Sunday, January 08, 2006


Christ is in our midst!

Hello to all contributors and readers of this blog...I was recently invited by Major Jones to contribute my review of the film "Munich". It is posted below.

I thank Major Jones for inviting me, and look forward to reading and contributing when called upon.

God Bless,
JB - aka Dawnwatchman


A Review of the Film and the Light It Sheds

Spoiler Warning: this article contains extensive discussion of how the movie progresses and ends. Moniti Estis!

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Thou shalt not pity him, but shalt require life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.” – Deut., 19:21

According to this maxim, it seems, do the current leadership and supporters of the Israeli and Palestinian peoples conduct their business with each other. Indeed, Israel, Palestine, and the Arab world in general display merely superficial intent of finding a peaceful solution to their problems. To make matters worse, it seems a decisive confrontation is looming in the light of the weapons inspections shortly to be conducted in Iran. That is to say, for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – president of Iran and now famous for his “new” final solution of wiping Israel off the face of the earth – and for Sharon – who has threatened war in March if said weapons inspections fail to satisfy – any peaceful resolution seems to be impossible.

Recently I was able to see “Munich”, Steven Spielberg’s latest motion picture endeavor, which is based of the book “Vengeance” by George Jonas. The movie begins when Avner, an unimportant Mossad office worker played by Eric Bana, is offered a mission to hunt down and kill significant PLO operatives who planned the attack during the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. The events in Munich involved an organization known as “Black September”, who took hostage and eventually killed 11 Israeli athletes and officials. As a retaliation, Avner and a team of four other men hunt down and kill six of the eleven men on the Israeli hit list who are connected with this attack. However, it is through this baptism of blood that Spielberg is able to point us away from the futile strategy of vengeance, and, ironically and unavoidably, towards the Old Law’s successor.

Avner is given this role as covert assassin at a high price: he becomes “officially unofficial”, he no longer exists according to the Israeli government, he is not allowed to see his wife, and is not given evidence of the crimes which the men he is killing have committed. He is essentially a pawn in his government’s hands.

While the movie is only based on the events that actually occurred, the parallels with reality are easy to draw. Israel and Palestine are able to conduct their operations because they have a large, energetic, patriotic, and willing pool of fighters. Avner himself is such a person, who is fiercely patriotic, although himself a quiet personality. Through the course of the film, Avner encounters similar patriotism in men fighting for the other side. The general principle, that much of the fighting in the Middle East receives its impetus from the fiery young, is not inferred without basis from this film.

The film itself is without a doubt well made on all points: direction, cinematography, editing, scoring, and writing. We are drawn into the story as Spielberg relentlessly weaves powerful themes of personal drama and political conflict together. Avner is a new father: when he leaves on this mission, his wife is seven months pregnant. Avner’s team is alive with patriotism: they all want to avenge the injustice their country has suffered at Munich.

Problems accompany them at the very outset. By force of circumstances, Avner cannot be provided with intelligence concerning his targets by the Israeli government, and must resort to buying information off the black market. He and his team are slowly enfolded in a web of murder and suspicion, for as soon as they start killing their targets, the other side begins to retaliate, and eventually even they are hunted. As the tension within the team escalates, so does the violence that they create. Three members of the team eventually die, and it is only after such a long, brutal, morally exhausting, and desensitizing ordeal that Avner learns his lesson, and gives up the chase.

The film is very graphic in its portrayal of violence and nudity. However, Spielberg completely avoids all ends of titillation with such material, and maturely portrays these elements as parts of the events his film encounters. Although the “R” rating is entirely justified, it not the end for which the movie earns the rating. Rather, the end of the movie effects the rating without culpable intent, and in the process leads the viewer through several key scenes which reveal Avner’s change of heart, and the growing momentum which Spielberg uses to drive his point home.

The first scene is a classically orchestrated montage of the unintended victim. Avner and Co. plan to assassinate their second target by placing a bomb in the man’s telephone. However, the man’s daughter answers the phone on the first attempt. According to the purity of their initial motives, they narrowly avoid setting off the bomb, and wait for a second attempt. In these first few stages of their endeavors, they convince themselves that they occupy the moral high ground, and operate without qualm.

This certainty is shaken at first by the retaliations that result from their actions. Black September answers with murders of their own. They brush off these events: the two sides are merely “in dialog” now. Just before their fourth attempt, however, the team is awoken in the middle of the night by an opposing PLO team of assassins which innocuously walks into what they think is an unoccupied safe house. Avner avoids a fight by claiming to be a Red faction operation. As he converses with his enemy that night, however, we learn along with Avner what the young Palestinian leader holds as a motive for his fighting: to earn a home. This theme is developed throughout the rest of the film. Furthermore, we encounter through this flesh-and-blood conflict the blind determinacy that drives these two men. Perhaps for the first time, Avner is forced to face his convictions in a different light.

