I will certainly think twice before seeing future Spielberg films. War of the Worlds was a nihilistic film, and Munich isn’t much better. Sure, there are a few scenes with talking heads that are thoughtful, but do we really need two-and-a-half hours of closeups of gunshot wounds, spattered blood, gushing aortas and naked corpses before we are convinced that violence is a bad idea?
The premise of the film is that vengeance is inhumane, even when it is conducted by Jews. I’m fine with that premise, but my question is: is Spielberg really interested in humane filmmaking? If he was, he would have stopped making films a while ago, because this film is, like War of the Worlds, inhumane in its own way: Munich is self-indulgent, overlong, and indefensibly gratuitous in its on-screen violence. Once again, we have characters who are poorly motivated and who are simultaneously wicked and civilized in ways that reflect a dualistic / schizophrenic vision of humanity, rather than one that sees human beings as fallen but capable of true heroism. Example: the main character’s source of information in carrying out vengeance against the Arab terrorists is a man who we discover is the ultimate relativist — he’ll sell information to anyone — but is at the same time a ‘devout’ Catholic who insists on saying grace before meals. Are we supposed to believe this character without at least some kind of backstory? I don’t know, but one thing is certain: Spielberg’s anthropology is incredibly pessimistic and disjointed. His vision is one that doesn’t leave room for grace. Indeed, in an article about Munich in Time magazine, Spielberg has this to say about the future of Middle Eastern peace: “The only thing that’s going to solve [the Middle Eastern situation] is rational minds, a lot of sitting down and talking until you’re blue in the face.” And that hasn’t been tried already?
Does a director with no one to challenge his willfulness necessarily become Neitzsche-esque? Consider these quotations from the Time interview:
I’ve never, ever made a movie where I said I’m making this picture because the message can do some good for the world — even when I made Schindler’s List…. I made the picture out of just pure wanting to get that story told….
I’m lucky at this point in my career that I can make the movies I want to make without having a studio come in and second-guess me. I always say thank goodness for Jaws, because Jaws gave me final cut. I’ve had it now for 30 years, and because of that I only have myself to blame for anything that goes wrong.
That last quote sounds humble enough, but the corollary is that if anything goes right, he’ll take credit, which I think is a very limited understanding of what is a supremely collaborative art form.
At any rate, Munich was a bomb. I’m going to see Kong next, which promises to be a more intelligent film.