Friday, December 5, 2008

Colson on Munich

I just finished reading The Faith: What Christians Believe, Why They Believe It, and Why It Matters by Charles Colson and Harold Fickett. It's a solid book and I recommend it. It follows on the heels of several books that sound the alarm over the doctrinal illiteracy of many American believers. Several times the authors bring in a reference to a contemporary film to illustrate or buttress a point. Usually when prominent evangelicals discuss cinema I cringe, but Colson and Fickett come across as astute and knowledgeable moviegoers. Perhaps this shouldn't be surprising, since if you go to Colson's BreakPoint website you'll find a fantastic Recommended Film List.

One of the movies discussed in the book is "the brilliant but graphic Steven Spielberg film Munich." Reaction to Munich was mixed when it came out in 2005. Personally, I think its one of Spielberg's best and I predict it will grow in estimation as the years go by, even as some of his more popular films may fade. Colson and Fickett write about Munich in a chapter explaining how reconciliation and forgiveness are central to orthodox Christianity. We confess this each Sunday in the words of the Apostles' Creed: "I believe in the forgiveness of sins." The authors commend Spielberg's film as an illustration of the "horrible dilemma" that perpetuates the tragic cycle of violence in the kingdom of man.

Munich is the story of the Palestinian terrorist attack that killed eleven Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics. The film opens with a meeting of the Israeli war cabinet. The Israelis knew that not responding would only embolden the hostile Arabs surrounding Israel, inviting yet more attacks.

The cabinet recruits a young Israeli intelligence officer, Avner Kaufman, to lead an assassination team against the eleven Palestinian terrorists responsible for the Israeli deaths. Prime Minister Golda Meir sets the policy: "We say to these butchers, you don't want to share this world with us--and we don't have to share this world with you."

Avner, whose wife is about to give birth to their child, criss-crosses Europe, successfully eliminating Palestinian terrorists one by one. As the Israelis exact their punishment, the Palestinians counter-attack, sometimes shedding the blood of innocent civilians. There are moments of poignant dialogue portraying the dilemma of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth: Arabs killing Israelis, Israelis killing Arabs--but to what end?

When Avner's cover is blown, he realizes that the cycle of violence will not be ended until someone kills him; and even if no one does, the violence is destroying his humanity...The viewer comes to see Avner not as a coward, but as someone wracked by guilt and futility. At the same time, the viewer sees the horrible dilemma: any nation is bound, in a fallen world, as Americans discovered after 9/11, to wield the sword, signaling to its enemies that such an attack will not go unpunished. But the response only perpetuates the violence. (p. 136)

In this scene Robert, one of the members of Avner's team, decides he's had enough of the bloodshed. Screenwriters Tony Kushman and Eric Roth's dialogue hints at a concern that crops up throughout Spielberg's body of work. What does it mean to be righteous?

1 comment:

Kimberly said...

I rented this film after visiting Munich...I guess i'm glad I watched certainly provokes thoughtful consideration on how to deal with difficult dilemmas and is very well acted/created...but it was much too violent for me. I understand the reality...but still just a bit too much for me.