The Munich Proof

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Most of the time I feel as though this blog is less personal than my regular one. The thing is, writing about movies (seeing movies, thinking about movies, writing movies) is pretty personal for me. Nine times out of 10 I filter life through the art and vice versa. So last week when I posed a question, “Should I watch Munich or Proof tonight?” over at 117 Hudson and MAB replied that he had found Proof to be “Eh” and Munich to be something one needed to be prepared to really focus on and delve into in order to really get it I felt stupid. You see, I’d already watched Munich by the time I read the comment and hadn’t felt it to be all that.

I don’t think of myself as being all that smart. Over the course of many years I’ve learned that I am actually relatively well read and have a decent, though not keen, analtytical mind. I hang out with a lot of real smartypants, though. MAB is among them. We’ve got almost exactly the same amount of formal education but he’s got much more detailed recall, he is far better read than I, has seen more “important” movies and above all is far quicker to analyze the things he watches and sees deeper than I am sometimes able to do at all. Don’t take my word for it, go read some of his song lyrics then thank your lucky stars that you don’t have to replay in your head the wildly stupid shit you’ve said about those lyrics in the past like I do. Which is all quite the long winded way of saying that when I read his comments I experienced a fair amount of self-doubt about my grasp of the film. It’s taken me 4 days to resolve to just write what I thought and get over all that stupid crap but here we are and that’s what I’m doing. Your comments, your disagreement, your questions and the occasional knock-knock joke are welcomed and appreciated.

My first reaction was that I must have missed something about Munich and I should watch it again. I’d already sent it back to the fine folks at Netflix, though, so that wasn’t an option. I’ve just watched Proof and I found it to be much more than “eh.” I don’t think it’s a gender issue because MAB and I agree on a lot of stuff and neither of us drives straight down gender lines. It may be a taste issue except that I’m far more interested in the politics behind the Munich massacre than I am in math but then again Proof isn’t entirely about math.

What did I think? I thought that Munich tried very hard to present a balanced view of the aftermath of one of the most globally public terrorist attacks of my lifetime. Spielberg seems to have felt that would be possible using the point of view of one man, which seems ambitious to me. It’s rare that one person, especially a person embroiled in the argument, can present a fair and balanced account. The other problem with trying to do that sort of thing is that you have to be relatively accurate about events which can be googled. You can’t condense much, you can’t fudge the details of who was where. In this case we’re talking about the (alleged?) retaliation of the Israeli special services after Palestinian terrorists killed several Israeli athletes during the 1972 Olympic Games. There were upwards of 10 people implicated as having a hand in setting up that attack so any thorough retribution is going to be complicated, time consuming and, more than likely, unfinished. This “covert” operation resulted in a number of very public killings that can be researched by your average monkey with an internet browser (I’m guessing, I don’t have a monkey and I haven’t done the research myself yet). I was interested.

The film was complex and fascinating and yet without a defined narrative arc, which is a core problem with telling a true story. Life doesn’t stick to Aristotles rules, the bitch. Every killing was an arc in and of itself so it’s a roller coaster of a ride, if you’re reading the Nation while riding the roller coaster. I probably got as much as I was going to get out of the complex political story in the first 90 minutes to two hours. It then became, for me, a story about a man who has decided to change his entire life in the service of his country and what that does to him mentally and morally. As far as I’m concerned the country took advantage of him and yet that’s what countries have to do. That, too, was interesting but not nearly weighty enough to compete with the political impact of the film. Spielberg could have ended the movie a little earlier and, for the sake of narrative arc, it might have been more effective. However, in trying to give the full shake to everyone for that fair and balanced report I was talking about he decided he had to go further, tell more, finish off details and not leave an ambiguous ending. For my money it was too much information to take in and not enough information to make me feel like I understood the far-reaching implications of the attacks.

