Strangers on a Train Watching a Movie Together
Editor's note: This one talks about some upsetting topics, including graphic shootings and terrorism. Based on true events, no less! A few days ago I was taking the train into New York City. It was probably 8:30AM, part of the morning commute. After I ran out of lives on Two Dots, I needed something else to do.
So I started people watching. A guy a few seats ahead of me had his iPad out, watching a movie. This was not terribly exciting. Except the movie was Steven Spielberg's 2005 Academy Award nominated drama Munich.
For anyone who hasn't seen Munich, I would definitely recommend it. No seriously, it's a really good movie. Just not at 8:30 on the train ride into work. The film is about the attack on Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics and the efforts of a team of Mossad agents to hunt down the people responsible. It is gritty, gut-wrenching, and above all, violent. You might need a sunny afternoon in the park when you're done.
The chief joy of people watching is trying to imagine, Just who the hell is this person? Who decides to watch Munich on his commute? Maybe he had to for one reason or another. Maybe it was easier than seeing it at home late at night. Maybe he didn't know what he was getting into. He seemed quite upset as he was getting up to leave. I'm just glad he was wearing earbuds.
If you really want to appreciate a movie, try watching it with the sound off. It's a very different experience. The good ones are surprisingly understandable. Action movies should be, by definition. If it relies on long-winded speeches and repetitive conversations, you'll get lost unless you can read lips.
Seeing Munich around the back of the seat I noticed especially how it depicted the violence at the center of the story. While there are gruesome, bloody facial injuries, a lot of the violence is suggested. Our hapless fellow traveler cringed not at the cries of pain or open wounds, but when a machine gun tore up a wall (and the people standing in front of it.)
Something about seeing gaping holes appear in sheet rock is worse than seeing someone cry out and fall down. It emphasizes what's really happening. This isn't a new idea- 1932's Scarface used a similar bullet-holes-in-the-wall trick to get around restrictions in the Hays Code.[ref]This was a pre-cursor to the ratings system we have. Except it meant that if it wasn't appropriate for kids, no one could see it.[/ref]
I don't think violent movies cause violent crime, but I am sensitive to how violence gets depicted, lest we become desensitized to it. The thing I hated most about G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra was not the stupid script and wooden acting, but the bloodless, cavalier treatment of the machine guns sprayed across crowded lobbies, brutal beatdowns, and multiple impalements being passed off as tween-friendly entertainment.
This emphasis on the consequences of violence, rather than the violence itself, is something Spielberg has used in other movies. Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan come readily to mind. These aren't faceless extras being mowed down, these are people, suffering because of their fellow human beings.
It's the bruises that stay with you after the movie's over. A subplot throughout Munich is Eric Bana's character being haunted by the violence that drives the story's events. Flashbacks of the attack on the Israeli athletes leap into his mind at inopportune moments, disrupting his work and relationships. It's a corrosive bile, seeping into every facet of his life.
But in spite of the violence's personal and psychological consequences, at least its political accomplishments are...
Well, for all the blood shed and people killed, it seems the the impetus for the attack at the Munich Olympics, the conflict between Israel and Palestine, is far from over.