elses journey through this world. This is utter bullshit and anyone who has ever looked through a rifle at another man knows this. Ones soul has a funny way of cashing the chips in whether we like it or not.

    This stuff has been going on since David flung a rock at Goliath. Whether you are flinging petrol bombs in Belfast, Gaze or Ramadi. We all want the same thing. A piece of land to call our own.

    Once again, hats off to Spielberg for a thought provoking insightful film.

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