"Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster," wrote Friedrich Nietzsche. "And when you look into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you."
Within this abyss Nietzsche referred to—this dark place that looms before us all our lives, stretching out into infinity—is where we find our humanity and morality. It is where the worth of our lives is measured in deeds done and undone. It is where our souls are bought and sold. In his latest film, Munich, Steven Spielberg explores such an abyss.
Inspired by true events, Spielberg's taut political thriller takes place in the aftermath of the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, Germany. It was during these games that Palestinian terrorists calling themselves Black September took members of the Israeli Olympic team hostage and, as the world watched in horror, killed all 11 men. Eric Bana (Chopper, Hulk) stars as Avner Kauffman, an otherwise mild-mannered agent for the Mossad (the Israeli secret service) who is dispatched on a top-secret mission to eliminate those responsible for the murders in Munich. Avner, along with a small team of specialized accomplices who are little more than assassins, is given free rein to do whatever must be done to complete his objectives. But as Avner's mission takes him across Europe, and the bodies begin to pile up, a heavy price is exacted on his soul—and his sanity.
Fans of Spielberg's work may be put off by Munich's brutality, and those caught in the Israel-Palestine debate are likely to be enraged by the ambiguous territory the film treads. Rather than take a moral high ground and declare things in black-and-white terms, Munich instead shows that in conflicts of this nature there are no winners, just casualties—that revenge is a parasitic disease that must constantly be fed. Calling Spielberg anti-Israeli for this film is like calling someone opposed to the war in Iraq unpatriotic.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about Munich—and there are many amazing things—is how little it actually seems like a Spielberg movie. Dark, brutal and somber, without the requisite slapped-on happy ending that mires many of his films, Munich is a vast departure for Spielberg (and one of his best films to date). Drawing from a pool of influences that includes Alfred Hitchcock, political thrillers of the 1970s like The Parallax View, and even Francis Ford Coppola's masterpiece The Conversation, Munich works (and entertains) on multiple levels. But first and foremost, it is the chilling portrait of one man whose hunt for monsters threatens to slowly transform him into his prey.
Opens Friday, Dec. 23. Evergreen, Pioneer Place, Division Street, Lloyd Cinema.