Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Fri Dec 23, 2005 10:15 pm 
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The artistically dubious and the morally dubious: is Spielberg's 'Munich' a "discussion" of anything?

Critics discuss how Spielberg's Munich has "the weight of a moral argument" (Dargis). This view is that the main counterterrorist Avner's growing self-doubts confer upon him humanity that will assuage the general (non-Jewish, non-Zionist, non-Israeli?) audience's doubts about the violent Israeli mission to avenge the Black September Munich killings that the film describes.

How does this ever add up to more than just saying that revenge murders are okay as long as you feel compunctions beforehand about doing them?

In a violent world and under severe moral pressure that may indeed be a necessary position. There are circumstances in which violent action must be taken, even by the most moral persons.

But was this one of them? Has Israel's subsequent policy leading up to the partitioning and occupation of most of Palestinian land, leaving those territories that remain to the Palestinians the status of nothing but Bantustans, now surrounded by a billion-dollar high wall that cuts off the best resources and makes the Palestinians the inhabitants of a large open-air concentration camp -- shown moral wisdom? Has Palestinian violence been lessened by any of Israeli's actions against the Palestinians?

Is Munich any way of presenting a debate about all that? For that matter, does a violent, vivid action movie, even one that has quiet moments of self-doubt, give us the best opportunity for moral discussion? Does it raise the issues? Does it present alternatives? Does it present the larger picture? Though Palestinians don't get a story; the Jews do. Spielberg is a Jew. His two writers are Jews. And his main characters are Jews. As Dargis says, there was "an obvious effort made to ensure that the Palestinian terrorists are more than faceless thugs (they are thugs with faces and speeches)." Is that good enough?

As Anthony Lane pointed out in his review of Munich, Spielberg has shown in the past that he isn't a political filmmaker. His possibility of conducting a "discussion" of moral issues is limited not only by his predilection for what Dargis called "emotional bullying and pop thrills" but by his very choice of material for this movie: the Black September massacre at the Munich Olympics and the Israeli campaign to gradually wipe out the perpetrators. There is the pull of making a thriller. There is the pull of making a film based on real events that feels accurate and seems like real events as well as closely referring to them.

But since due to the secretive nature of the operation and the fact that due to the Israeli government's refusal to reveal any involvement in it, not everything is known, to cope with the story's uncertainties the best method of presentation would be not a fiction movie at all but a documentary done by investigative journalists.

The moral issues involved come in as a weak third or fourth element after all this, and would be quite overwhelmed by the thriller, the recreation of real events, and the concern with unknown elements, were it not for the quiet moments of self-doubt the main character, Avner, exists as a character primarily to interject. These doubts, Dargis and other viewers feel, (as she wrote) "give Munch the weight of a moral argument. It's an argument, though, that has little to do with whether Israel has a right to exist or whether the Palestinians have the right of return. Only this matters: blood has its costs, even blood shed in righteous defense."

What's the discussion Dargis talks about, then? And finally, what is the purpose of this movie? Is a counterterrorist better than a terrorist? The word "counterterrorist" sounds nicer but masks that he too is carrying out acts of terror. This issue, though a relatively shadowy one, can be related to the issue of capital punishment. A majority of the world's nations have doubts about capital punishment (122 have abolished it, 72 still retain it, according to Amnesty International). But capital punishment, anyway, is formal governmental killing. Whether or not it is morally defensible or practically effective as a deterrent, it is an act of law, not of violent assassination. "Counterterrorism" is different in that it perpetuates not only killing ("an eye for an eye") but also acts of terror.

Spielberg has not abandoned the "emotional bullying and pop thrills" Dargis refers to, in making Munich; he has simply added a sympathetic central character, a state assassin who has doubts.

This is not to say that Munich lacks complexity in detail and some technically effective action sequences. Spielberg is a filmmaker of such skill that everyone who loves cinema has to see what he does. And I would much rather watch this than War of the Worlds. But it means that the film may lack the moral value or the political sophistication its advocates lay claim to for it.

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┬ęChris Knipp. Blog: http://chrisknipp.blogspot.com/.


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 Post subject: Feliz Navidad
PostPosted: Sat Dec 24, 2005 12:51 pm 
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Joined: Wed Nov 26, 2003 12:35 pm
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Merry Christmas Chris.

It was a good and bad year.

(Fairly good for films and bad for the politics...)

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