Munich‘s final shot of the New York skyline makes it abundantly clear that, once more, Steven Spielberg is pondering 9-11. Black September is frequently evoked in Al Qaeda terms, just as Mossad’s mission prophesies Bush’s war on terror. “Every man we kill is replaced by worse,” the hero warns. “There is no peace at the end of this.” While this is inherent in the material (George Jonas marked 9-11’s first anniversary with an op-ed piece on the “lessons” of Munich), what’s remarkable is that every movie Spielberg has released since September 11, 2001, is readable as a response to that trauma.
Spielberg’s greatness as a filmmaker can be grotesquely overstated (see his reviews in the New York Press). But there’s no denying his genius as a pop culture player (the strategy that landed him, again, on the cover of Time). Spielberg personifies Hollywood, functioning both as the movie industry’s institutional memory and present-day barometer. George W. Bush has cited Saving Private Ryan as his favorite movie, and it is fitting that Spielberg’s first post–9-11 release, Minority Report (which premiered in June 2002), would be a tale of pre-cog police work that uncannily anticipated Attorney General John Ashcroft’s notions of preventative detention.
It’s useful to recall how implicated the movie industry felt, post–9-11, and how industry honchos were obliged to promise a new form of socially responsible, positive filmmaking. Thus, Spielberg’s Christmas 2002 release Catch Me If You Can harked back to the pre- hijacking days when air travel was innocent, sexy fun. (Soon after, the Pentagon created its own Spielberg scenario in “Saving Private Lynch.”) The Terminal, which opened 18 months after Catch Me, was the first Spielberg feature to have been entirely conceptualized post– 9-11, and it directly—but also squeamishly— addressed the new hell of airports and America’s corresponding fear of foreigners.
Spielberg consulted on one of John Kerry’s campaign films but had no election year statement. This past summer’s War of the Worlds, however, was an unmistakable allegory. Even Bill O’Reilly got it: “Influenced by the death and destruction visited upon us by the Islamic killers . . . this isn’t the usual Hollywood cheap-shot leftist propaganda. War of the Worlds actually reflects the view of everyday Americans rather than a few Beverly Hills pinheads.” Christmas in July, Bill.