"For him it is a movie. For us it is our life’s tragedy."

So said one of the widows of the ’72 Israeli Olympic team said after watching a special screening of Spielberg’s latest, Munich.

It’s true: movies are not life. Movies use life. Historical events, life’s details and debris, people and personalities, fantasies, intimacies–movies reframe and rearrange life into a visual narrative conveying a select, edited experience (or, as is inevitable for Spielberg, communicating a humanistic homily). Good movies, the best ones, reach their own truth in the process of reframing–the new creation accesses some understanding about the human condition that the assumptions and ruts and general miasma of daily life overwhelm. That’s what good movies do.

Most of the reviews about Munich are absorbed by the task of uncovering Spielberg’s message—is he pro-Isreal? Pro-Palestine? Morally ambiguous? Relativist? Pro-Peace? What is he trying to say? They miss the point entirely, which is that Munich says nothing, because it is a bad movie.

What is touted as political even-handedness is actually childishly simplistic analysis. The movie is too long, plodding, pointlessly slow; the last hour is a cascade of scenes that all feel like they should be the final scene, none of which, somehow, manage to end the damn movie. The dialogue is lumpen and melodramatic; the events and images cliched*; the “suspense” oddly disconnected; the characters and their psychologies seem two or three steps removed from actual people, as if they were derived from the world of Hollywood characters instead of the world.

But what completely strips Munich of any legitimacy is that it, in no way, traffics in truth: not the truth of historical events, not the truth of governmental or secret service procedure, not the truth of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and especially not the truth of national character (I can only speak for how far they missed the mark on how Israelis think and behave and communicate–and can only guess at similar missteps in portrayals of French and Palestinians).

Screenwriter Tony Kushner, in his epic Angels in America, successfully accessed the big metaphors of human experience through dialogue–because he knew his characters. In his very bones Kushner understands the spoken vernaculars and unspoken nuances of gay America, American Jews, American bureaucracy, various American drags, American fantasies of frontier and power. The script of Munich demonstrates a profound ignorance of what Israelis are like, and a profound ignorance of how Middle Eastern traumas–from military to terror to occupation–manifest themselves in the lives and behaviors of people.

Spielberg acknowledges in the opening credits that the movie is “inspired by true events.” But you wonder why he used those events when he seemed so assiduously committed to ignoring all the potent, provocative truths that emerge when such events are researched and explored.

If one is telling a story about an event that happened within our historical memory, it is imperative to sit back, put aside your assumptions of what “the story” is, letting it instead emerge from what the subjects tell you. To be humble enough to be a student to someone else’s reality, and then artist enough to reframe the story and return it to them.

Spielberg should have used the Munich story to portray a world in which two peoples, so alike and so divided, perform acts of horrific violence against each other because both find it crucial for their very survival. And no one ever has a moral qualm, because these acts are so necessary–even as they may damage nation and body and psyche. That’s the deadlock of the Middle East. That’s the damn story. (And by the way–Spielberg would never question the historical necessity of Americans fighting World War II–but of course he can imagine an Israeli Mossad agent wringing his hands over those deaths–what a fucking typical American Jew.)

Oy, Stevie. You’ve overreached your ability to understand and elucidate history. Go back to making Indiana Jones movies.

*I called the Twin Towers being CGI’d into the background from the very moment the final scene overlooking the East River began.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s