Spielberg: Munich part 3

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Avner is now a father, and has sent his wife and baby away from his homeland to live in the "New World," ie Brooklyn. He’s going to carry on with his unpleasant work, traveling Europe assassinating terrorists. In Act III, it doesn’t get easier, as the line between evil terrorist and righteous knight becomes increasingly blurred. Avner, who has no relationship with his own father to speak of, will meet a new father in Act III, will meet him and be rejected by him in record time.

58:30 The action moves to Cyprus, where Avner is due to kill this guy staying in a hotel. The target we hear little about, we hear more about the newlywed couple staying in the room next to his. The important thing about the newlywed couple staying in the room next to the target is that they are a mixed marriage, a Jew and a non-Jew, who had to get married in Cyprus because they couldn’t anywhere else. We’ve seen the very Jewish Avner make love to his very Jewish wife, and we’ve seen Avner pretend to flirt with an amoral Marxist woman, now we are reminded that the lines of nationality, religion, race and ideology aren’t that big a deal to some couples — love, Munich will eventually just come right out and say in big bold letters, is the only answer to terror (or, sex is anyway, which is an even bolder assertion, especially for a Spielberg movie), and Cyrus’s mixed-race couple is one more step in preparing us for that.

59:00 The team plans the hit — a bomb under the mattress in the guy’s hotel room. Robert prepares the bomb, explaining that this bomb will definitely not be too small. Carl, Mr. Happy, congratulates Avner on his new daughter (which he’s not supposed to know about, which raises questions about what Carl knows in general — this may be a band of brothers, and Avner may be its titular father, but Carl is the one who keeps acting like the father — cold, distant, remote). He congratulates him on his new daughter, then congratulates him on the news that their Paris target died after all — birth and death in the same tone of quiet celebration.

1:00:00 Steve and Carl watch the hotel as Avner takes the room next to the target — to ensure an accurate kill. Steve insists on singing "Papa Was a Rolling Stone" while he waits. It’s shocking that Spielberg has not used this song yet in one of his movies, given his cosmology of absent fathers, and Steve’s singing of it annoys Carl greatly, again, pointing to the mystery of Carl’s background — is he, too, an absent father, did he, too, leave behind a family in Israel, or somewhere else, that we will never know about?

Meanwhile, up on the hotel balcony, Avner chats amiably with the target. Again — a perfectly nice guy, and he and Avner bond over the comedy of the newlyweds in the next room and the noise from their lovemaking. Avner is able to keep his cool, and even seems to enjoy talking to the man — they’re just a couple of guys in an out-of-the-way hotel in some sunny clime, after all. Then, Avner says good night and goes into his room to send the signal for Robert to throw the switch to kill the guy.

Which he does, but this time the bomb is too strong, and it kills the target, destroys Avner’s room and injures the newlyweds, who wander, naked and bloody, through the rubble afterward — bringing the sex-and-terror theme that much closer together.

1:06:00 The team gather to talk about what went wrong — the bomb was supplied by their shadowy contact in Paris, Louis, as was the boat that they are currently meeting on. For the first time they ask "who is Louis," and why should they be trusting him, which question will eventually be answered by the end of the act.

1:07:00 Avner goes to Paris to meet with Louis. They meet in front of a department store, and Avner takes a moment to contemplate the "model kitchen" in the shop window. This is, of course, the home he’ll never have, but keeps thinking is just over the horizon: cozy, solid, warm and welcoming. Avner has come to confront Louis about Cyprus, but he must be careful — if Louis is working for the PLO or some other organization, Avner may be unintentionally working not for Israel but for the PLO. Avner tries to trap Louis by offering him more money than their usual rate, but Louis is too crafty for that, and gives him the name of another terrorist, this one in Beirut — which is, under the rules Avner observes, outside his jurisdiction.

1:09:00 Another family meal, this time with the band of brothers and Ephraim, their stern father from Israel (Munich could have been titled Fathers and Food). Avner and his team want to go after the target in Beirut, Ephraim is reluctant. Avner is sick of skulking around Europe, killing strangers, men he has no connection to — he wants to go after the guys responsible and be a soldier, not an assassin.

1:11:00 Against his "father"’s judgment, Avner takes his team to Beirut and, teaming up with Israeli agents, takes out a target in a reletively-straightforward commando raid (if "straightforward" includes agents dressing up as women to get close to the compound’s checkpoint). The raid is disturbingly familiar to the raid on the Munich dorms we saw in Avner’s mind at the end of Act I — Avner and his team are ruthless, messy and indiscriminate in their murders, shooting men in their underwear and killing a number of women in the process. Avner participates fully, and only draws the line at shooting a teenage boy who isn’t a target.

1:16:00 Back in Paris, Louis, not too happy about Beirut apparently, goes to see Avner, to take him to his father. He hands him a blindfold to wear on the trip. "My people need to know where I’m going," says Avner, and Louis answers "You don’t know where you’re going" — again, underscoring the increasingly confused nature of Avner’s journey.

