Without the bullwhip and hat, but with his camera, his moviola, and his trusted young sidekick, Tony Kushner, Steven Spielberg has set out to do what no great head of government alone or in concert, no statesman, not even Winston Churchill, not even the United Nations when it was still shiny, hopeful, and had clout, has been able to do since the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire — solve the riddle of the Middle East.
Befitting such an heroic undertaking, Time magazine has put Spielberg on its cover and gave him eight pages of copy and pictures with which to hyp…er…celebrate his new movie Munich, which the magazine calls his “Secret Masterpiece.”
In the fantasy world of Steven Spielberg, ever since he was a little boy making movies, every hero has had a secret bit of magic up his sleeve with which to win the struggle against evil and this time the magic is his new movie Munich. It is with Munich that he plans to solve the Arab/Israeli problem. How? You’ll be surprised.
The movie takes its name from the events that occurred on September 5, 1972, at the Olympic Games held in Munich that year. On that day 11 young Israeli athletes were taken hostage and, after being held for many hours, murdered in cold blood by their captors, a Palestinian terrorist group known as Black September, an offshoot of Yasser Arafat’s Fatah.
Betrayed by the West German government and the nations represented at the Olympic Games, the outraged Israelis developed a plan to avenge these murders and deter other outrages of this kind. The plan was to send out a number of teams of counterterror assassins to kill those who had anything to do with the Munich massacre or any known acts of terrorism.
Between the two stories — the massacre story and the revenge story — there is little to choose. Both are gripping, human, dramatic, full of twists, suspense, and irony. But if you emphasize the massacre story, the sympathy is bound to be for the Israeli athletes and their wives and families. If you emphasize the revenge story the sympathy could easily be with the Arab victims and their families.
IT IS THE LATTER STORY that Spielberg and his pacifist-moralist scriptwriter, Tony Kushner, want to tell in their film. Or rather it is the revenge story that they want to use as the basis for Spielberg’s grandiose fairy tale. The movie is only “inspired” by the events of the Olympic massacre in Munich. Not at all like Schindler’s List, a serious film about the real people on Schindler’s list ageing but still alive and breathing at the end of the movie, Munich is more like Raiders of the Lost Ark, a fantasy peopled by creatures of Spielberg’s imagination. Unfortunately, it is a work of the imagination corrupted by Spielberg’s moral egotism and grandiosity.
“Would it be fair to say that this movie is, in the end, about the human cost of a quagmire?” the Time interviewer asks Spielberg, meaning not the Iraqi war but the Israeli-Palestinian war. “Yes,” Spielberg answers. “And also for me this movie is a prayer for peace. Somewhere inside all this intransigence there has to be a prayer for peace. Because the biggest enemy is not the Palestinians or the Israelis. The biggest enemy in the region is intransigence.”
Only two more brief quotes from Time’s interview will be enough to suggest what Spielberg is up to. “…And there’s a project I’m initiating next February that I think might also do some good….What I’m doing is buying 250 video cameras and players and dividing them up, giving 125 of them to Palestinian children, 125 to Israeli kids, so they can make movies about their own lives — not dramas, just little documentaries about who they are and what they believe in, who their parents are, where they go to school, what they had to eat, what movies they watch, what CDs they listen to — and then exchange the videos. That’s the kind of thing that can be effective…in simply making people understand that there aren’t that many differences that divide Israelis from Palestinians — not as human beings, anyway.”
“In the same way,” Time magazine suggests, “Everyone in the movie is human, you feel for them all.” “Right,” Spielberg responds, “I think the thing I’m very proud of is that Tony Kushner and I…did not demonize anyone in the film….They’re individuals. They have families….”
As the reader can see, there is no evil in Spielberg’s real world — only in his Indiana Jones world — thereby transforming it into a world of fantasy. We wonder whether it ever occurred to Spielberg that all those nice SS officers who ran the concentration camps were individuals and had families and played Mozart on the piano when they weren’t stringing Jews up on piano wire.
The fact is that Steven Spielberg has become a billionaire ten times over by exploiting his childlike imagination. He has a genius for combining three ingredients in the right proportions: grandiosity, little boy fantasies, and narcissistic self-confidence.
But in this winning recipe there is lacking all the things that would ruin all those Indiana Jones adventures — complex motivation, judgment, ambivalence, skepticism, and an understanding of how the world really works. Some part of his mind is still 9 or 10 years old. You know how it is when you are that age — you read Hardy Boys and Tom Swift books with pleasure because in them children seem to be able to solve grown-up problems and they do not see that the world has been simplified for them by the genius of the author.
You can see the childish quality of Spielberg’s thinking from his remarks about the movie. What causes the problem is “intransigence” — not the Jews or the Palestinians but some disembodied force called “intransigence.” And if we pray hard enough or give the children video cameras so that they each can see how much alike they are, that they are all individuals with families, then their intransigence will go away.
Spielberg cannot deal with irrational motivation, passionate beliefs, ambivalence, unforgiving rage — all facts of life commonly found in the Middle East. So he avoids looking at historical fact and turns to social-worker-like solutions. Why, for example, did he not consult with anyone who could have provided for him a historical context? It would have interfered with his ideology — his need to prove that everybody is the same morally.
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H/T to National Review Online