Sunday, September 30, 2007

Is this home?

Home is what I ache for when I feel a despised stranger elsewhere - my home becomes a mythical Somerset idyll and the warmth and safety of my mother's womb from which I was ejected 32 years ago.

When at home I eat my mother's bread, and sit next to the radiator and behave badly often; it is my home, I'll behave as I want I think. At home I reconnect with friends and forget to make new ones, or hide from old, long gone ones.

The desire to be at home is one of the most natural and disheartening of human desires. I leave home for good reasons - there is nothing for me there any more, it bores me and keeps me infantile, yet I keep going back.

There is only one explanation of Spielberg's film, Munich - it is his personal exploration of what home and family is. (For a good critical review see Angry Arab)

If Golda Meir is the grandmother whose racist tales you listen to in respectful silence, and the 'hero's' mother is Lady Macbeth egging him on, then his wife is Mary Magdalene crying at the foot of the cross over the beautiful man who has sacrificed his life for the sins of his people. Avner believes he is protecting his people, but of course they are using him and eventually offer him up - a Jew nonetheless - for crucifixion.

The film's 'hero', Avner, we are told, did all he did - hunting down innocent men and murdering them in cold-blood - for home and family. And in the end he is symbolically homeless and broken, estranged from his own father, disgusted by his mother and at best the adoptive son of a mafia boss.
A parable of sorts, but an ambivalent one.
After all Avner is not really an exile. At worst he is the prodigal son; if he chooses to return to his homeland Israel, he will be welcomed even by those who despise him. And one senses that the pull of home and family is too strong for a man such as Avner to resist. He may have sinned at the behest of his people, but he is doing penance (in Brooklyn of all places) and anyway, time heals...

It is interesting that the sympathetic Arab villains (I know that seems not to make sense, but think about it - the one does not cancel out the other for the well-trained film audience as Spielberg knows) who Avner tracks down are scattered all over Europe and beyond. Of course we should know that is because they DO NOT have a homeland to return to, and in this context their adamant refrain that 'one day we will return to our olive trees' seems laughable.
The problem is that because of the genre of the film: fast-paced international action thriller led by soul-searching hero - the fact that the targets live in foreign metropolises is to be expected.
Are we, therefore, asked to worry about them not having homes? No, because they are little more than classic criminals in hiding, escorted by KGB or CIA agents, for whom a hotel room and a personal driver is a way of life.

Avner does have a home and he rejects it - at least for the moment - as a matter of principle. The Palestinian men and their families living in Paris, Rome, Amsterdam, New York and Beirut are homeless.
As Spielberg and I have cleverly established - the idyll of home and family is more often than not a stupid fantasy. Yes, yes Mr. Spielberg, we agree on that, but the material fact of that home that haunts us is the big elephant in the room. It must be there, even for one to leave it voluntarily, and then dream about it.

I need to know that home is there. And you may believe you are criticising Israel in Munich, but really you are merely chastising it and underlining over and over again the reality of the homeland. It is there and you have the luxury of choosing at whim whether you like it or not. And what inexpressible relief as well as agony that gives to you!
So what about the relief of the Palestinians - will they ever have any damn relief?

1 comment:

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