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.