A Shakespearean Glance at the People and Issues of the Day.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

R&J's Friar Laurence and Spielberg's Munich


We first meet Friar Laurence in Act II, scene III of Romeo and Juliet, as he is indulging his hobby of picking poisonous and medicinal herbs from his monastery garden:

Fri: "I must up-fill this osier cage of ours
With baleful weeds and precious-juiced flowers.
For naught so vile that on the earth doth live
But to the earth some special good doth give,
Nor aught so good bit, strained from that fair use,
Revolts from true birth, stumbling on abuse.
Virtue itself turns vice, being misapplied,
And vice sometime's by action dignified."

No matter how vile any living thing may be it will provide the earth some special good, and no matter how good something is, it will turn vicious if misused. It should be clear to the reader that what Shakespeare was really talking about was Steven Spielberg's latest movie, Munich.

Just as Friar Laurence injects himself into the Montague/Capulet peace process, Spielberg has acknowledged in interviews his hope that Munich will play a role in the solving the Middle East one. Bardseye has his doubts. but we wish Mr. Spielberg well. And if his plan doesn't work, perhaps a screening of Dr. Doolittle before a joint Israeli-Palestinian delegation will do the trick.

The film critic Michael Medved identified the problem with Spielberg's approach, hitting a bird's eye that bardseye can do no better than quote:

Med: "'A response to a response doesn't really solve
anything,' the director declares — indicating that he
somehow views the slaughter of unarmed athletes
by Black September terrorists as "a response." A
response to what, one might inquire? Israel's very
existence, or its determination to resist bloodthirsty
calls in 1948 and 1967 to "push all the Jews into
the sea"?

A response to a response, to a response to a response. With no calling to account on the issue of fault, and certainly no acknowledgement of the possibility of evil. In other movies Spielberg has been willing to acknowledge evil, so long as the evil beings are 1940's Nazis. But that has been at a remove of fifty years, and after the world had reached a consensus on the Third Reich. One wonders how well Spielberg's instincts would have served him in the 1930's.

Back in Verona, we next run across Friar Spielberg, I mean Laurence, as he counsels a desperate Juliet. Her Romeo has by now been banished to Mantua for killing a Palestinian who murdered an Israeli civilian in cold blood; I mean for killing Juliet's cousin Tybalt who murdered Mercutio. Meanwhile Juliet's arranged marriage to Paris has been penciled in for the coming Thursday. Here's Spielberg's, that is, Laurence's solution:

Fri: "Hold, daughter. I do spy a kind of hope,
Which craves as desperate an execution
As that is desperate which we would prevent.

Friar Spielberg hopes to bring Juliet to Romeo, and the Montagues to amity with the Capulets, and the Palestinians to peace with the Israelis, by making Juliet's family feel really sorry and really guilty about driving her to suicide. Here's our director/friar addressing the Capulets over Juliet's apparently dead body; that is, addressing the world, in his movie, over the bodies of those killed in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict:

Fri: "…Heaven and yourself
Had part in this fair maid; now heaven hath all,
And all the better is it for the maid.
Your part in her you could not keep from death,
And weep ye now, seeing she is advanced
Above the clouds, as high as heaven itself?"

Well, no, the Palestinians, trapped in a brutal, nearly lawless totalitarian culture, are unlikely to weep over the Israeli women and children who are the targets of Palestinian violence.

Bardseye will get right to the point. It is fundamentally immoral for Spielberg to equate the purposeful killing of unarmed athletes with the purposeful killing of the killers of those athletes. The rules of war were developed so that, if war could not be avoided, at least the civilians could be protected as it ran its course. The Palestinians' Klan-like terrorism, which the civilized world had previously ruled out of bounds even in wartime, has been granted aid and comfort by this movie.

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