I'm skeptical by personality and profession, and against the backdrop of recent news, I saw Steven Spielberg's "Munich" last night. The film opens with the epigraph: "Inspired by a true story" -- which usually means "OK, we made a lot of stuff up, but some names, places and events are sorta maybe genuine if you squint real hard and think way out of the box."
How accurate is the film's depiction of the kidnapping (and subsequent mass murder) of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics in Munich? Was the super-secret Israeli hit team that avenged them real? Were the assassinations of terrorist planners accurately rendered? Did the Israeli assassins really find themselves at one point face-to-face with PLO terrorists in a Greek "safe house" and talk themselves out of danger by claiming to be members of various European terrorist gangs like ETA and IRA?
Dr. Cathy Schultz of the University of St. Francis in Joliet, Ill., is a history professor who specializes in Hollywood's treatment of true events. Her essay on the movie "Munich" answers many questions, including "Did this really happen?"
While both Palestinian and Israeli sources have disputed some of the book's accounts, it's Schultz' assessment that much of what you'll see in the movie actually happened. Not so, say some like Rachel Neuwirth, who had trained with many of the Israeli athletes before the '72 Olympics, but didn't go to the fated Games. In a piece for The American Thinker, she wrote:
"Sadly, the average movie-goer will never know where fact ends and fantasy takes over. As a result, many will no doubt come away confused about the moral issues involved in the Arab-Israeli conflict, seeing diminished difference between the barbarity of Arab terrorists and the justice meted out by the Israeli agents who pursued them."In fact, the film was "inspired" by George Jonas' book, "Vengeance," described by publisher Simon&Schuster this way:
"'Vengeance' is a profoundly human document, a real-life espionage classic that plunges the reader into the shadow world of terrorism and political murder. But it goes far beyond that, to explore firsthand the feelings of disgust and doubt that gradually came to torment each member of the Israeli team, and that in the end inexorably changed their view of the mission -- and themselves."
Is it a good film? Yes. It makes you think about the nature of good and evil, whether any culture has rights and superiority over any other -- including the right to kill innocents to induce terror or make a statement.
But is it a true film? The epigraph says it all: "Inspired by a true story." Unlike James Frey, the filmmakers don't say it's true ... then lie. They say up front it's a creative work that takes much/some of its material from actual events. And like Rachel Neuwirth says, you probably will never know where the reality and the fantasy intersect.
"Munich" -- and most other Hollywood fare -- probably shouldn't be shown in World History classrooms as an accurate depiction of real events. But it should be seen in the parallel universe of a movie theater, and truly contemplated. The message is rendered in light and shadow and sound, but it's relevant to the real world outside the theater.
PHOTO ABOVE: Associated Press