1:18:00 Where Avner is going, today, is Louis’s home in the country. It’s huge, bucolic, warm and sunny, filled with old-world charm and overrun with women, children and relatives. Louis’s family is a large one, apparently, full of life and love (and children), all financed by amoral international murder. (On a Bond-related note, Louis is played by the guy who would later become Dominic Greene in Quantum of Solace, and his father is played by the guy who played the brilliant, doomed Hugo Drax in Moonraker. If Avner had brought future-Bond Steve with him to this meeting, oh how the fur would have flown.)

Louis’s father, who is known only as Papa, takes Avner aside for a little bonding — over food, of course. He laments the size of Avner’s hands — "butcher’s hands" he calls them — as he feels that the true calling of a man is to cook, not to kill. (The butcher and the cook are another two poles for Munich — the butcher kills, but the cook creates out of the butcher’s work. There’s a symbiosis there as the two professions lie close to one another but are ideologically opposite.)

1:20:00 Papa takes Louis out picking fruit, and indicates that he knows Avner better than Avner thinks he does. He doesn’t blame Avner for lying to him about his identity — "You have to feed your family," he says, meaning, again, that Avner’s family is Israel.

1:21:00 Avner sits down to eat with Louis’s very large family. Louis clearly sees Avner as a dangerous traitor, but Papa sees a closer kinship, and we learn that, back in his day, he was led by ideological confusion to believe that the family is the only idea that matters. "Your tribe has been treated roughly," he says, and understands that it will respond roughly as well — it’s only natural.

As Avner gets ready to go, Papa tells him warmly "You could have been my son," (as Louis shoots him a hurt look) then adds, coldly, "But you’re not." Avner has gotten himself involved with a very warm, very real, very dangerous family, putting himself in an increasingly anxious position — can he trust anything these people do? Are they setting him up to be killed? Papa seems okay, but Louis roils with father issues of a Spielbergian level.

1:25:00 Back in Paris, Louis gives Avner a new name. This is the name of an important terrorist, but he’s not on the list. And thus, Avner takes one more step outside his job description and onto an uncertain moral ground.


9 Responses to “Spielberg: Munich part 3”
  1. creepingcrud says:

    Just wanted to say, I know you’re largely writing these for yourself, but the timestamp scene-by-scene format you’re using for Munich feels more impenetrable than the approach you usually take for your movie analyses. I find myself skimming and skimming until I’m out of post instead of enjoying this as I do your other posts. I imagine others’ milage is varying. It’s entirely possible that just not having the big bold timestamp would help significantly.

    • Todd says:

      By all means, feel free to ignore them — they are merely indicators of when the next scene begins. As Munich is an exceptionally dense and involving drama, I note the time along the way for structural purposes — this suspense sequence takes two minutes, this character beat takes one, four minutes is devoted to this piece of exposition, etc.

  2. curt_holman says:

    In contrast to ‘creepingcrud,’ I wanted to say that I’m enjoying the ‘Munich’ analysis as much as any of them — I’ve been waiting to comment until closer to the end.

    While I was watching ‘Munich’ for the first time, I vividly remember thinking, throughout the first 90+ minutes, that it was the equivalent of ‘The Godfather’ for espionage films: both films have genre/thriller elements, but are remarkably rich in texture and character. They both use food in a similar way, for instance. They’re also both highly “process-oriented.” I particularly like bits like the use of “receipts” and “expenses” as a way of illuminating the real-world practicalities of espionage, while creating metaphors for the moral implications of assassination.

    There are things about the film’s latter section that I find more problematic, which we’ll get to soon enough.

    • Todd says:

      The resemblance to The Godfather isn’t accidental — Spielberg seems to dig really deep into his filmmaking past for this one, creating a very “70s gritty realism” feel in keeping with the character-drama aspect of his screenplay.

      • leborcham says:

        Fortunately, Spielberg’s love of the 70s included the tight pants of the era.

        Seriously, this is one of the best Spielberg movies — probably my favorite “real world” film of his. Enjoying your analysis, as always.

        • Todd says:

          One could argue, in the face of Munich‘s relative unpopularity, that Spielberg does better addressing “real world” issues in the context of fantasy scenarios than when he attacks them head-on. For me, I’d be happy if he made movies as detailed, suspenseful, “adult” and thought-provoking as Munich every year, but obviously he has another agenda.

          • stormwyvern says:

            It seems like the general rule of thumb that Hollywood has accepted is that you can only tackle real world issues if you find a way to do it metaphorically, such as through fantasy, or if your tackling something far enough in the past that the general consensus on it has already been formed. A film that concludes that the Holocaust was a horrible tragic event isn’t going to be that challenging to audiences as most people already believe that. But touch on more current or more complex issues where we don’t have that kind of consensus that time and clearly evil actions bring about and the theory is you’ll lose viewers.

            • robjmiller says:

              That does seem to be the case in the post 9/11 era. While a slew of political/war films have come out and been critically acclaimed, none have been particularly successful in terms of ticket sales (In the Valley of Elah being a prime example). These days, the big money seems to be in animation, rom coms and superheroes (escapism).