Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Munich ("Inspired by Real Events")

I spend a lot of time thinking about how people get their information—what shapes the way they see the world. In fact my answer has much to do with why I decided to pursue a PhD in history. While myriad forces—from family to a flashing message on a bill board might influence thoughts, decisions, ideas . . . my theory is that education and journalism are two of the largest feeders of information about society. We learn a lot about what’s going on in the world around us from what we read in the paper and see on the news, and we hopefully learn to critically analyze that information from the books our teachers assign us to read and the conversations we have in the classroom. Of course, whether or not the journalism is objective and teachers try to expose us to the widest possible variety of views is another topic worthy of discussion—but ideally they both aspire to.

What responsibility, on the other hand, do artists have to tell us when they’re conveying or fabricating “truth” (or at least attempting to do one or the other)? A few days ago one of my parent’s friends started a conversation about “Munich” and the message before the beginning that the film had been “inspired by real events.” Did that announcement mean that some people watching the movie would think that most of the details—down to the emotions felt by former members of the Mossad—represented their real feelings? Would they think that the picture had represented the murder of the Israeli Olympians exactly as it had happened? Would they take the portrayal of the CIA as fact? When I left the movie I told my father that I was sure there had been some articles talking about the kernels of fiction and fact in the film. But I didn’t find many after doing a quick search on Google. It appears Time Magazine wrote a series of articles on the picture (including a cover story) that goes into some detail—but when I went to the magazine’s site I didn’t feel like paying money to access the archives. But the lack of focus on the historical content of the film perhaps speaks to the main message that audiences take away and Spielberg wants to convey—the moral conflict embedded in killing—even if it’s for the love of one’s country.

I know that many have criticized the film for portraying the Palestinians too sympathetically—but I would have to disagree with that assessment. True, we never see a Palestinian or Arab feeling guilty, but I think that implicates them more rather than less. There’s a scene towards the beginning where the Israelis are watching a news report on throngs of Palestinians rejoicing upon the safe return of several of the terrorists. I certainly don’t think that scene, for example, show the Palestinians in a favorable light.

Regardless of how true or not true the movie is to the facts of what happened in 1972—it’s true to the questions still among us over thirty years later. Looking at an image of the World Trade Center towers in the backdrop of the last scene it’s impossible not to wonder whether and how there will ever be peace in the Middle East.

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