Wednesday, June 20, 2007


Munich, A Steven Spielberg film on the events following the massacre of Israeli athletes during the 1971 Munich Olympics, by gunmen from a Palestinian group, Black September.

Partly for vengeance and partly as deterrence against future attacks, Israel decided to launch Operation Wrath of God – whose mission was to identify and assassinate those who had been part of the Black September campaign. Mossad, the intelligence and special operations agency took the lead, putting together a special team (some claim, several special teams) for this purpose and a series of attacks were made upon key Palestinians. The Operation was subjected to a great deal of criticism especially in the aftermath of the "Lillehammer affair" in which a team of Mossad Agents mistakenly killed a Moroccan waiter in the town of Lillehammer, Norway – mistaking him for Ali Hassan Salameh, believed to be the mastermind behind the Munich Killings. International outrage over this incident led to a temporary suspension of this operation, but it was revived under after change of Israeli leadership – from Golda Meir to Menachem Begin – and Salameh was eventually found and assassinated.

Munich is described by Spielberg as “historical fiction” that builds upon these events. The story revolves around an assassination squad of five people led by a junior Mossad agent who are entrusted with the job of tracking down and killing 11 Black September terrorists. The plot develops with some deviations from the actual sequence of events - the Lillehammer affair does not find a mention - however the Beirut affair ("Operation Spring of Youth") is included as is the long hunt for Salameh. An addition to the plot is a confrontation scene with some PLO operatives, where the parties launch into a discussion of middle-east politics. Towards the end of movie, the growing insecurity – as they are subjected to counter attacks - and disillusionment of the 5-man squad as they grapple with questions of morality and value of the task undertaken by them, begin to take the fore ground.

The film – which was not a box office success, though it was nominated for the Academy Awards – received a mixed response. Indeed, many people who claimed to have enjoyed the movie per se, did not see it as a representative account of the Operation Wrath of God. Some took issue with the projection of the Mossad squad as a disillusioned bunch; some also protested against the fact that Spielberg told the story from a neutral point of view. Many of the others felt that Munich was not sufficiently rigorous intellectually and its attempt to examine issues of self determination, competing nationalisms, international crimes, counterterrorism, use of force etc was rather superficial.

In one review carried by the Chicago Tribune, Alisson Benedikt states that Munich is “a competent thriller, but as an intellectual pursuit, it is little more than a pretty prism through which superficial Jewish guilt and generalized Palestinian nationalism look like the product of serious soul-searching.” She goes on to ask “Do we need another handsome, well-assembled, entertaining movie to prove that we all bleed red?”. Adds Blogcritics’ Alan Dale, suggesting the Spielberg has reduced the film to a good action flick but not much else “the brow-scrunching and ethical debates don't grow out of the assassinations, they merely follow them, and are not only inadequate but irrelevant.” Quite to the contrary, Kirk Honeycutt of the Hollywood Reporter claims Munich is “a thought-provoking, highly charged inquiry into the political, moral and historical ramifications of terrorism and the effort to combat this scourge. While “Munich” does not lack for action and intrigue -- indeed it brims with it -- Spielberg deliberately mutes the tone of these events so the film can address the ethics of counterterrorism, in this case assassinations.” Mick LeSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle adds “Munich” will be looked to as a popular document from early in America's terrorism struggle… [It] captures the bewilderment of its historical moment. It's an emotional film disguised as a thoughtful film, an artfully executed wail of frustration. As such, it's the most complete post-Sept. 11 time capsule since Spike Lee's “25th Hour.”

Nationalism; guilt; counterterrorism; ethics; political, moral and historical ramifications of terrorism; post September 11 time capsule - the movie is meant as a journey from the immediate aftermath of a terrorist strike – when the adrenalin is flowing and one wants instant and bloody vengeance, to the gradual ebbing away of the certainty in your cause, in the face of its violent ghastliness. It is well worth a watch just to answer whether it is an adequate rendition of the same.

Note: The picture is a photo of the Israeli Olympic team to the 1971 Munich Olympics, taken from Wikipedia.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very thought provoking and highly disturbing.

Amalgamates history and facts by binding them to each other and tries to glue them together with humility and soul seeking.

Leaves one with questions laid deep down within the heart and soul.

Who and why is not relevant anymore it is but a voice from afar that haunts mankind.