Other members of Avner’s team have similar questions about their righteousness as the film unfolds. After the first member of their team is killed by a contract killer, the survivors take leave from their primary mission and leave for Holland to hunt down the temptress responsible for the deed. It is here that the team’s bomb-maker, Robert, cannot go on. “We are supposed to be the righteous ones,” he protests to Avner, questioning their justification for going out of their way to kill without orders. But Avner and the others continue to invoke “eye for an eye”. Robert leaves the group, planning to rejoin when they resume their mission.

However, Robert’s resolution is short lived. In two quick strokes, another of the team is knifed in Holland, and Robert suffers his own poison by his own hand. Avner himself is reduced to paranoia. He tears his room apart, fearing bombs intended for him. His resolve is slipping, but he gathers himself, and the remaining member of his team, and tries to continue.

Their last attempt proves hopelessly futile. Trying to assassinate an important leader, they are spotted by a young guard still in his teens. Avner is forced to shoot him as they escape, and in several seconds of film frame, we see that this murder is the final cataclysmic event in Avner’s change of heart. The escape is Avner’s last. He returns to Israel and resigns. He is a changed man: the two young Israeli guards who enthusiastically greet him at the airport revere him as a hero, but this hero’s eyes betray the knowledge of the truth of things that he has learned. He no longer believes in his cause, and only fears the effects of his actions, and suffers along with his country.

Indeed, this fear and suffering is brought to a climax as the movie ends. Avner, suspecting even the Mossad intends to kill him, attracts the attention of his former boss, Ephraim, who comes to Avner’s new home in Brooklyn to reassure him of his safety, and that of his family. Ephraim also reveals to Avner that the men his team was killing weren’t necessarily the organizers of the Munich attacks; they were only suspects on a Mossad hit list, who Avner killed without proof of wrongdoing, and who even Avner asserts should have been given instead a fair trial. This does not faze Ephraim. Such is the price that must be paid for freedom and a home. He asks Avner why he has abandoned his country and now lives in America. He implores Avner to come home. Avner refuses. His home is no longer true to what a Jew really believes in. Instead, he asks him, “Ephraim, come break bread with me.” Come to my home. It is written somewhere: come break bread with me. Ephraim refuses. He cannot come, even to break bread with a fellow Jew.

Herein lies Avner’s suffering. The violence his people are perpetrating make them less and less Jews. Thus the last scene in the movie calms somewhat Avner’s fears about his safety and that of his family, but they only intensify his anguish over the fate his people are racing towards: that of self-destruction. To drive this point home, Spielberg cinematically connects Avner’s pain with ours. As Avner leaves the run-down playground in which he has conversed with Ephraim and walks out of the screen, credits beginning to roll, Spielberg’s camera frame centers upon the Twin Towers, still standing back in the 1970’s. The pain our country has experienced is connected with the pain Avner suffers over his country. We have both suffered the same violence towards our homes.

We are invited to share tears. Tears which Avner sheds only twice. He cries for the second time when he returns home and, even reuniting with his wife in the marital act, cannot avoid thinking of the suffering in Munich that he was trying to avenge. The first time is more evocative. Earlier in the movie, just after he has refused the advances of the “honey trap” that eventually ensnares and effects the first casualty of the team, Avner calls his wife in Brooklyn. She puts their daughter on the phone, barely over a year old, and she greets her father with an enthusiastic “Dada!” Avner breaks down weeping. Despite all the violence his soul suffers because of his deeds, Avner retains an unbreakable love of family and country, which love causes him to cast aside what he finds is a futile solution, and return to what he loves, to the extent that he can.

“Munich” speaks extensively about home, brotherhood, morals, and achieving peace on earth. However, these themes are secondary to the point Spielberg is trying to make through a powerful meditation. The dogma of an eye for an eye does not work. Here is where the irony comes into play, for the solution is most likely beyond what Spielberg intended. For we know that only the New Law is capable of justifying a man in the sight of God. Therefore, the problems and conflicts in the Middle East can’t be arbitrated using a precept of the Old Law. The New Law alone is sufficient. What this means is something which neither side is willing to accept. Israelis and Palestinians need to learn to live together. To break bread together, so to speak. It’s either that or somebody has to relocate to another part of the world, either of this life or the next. In better words, the Old Law must pass away:

You have heard that it hath been said: An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you not to resist evil: but if one strike thee on thy right cheek, turn to him also the other.” – Matt., 5:38-39

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