Movie vs. Reality: Munich
By Felix Quinonez
April 4, 2012
When it comes to movies there are few words that pique audience interest more than “based on a true story.” No matter what someone’s personal preferences are, everybody loves a good story and if it’s true(ish), then even better right?
But I’ve always been surprised by how many people seem to ignore the “based on” part and just focus on the “true story.” There have been too many occasions when I criticized one of these movies - for being boring, or predictable, or whatever - only to be told, “But it’s a true story!” I’m always taken aback by this reaction. I mean, do people think these movies are documentaries? So, needless to say, I was very happy when I got the chance to write this column.
In each entry of this column I’m going to be looking at a different movie “based on a true story” or whatever phrasing is attached to it and compare it to the actual story. Hopefully I’ll be able to separate fact from Hollywood. But I’m also going to be talking about what those changes mean and why they were made. Do the changes have some artistic merit or are they just attempts to make the story fit into a neat Hollywood package?
The first movie I’m going to be looking at was directed by one of my personal heroes; Steven Spielberg. That movie is the Oscar nominated Munich (2005), which deals with the death of 11 Israeli athletes at the hand of a Palestinian paramilitary group known as Black September during the 1972 Olympics. But its main focus is the Israeli response to these murders.
I’m not any sort of history expert so I had to do a lot of research before I felt comfortable enough to judge the movie’s historical accuracy. My biggest reference is George Jonas's book Vengeance: The True Story of an Israeli Counter-Terrorist Team, which Spielberg used as his source material for Munich. I also used Striking Back: The 1972 Munich Olympics Massacre and Israel's Deadly Response, written by Aaron J. Klein. Aside from these two books I also read an article that Jonas wrote in response to Munich called “The Spielberg Massacre.” Also on my list was, Wrath of God: The Israeli Response to the 1972 Munich Olympic Massacre, written by Thomas B. Hunter. I also referenced articles found on the history news network, Jewishmag.com, opendemocracy.net, Time Magazine, theguardian.co.uk, and I watched the documentary Munich: Mossad’s Revenge and footage of Spielberg discussing Munich.
One of the biggest issues people have taken with Munich’s accuracy is its inspiration. Since it was published, many people have questioned Jonas’s book. From the beginning, people have cast shadows on the book and its main source; a former Mossad agent known as “Avner” who is portrayed by Eric Bana in Munich. But it should be noted that a lot of the facts remain classified and to this day Israel denies any involvement in the revenge mission known as “wrath of God.” Because of this it is obviously impossible to be completely sure on how the events went down.