Trials & Tribulations of a life in advertising

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

We only kill each other

"Life being what it is, one dreams of revenge."

The then Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir didn’t exactly quote Gaguin after the gruesome massacre of 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics. But the ethical dilemma of a nation constantly in war to protect its borders doesn’t prevent her from speaking her mind. It’s time to avenge the insanity. It’s time to be as resolute and as merciless as the enemy. After all "every civilization finds it necessary to negotiate compromises with its own values."

Steven Spielberg’s Munich is an investigation of those compromises. An impartial narration of the Israeli retaliation through the hands of a not-so-elite team from the otherwise elitist Mossad. The team is headed by Avner (Eric Bana) and comprises Steve (Daniel Craig), Carl (Ciarin Hinds), Robert (Mathieu Kassovitz), and Hans (Hanns Zischler). Their mission is to assassinate the leadership of Black September responsible for the Munich massacre. With the inimitable Geoffrey Rush as Ephraim, Avner’s case officer, the team sets out to seek out the terrorists from the shady alleys of a deeply unpredictable Cold War Europe. It’s an "officially unofficial" mission. They begin to pursue leads, build contacts, use moles and execute their targets one by one.

But this isn’t your typical Spy vs. Spy vintage Cold War story. This isn’t a terrorists-on-the-run Hollywood cliché either. It’s a dispassionate account of the reasons and the moral dilemmas involved in the transformation of people from individuals to instruments of an ever-escalating war. As the Black September leadership is eliminated in carefully planned individual attacks spreading from Athens to Beirut, the moral issues that got sidelined in the immediate aftermath of the Olympic Village Massacre begin to surface.

In a world where nobody’s trust can be safely secured, even after the payment of millions of dollars, team members begin to doubt the efficacy of their mission. National sentiment begins to be balanced by religious righteousness. And it’s the same spirit of vengeance Avner finds in a faction of PLO they are forced to share a room with. It’s the same questions about the search and denial of a homeland. As Munich unfolds into a human drama, you realise that the combatants can easily switch places and it would be hard to recognise them.

It’s also a crude reminder that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. There’s little of black and white here. Munich is more about the innumerable shades of grey that all of us possess. And precisely because of which, the most interesting moments in the movie are not the exceptionally well shot action scenes. The most captivating moments are when the characters from both sides express their moral dilemmas and limited choices. As a committed, and soon to be murdered Ali from PLO explains to Avner, "you don’t understand the struggle for a homeland because you have a home. The home is everything".

Yet, even after the end of the mission and from the confines of his apartment in New York, it’s his feelings about home and his past deeds that keep Avner awake. He believes he is being hunted and he blames everyone from KGB to Mossad for that. And Avner discovers a particular feeling that some of his erstwhile colleagues had begun to nurture – guilt. In one of the most poignant conversations towards the end of the movie, Avner confronts the hardened Ephraim to question him about the choices he was forced to make. Ephraim gives the reply that could have come from any of the characters on either side of the movie: "We kill for our future. We kill for peace".

Steven Spielberg needs to be lauded for his objectivity and impartiality in bringing to screen one of the most controversial events from the most tragic geographical struggle in human history. It’s an in-your-face account of what happened in that Olympic Village and more importantly, what happened next. More than the possibility of peace, what haunts you is the prospect of a never ending conflict. As one of the characters says in a reflective mood, "all of this blood comes back to us". Yes, Munich is proof that no matter which side you sympathise with, it always does.


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