This Friday, Steven Spielberg’s latest film opens in the UK and both he and his screenwriter have recently defended the film against a barrage of criticism.
Munich is a dramatisation of the Israeli attempt to avenge the brutal massacre of members of the Israeli Olympic team at the 1972 Olympics. Based in part on ‘Vengeance’ a 1984 book by Canadian journalist George Jonas, the film depicts the moral questions the Israeli assassination team face when they have to track down and kill Palestinians linked to the Munich killings.
Initially, Spielberg’s approach in publicising the film was decidedly low key. Apart from an exclusive interview with Time he seemed determined for the film to ‘speak for itself’. But in this day and age if you let a vacuum develop around a film dealing with a controversial issue, it soon fills up with opinions from all sides.
As might be expected, a slew of critics lined up to attack the film: David Brooks attacked the film in the New York Times claiming that Spielberg had got ‘reality wrong’; Leon Wieseltier of The New Republic accused the film of ‘the sin of equivalence’; from the other side of the political divide, Abu Daoud (one of the surviving members of Black September) has lambasted the film for focusing on the ‘Zionist side alone’; one right wing blogger was so disgusted she declared that she didn’t want to waste her money on it; even George Jonas has criticised the film for violating the spirit of his book.
However, Spielberg and Kushner – one of his two credited screenwriters – have finally started to respond to these criticisms. In a recent interview with German weekly Der Spielgel Spielberg has hit back at his critics, saying:
"These critics are acting as if we were all missing a moral compass. Of course it is a horrible, abominable crime when people are taken hostage and killed like in Munich. But it does not excuse the act when you ask what the motives of the perpetrators were and show that they were also individuals with families and a history…. Understanding does not mean forgiving. Understanding does not mean being soft, it is a courageous and strong stance."
“I think it’s the refusal of the film to reduce the Mideast controversy, and the problematics of terrorism and counterterrorism, to sound bites and spin that has brought forth charges of "moral equivalence" from people whose politics are best served by simple morality tales. We live in the Shock and Awe Era, in which instant strike-back and blow-for-blow aggression often trump the laborious process of analysis, investigation and diplomacy. "Munich‘s" questioning spirit is an affront to armchair warrior columnists who understand power only as firepower. We’re at war, and the job of artists in wartime, they seem to feel, is to provide the kind of characters and situations that are staples of propaganda: cleanly representative of Good or Evil, and obedient to the Message.”
Criticisms of the film, from both sides of the political spectrum, seem likely to rumble on as it is released in Israel and Germany this week. I will post a full review of the film later in the week.
Munich is released nationwide this Friday.
> Watch the trailer
> Tony Kushner discusses the film and the controversy surrounding it with NPR
> The Observer’s veteran correspondent Neal Ascherson discusses the film
> Michelle Goldberg in Der Spiegel reports on the criticisms of the film
> Time magazine’s (then) exclusive interview with Spielberg (via The Hot Blog)