Why did I have to marry a sentimentalist?’ Daphna (Ayelet Zurer) indulgently moans at the husband (Eric Bana) who has dashed across a continent to her bedside for their firstborn’s arrival. It’s an odd question to hear in a Spielberg film, and an even odder context given the apparently compulsive idolatry of the family that runs through his films. Yet in ‘Munich’ he acknowledges that the defence of the family and home can yield destruction, perhaps evil.
Following Palestinian terrorists’ massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics, Bana’s Avner is recruited to head up a Mossad assassination squad (including Ciaran Hinds, Daniel Craig and Mathieu Kassovitz) targeting those deemed responsible. But as they kill their way around Europe in a series of meticulously executed set-pieces, he begins to question whether such retribution can really promote catharsis, let alone peace.
The unobjectionable moral – violence begets violence – is illustrated by ‘geddit?’ dramatic ironies (hunter becomes hunted) and gross violence (one target’s limbs are left dangling from hotel furnishings); if the squad ape the terrorists’ unaccountability and invisibility, Spielberg recognises the appeal of homicidal spectaculars. The idea of Munich as the dawn of media terrorism plays into the intriguing, ambiguous context in which the film locates its action. It posits the siege and Israel’s response (personified in Lynn Cohen’s steely Golda Meir) as a geopolitical bridge between Holocaust and jihad while giving space to a young Palestinian’s insistence that ‘home is everything’ and that the struggle will continue through children yet unborn – a motif mirrored in Avner’s own family life. Who could have expected Spielberg, of all directors, to twin the reproductive cycle with the cycle of violence?