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September 09, 2011


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"If I don't check it out, the terrorists win."

I used that same line on 9/11 when leaving the TV at the office to go pickup Dylan's new record Love & Theft.

Ryan Kelly

"I don't think it's cinema's responsibility to provide or address either, but I do think that thus far its attempts to do so have been pretty damn poor."

For the most part you're right, but I think Spielberg's 2005 double feature of War of the Worlds and Munich are amongst the most thoughtful and sensitive reflections on 9/11 by an American artist. Would love to know how you feel about them, not just as films but as the kind of acknowledgment of the true meaning of the atrocity that you talk about in your piecer. What I responded to most about the attacks was seeing my home as a war zone (I've lived here in your home town of Fort Lee my whole, admittedly not exactly down the block from the World Trade Center but not exactly far, either). It didn't take me long to realize that there are people in this world who live with that kind of horror every moment of every day, a tragic fact that I find it almost impossible to comprehend.

Spielberg really channels the imagery of the United States as a warzone beautifully in War of the Worlds, imagining not just an attack but an all out invasion - something we've never experienced in our lifetime, and probably never will, but something that many people have suffered at the hands of the United States. The Iraq nonsense simply made the imagery all the more effective. I remember talking to people who were disappointed that WOTW didn't offer thrills of the Jurassic Park variety, but I think that's what makes it remarkable - it's not titillating, it's terrifying, as it fucking should be. And I think Spielberg tows the line between September 11th/Iraq allegory and satisfying the conventions of the martian picture with expert precision.

And then Munich beautifully looks at the ugly nature of reciprocal violence, examining what it means to seek vengeance on both a personal and national level. Considering two wars had been launched in the name of vengeance, this took enormous resolve on Spielberg's part. The final image of the World Trade Center is the most radical rejection of Bush's "They hate our freedom" nonsense in the admittedly short history of post 9/11 movie making - Spielberg is saying, in none too subtle a manner, that those towers are just another victim of the war between Israel and Palestine, and that their destruction will simply yield more violence that doesn't solve a damn thing.

Glenn Kenny

Excellent points, Ryan, and agreed. I admire both films, although when I first saw WOTW, I had a queasy "too soon" feeling about some of its scenes. Now I think it works very well for the most part. I think MUNICH hits some very pertinent spots too. Thanks.


I really like most of MUNICH, but can anyone justify that final intercut sex/massacre sequence? It reminds me of one of my least favorite structural devices (I especially associate it with IN COLD BLOOD, and also with THE ACCUSED), where a story about the aftermath of a traumatic incident ends with a flashback of the incident -- usually just because the movie needs a big ending.

That MUNICH sequence might work for me if he kept flashing back to the murder of the female assassin -- suggesting how the violence of his work has infected even the most intimate moments of his life -- but cutting from the sex to the murder of the athletes almost implies he's getting off on the victimization, and I can't imagine that's what the filmmakers intended.

Hope this doesn't take things on too far a tangent (assuming anyone even replies); it's just something that's been bugging me for nearly six years.


I probably can't defend it aesthetically, but, as I can remember, the images of the actual Munich kidnapping/murders at the start of the film are from TV cameras and newscasts. As the film continues, the flashbacks become more like memories for Bana's character, who wasn't actually there for the event. By the sex scene, the images from the event have become almost like a personal trauma for his character, rather than just something that he witnessed on TV, along with everyone else in the world. I'm similarly tired of this narrative device (see also Dead Man Walking), but liked the way that it was used in Munich, especially because it said something interesting about 9/11: the way that the nation, for better or worse, internalized a trauma that most of us had witnessed only on TV, and how the more vengeance that Bana's character achieves, the worse the PTSD becomes.

Ryan Kelly

Even if that were tangential, which it's not, tangents are what the internet is all about! Don't apologize for talking about things that compel you. That's pretty much the point.

Anyway, the sequence really works for me, and I don't think it's expressly sexual, but rather I feel it's about how he can't ever escape the horror of his national and personal experiences, how the terrorist attack and the revenge that followed it has truly consumed him. There is a moment in the sequence that I think is key to the whole thing, when muzzle flashes manifest on Bana's screaming, anguished face. Spielberg crosses boundaries of time and space in a really powerful way with that, and it really elevates the scene above a standard flashback, which I agree would be trite. But it's not a flashback. Avner is in both places simultaneously, and I personally find that notion chilling.


This may have not been your most favourable assignment, Glenn, but hey, at least MSN didn't ask you to review Bucky Larson: Born To Be A Star. Nobody wins in that scenario. ;)

David Ehrenstein


That Fuzzy Bastard

My personal favorite War on Terror movie (though not specifically 9-11) is still LAND OF THE DEAD. The threat is real *and* the threat is manipulated by rich assholes for personal gain. It seemed like too few movies were able to keep both thoughts in their head at the same time.

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