Observations and Questions Regarding “Munich”

Steven Speilburg didn’t win the Oscar for Best Picture of the Year with his wonderful film, Munich, but this latest in his series of tragedies is assuredly a personal best.For those who have not seen it, I give it a qualified recommendation, due to the highly disturbing graphic violence and the uncompromising depiction of the lives of professional killers.

For those who have, I am curious to hear your thoughts, to share a few of mine, and a few questions that stuck out to me as I watched the film for the second time.

My goal here is not to point out anything deeply insightful about the movie, nor to present any of my opinions, even where I have them. My goal is to practice the art of asking the right questions in an attempt to stimulate my mind, and that of the reader, to fruitful thought and analysis. Please provide your responses to these questions, or challenge the question itself, or pose a few of your own, in the comment box.
1. Mothering - The Prime Minister plays a brief but unforgettable role in Munich, and it is her commands that set the plot in motion. There are several dialogues on the nature of womanhood and female leadership in the movie. At one point Avner, the main character, is assured that “Isreal is your mother.” Though the assasins and most of the other officers are men, why is it that the head leader is female? What, from the perspective of the film, would have been different, if anything, if the person in leadership had happened to be a man? Is leadership, for Spielburg, which is often associated with “masculinity” and such virtues as strength, decisiveness, purity of will, actually something masculine, or is it more akin to mothering?

2. A quick allusion – At one point, one of the Isreali assasins says, “We don’t want any more spanish bellhops.” I did not catch the allusion. Does any one know to what this refers?

3. Right and wrong - From an examination of the somewhat satirical conversations with Yvonne (sp?) about German philosophy, as well as the poignant moral questions endemic to a movie about organized murder, what is the movie saying about right and wrong? Is morality opposed entirely? Is an alternative morality offered wherein slaying human beings is justifiable?

Also, how might we interpret the life and actions of the “godfather” character, the one who considers Avner “like a son”? Is he presented in a negative light, or is he presented as someone who has done what was needed to provide for his family.
4. Munich is a motion picture, a series of ‘moving pictures’ as well as a script, a construction of words and sentences put in the mouths of characters. Within the script, there are several conversations about the nature and power of narrative. What is the movie saying about stories such as the Arabian Nights which are briefly but loudly featured as being thematically related, as well as the stories Avner’s boss tells him about the way the world is, and about the movie as a whole?

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    Is leadership, for Spielburg, which is often associated with “masculinity” and such virtues as strength, decisiveness, purity of will, actually something masculine, or is it more akin to mothering?

    Leadership seems different from the protective instinct so marked in mothers (but not fathers) in the animal kingdom, which it seems the movie implicitly attributed to the Prime Minister. Since it is instinctual rather than intellectual, it is characterized as an emotional reaction like revenge.

    It has been nearly a year since I saw it so I can’t comment on the movie’s subtleties with confidence. But my memory of my impression of it was that the movie was a bit of a Rorschach test determined by whether you think the assassination of assassins was valid self-preservation or bloodthirsty revenge. Personally I find it hard to condescendingly “tsk tsk” the survival instinct of a people who were recent objects of genocide.

    Ironically, Team America still remains the most sophisticated comment on such issues because of its critique of the black-and-white moral equivalency that Munich and other “all violence is equally condemnable” movies engage in. Munich was to its credit at least a very conflicted movie because it is so self-evident that “violence” ended the Holocaust.

    Munich had echoes of Aeschylus but, like most films, fell short of providing an alternative solution as the Eumenides does. Unfortunately, in this world there is no solution to the “cycle of violence” without a Deus Ex Machina (from which the Odyssey, the Oresteia, and Measure for Measure all benefit).

    As the Eumenides reminds us, the court of justice is the best possible system since it provides for punishment decided by a public jury and administered dispassionately rather than personal revenge exacted by victims or their family. Unfortunately this is only possible within a state and terrorism is not a law & order problem solvable by police action.