Munich of Fact and Fiction

By Yacowar, Maurice | Queen's Quarterly, Spring 2006 | Go to article overview

Munich of Fact and Fiction


Yacowar, Maurice, Queen's Quarterly


STEVEN SPIELBERG'S Munich (2005) confirms that the director is an expert filmmaker, especially deft at the sentimental pot boiler. This is a suspenseful tale about a small Israeli team dispatched to kill eleven Black September terrorists who have played key roles in the slaughter of eleven Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympic games in Munich. The characters are off-beat and intriguing and the backdrops convincingly detailed, right down to the Hebrew Coca Cola sign in Israel and the Pepsi sign over the wan disco in Beirut. Beautifully crafted, this film has the feel of history.

But a filmmaker is not a historian, on three counts. One, any source holds only one among many perspectives--hence the axiom that "a history" is only the fiction that one chooses to believe. Two, any "fact" can resonate as a metaphor once it appears in a work of art. Those Coke and Pepsi signs become partner emblems of American influence--or of a global war that only the mother of all takeovers can resolve. Finally, those new metaphors make any period film not only about the time in which it is set, but about the time in which it is made. The profound film will also be about the time (and culture) in which it is viewed. For in Aristotle's distinction history deals merely with what happened once, while poetry (i.e. fiction) tunes into universal patterns. Medea, c'est moi.

Spielberg nicely blends explosions with moral philosophizing and weaves an atmosphere of cynicism and betrayal familiar to those who love the work of John le Carre. But Munich falls apart as history, both as a reflection upon the Middle East in 1972 and upon the situation there today. Anticipating this problem, he early declares that the film is only "inspired by real events," then identifies its source as George Jonas's book, Vengeance (1984). Jonas (in "The Spielberg Massacre," Maclean's, 9 January 2006) has defined Spielberg's divagation:

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

  Vengeance holds there is a difference between terrorism and
  counter-terrorism; Munich suggests there isn't. The book has no
  trouble telling an act of war from a war crime; the film finds it
  difficult. Spielberg's movie worries about the moral trap of resisting
  terror; my book worries about the moral trap of not resisting it.

The problem is not that Spielberg's "history" rewrote Jonas's "history" but that his film inadequately meets the present situation. Had Spielberg instead showed Ptomania avenging their team's slaughter at the Freedonia Olympics, his fiction could have preserved the artful explosions and wistful philosophy without spreading such dangerous naivete about today's Middle East. But this is about more than just fiction.

THE OPENING title expresses today's sensibilities much more than those of 1972. The name "Munich" emerges from a screenful of international cities, as if the ensuing drama could have happened in any one of them. But at the time, Munich was a solitary target/opportunity. The terrorists, of course, have since gone global. We are reminded of this in the film's closing frames when we see the (digitally recreated) twin towers of the World Trade Center dominating the Manhattan skyline, behind the avenging hero Avner (Eric Bana), a ghost-elect. And this cosmopolitan scene further reminds us of Avner's globetrotting before he finally took refuge in New York--we remember the bank accounts he has accessed in Geneva and the targets he has accessed in Rome, Paris, Amsterdam, and Athens.

The cynicism emphasizes the film's genre roots over reality. For all the Israeli particulars, Avner becomes just another spy who tries to come in from the cold. His key source--the mysterious Frenchman Louis (Mathieu Amalric)--at one point tells him, "You have no idea who you work for. Trust me." Avner adopts this murky cloak himself when it suits his purpose: "Everyone works for someone." The monetary intelligence ethic is brought home by the cranky Mossad accountant (Oded Teomi), who testily insists that his killing squad "bring me receipts"--a bit of stereotyping only a Jewish director could get away with.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Munich of Fact and Fiction
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.