Proof I had actually seen once already, as a stage play. I saw it in New York with an entirely different cast and I had loved it. The math part, of course, completely escapes me but the story uses math as the focus of family relationships and family relationships fascinate me. The crux of the matter is trust and faith in the people you love and whether or not any of that is, or should be, subject to proof. It’s like it was a play written for me, you know except for the pesky math. Anthony Hopkins is the only A list actor I can see playing the part and he nails the ambiguity of a parent who has other fish to fry, as it were. He loves his daughter and wants the best for her and has no regard for her all at the same time. She loves him back and is afraid to be on her own and has a deep sense of responsibility combining an emotional life that’s right on the surface of her skin with an intensely logical mind. And the thing is, you can’t prove any of that. Any number of people could see see the same story and give you entirely different descriptions. True of every story but how much more poignant when you’re talking about a play that wants to write the proof of love?

Though, I don’t have specific recall of the play, I felt that the screenplay diluted some of the more painful emotions. There was a gloss to the screenplay and a couple of serendipitous moments that I don’t remember from the play. I’ll have to read it again to see if the ending is as different as I think it is. I feel as though the play left more of a sense of ambiguity and the film wraps things up in a slightly sloppy bow. The emotion of the screen version holds up against the stage version, though.

So, for my money, I’d like a nice non-fiction book about the aftermath of the terrorist attack of 1972 and I’d send you out to see Proof. But, you know, I might not be that smart.

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4 Responses to “The Munich Proof”

  1. Julia Says:

    I know what you mean about intelligence inferiority. Although I always loved my literature and film classes in college and the opportunity to delve into texts a little deeper, if left to my own devices I’m a much shallower reader/viewer. At times, in fact, I felt like we were disecting the texts too much. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

  2. mabnyc Says:

    Aw geez, didja have to drag me into this? I don’t know nothin’ ’bout nothin’.

    I didn’t mean to cause you any tsuris. I think my one-liner (or was it a two-liner?) was taken to mean something it wasn’t. I was referring more to the intensity and complexity (which you noted) of the film, not to any deep meaning that you wouldn’t be able to “get” unless you concentrated really hard. It’s not “2001” or “Last Year at Marienbad”. It’s just a film that makes you think about subjective morality, that’s all. And there are a lot of characters in it. And it’s violent. Not something to watch on a night when you just want pure entertainment but not like taking medicine either.

    As for “Proof”, I found it to be a less-than-skillful adaptation of a stage play. There are some movies that you watch and can peg as adaptations even if you didn’t know beforehand. This was one of those. The language, the pacing, the need to “open up” the settings. I’m sure the play was terrific onstage. (I had meant to see it but never did.) But I found the movie to be a bit flat and under-developed, as if John Madden wasn’t quite sure what to do with the material he was provided. I didn’t think it was bad. I just expected a bit more. I’m always a bit disappointed when a film’s level of artistry can’t match its level of intellect.

    And speaking of intellect, yours is fine, dear. You’re one of the more astute persons I know and your views are perfectly valid, as if you or anyone else needed me to validate anything. Which you don’t. Mine is just one more turd on the dungheap of opinion.

  3. Kizz Says:

    Yeah but your turd has better vocabulary! (I’m not even going to go to the dictionary, next time we’re out, 3 beers in I’m making you define tsuris for me off the top of your head.) I didn’t think you were trying to bust on me, all that came totally from the inside, I realize that. You just got to be the pretty, pretty catalyst.

    I love the idea of subjective morality and I wish there had been a little more in depth exploration of it in the film. There was a lot and I appreciated it but we were shown a lot of teasers, sort of, and not shown enough of them strung together. Maybe that’s the point, maybe morality is subjective right in the moment and it’s hard to bring it away into larger life or to say what you’ll do when a new situation comes up.

    I agree about the Proof adaptation. I spent yesterday grilling JRH about the play since she teaches it in her math classes and lets them watch the movie as well and it’s just as dumbed down as I expected, maybe a little more even. By the way, you should read the play if you haven’t because the Hal part would be really nice for you. You and I are both a little old for the show but we could knock that shit out of the park, I think. There is an immense level of intellect in the specifics of Auburn’s writing and the format of the movie dulled that rather than polished it which was sad.

  4. Kizz Says:

    Julia, I often feel like I’d like to watch a lot of movies once just to watch them and not think about all the implications and then when I watch a second time I’ll think about all of that. There are so many movies out there in the world, though! I don’t even have time to watch them all once!

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