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What was the sex at the end of Munich about?

Avner (Eric Bana), after years of hunting and killing the terrorists responsible for the murder of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, retires to New York with his wife and daughter. He has been haunted throughout the film by the hostage crisis: his cinematic dreams burden his sleep. He is afraid he is being hunted by the very murderers he has hunted. He also sees himself in their actions: revenge has corrupted his soul. Still, in his dreams he hasn’t (we haven’t) seen the end of the hostage crisis: the hope that the hostages may be freed; the terrorists’ realization they have been betrayed; their return to the helicopters to slaughter all the hostages in an orgy of violence. When Avner retires to New York, that is still the climax of the crisis that no one has yet witnessed. Presumably, it is the real salvo that has haunted Avner’s dreams throughout and driven his belief in the righteousness of his cause.

That final scene of the hostage crisis Spielberg splices into a sex scene between Avner and his wife, and it makes both the sex and the violence bizarre. The scene depicts a moment in which Avner’s wife is trying to reconnect with him. He has been distant since his return to her. (Bana, whose performance throughout the film is good, plays the distant husband well: his eyes stare into space where previously they looked warmly at the faces of those around him; though he touches his wife and his daughter, he portrays a man whose mind is ever elsewhere well.) She kisses him. They fuck: he looks at her not once throughout; instead, he stares into space, imagining the deaths of the hostages. His climax is their death.

Problem is, the scene doesn’t make any sense. Okay, I grant Spielberg the easy mechanisms of plot: climax corresponds with climax, yadda yadda. But so what? What does that matter to the characters? What does that matter thematically? The scene might be a simplistic collusion between sex and violence, but that has nothing to do with the rest of the film. Avner is chaste. He has divorced his wife—temporarily, granted—for Israel. Israel is the cause for whom he fights. Israel cannot allow Black September’s evil to go unpunished. Avner is Israel’s avenging hand. Eventually, Israel’s monomaniacal pursuit of revenge harms his soul, and it is when he stops believing his work is righteous that he quits it. Spielberg is quick to remind that even if Avner no longer believes in the righteousness of his cause, others do—Spielberg, for the most part, does. With that in mind, the sex might be a way for Avner to reclaim his life from Israel. But it’s not because Avner relives the hostages’ deaths. Moreover, there’s no easy way in the filming of the end of the crisis, to know whom it is that Avner is identifying with. The hostages? Okay, then is ejaculation death? The terrorists? Then is sex murder?

I could go listing more ways that the sex scene could mean x and then working out how the interplay kills that meaning. But that would be tiresome. I’ll just conclude by noting that the scene’s opacity is also frustrating because this is Spielberg. He is not subtle nor ambiguous. Munich is a case in point: the final scene of the film is a shot of the New York skyline, ca. 1975. The towers of the World Trade Center loom in the exact center of the screen and stay there as the credits roll. This is straight out of the school of filmmaking called “Beat Your Audience Over the Head with a Symbol.” Ahh! Terrorists in 1972 are like terrorists in 2004! Munich is a cautionary tale. What happened to Avner could happen to America(ns), too!

All this to say, I just don’t understand what the sex means. Does anybody else have a clue?


i still don’t see anything other than a tired parallel between sex and violence/death. you french speakers (are you out there?), is it true that the french word for “orgasm” translates to “the little death”?

that scene sickened me. and i don’t know that we can necessarily blame spielberg for it; i would imagine that’s the way the screenplay is written (by whom? i don’t remember)...

Tony Kushner, of (most recently) Angels in America fame.

if no one else has seen Munich, end of discussion! :)

the french word for orgasm is “orgasme”. (If there is one word a psychologist would know…)

However, it is true the “little death” is a francophone euphamism for orgasm.

and it can also mean this in italian and medieval spanish… but it is more common in italian than spanish and most common in french

i wonder if Liebestod could have a similar meaning (this death at climax being a literalization of the metaphor)... and i often suspect that petit mort, piccolo morte, pequeño muerte all came out of courtly love poetry… where you die if she does not give you her love, or if she gives it (only in a different way), or you die if she looks at you in a certain way (and this can be a good or bad death)

my german colleague tells me that Liebestod has absolutely nothing to do with le petit mort

Now there was a conversation worth overhearing…

he did say that he wished that it [Liebestod] did have something to do with it [le petit mort]... but that until WWII the germans spoke about sex in french, now they speak about it in english, before french, though, they spoke about it in latin.

That’s a touching way of admitting your faults: “my language isn’t sufficient to speak of sex; I will use yours.” It works better than English, anyway, which can’t seem to get over the various and sundry terms it once had prostitution. In another vein, Whitman’s great frustration was English was that it didn’t have enough words for love—in his case, he wanted one for masculine love (between friends, between lovers—the difference is both negligible and very wide, and he was content with being a little enigmatic that way).

B just got a new laptop with Turkish Windows, and she absolutely hates it. She’s been using computers since she was 5 or so, and all the software has always been in English, or French in a few cases. Using a computer in Turkish just feels wrong to her somehow.

(She has said something similar about using Turkish during conjugal relations. We always use English. I asked her if Turkish people talk when they do it. She doesn’t know the answer.)

Are you sure it’s not that she just hates Windows, and the change in language has only made her hatred more clear? (It’s important to elimnate all likelihoods, you know.)

Isn’t your lovemaking in English a matter of convenience for your sake? I mean, you might be able to whisper sweet nothings in Assyrian, but I wager that wouldn’t mean much. Or do you speak Turkish and/or French better than you’ve let on?

Oh, and in the sex scene in the movie, Bana and his wife do not talk until she whispers “I love you” at the end.

She does hate Windows, in the generic sense that everyone who uses it hates it, but that’s not it. It’s all the specialized computer vocabulary (which is really vast if you stop and think about it) being transferred into Turkish. She looks at a toolbar, or menu, and error message, and sometimes literally can’t understand what it’s saying, even though it’s in her native language.

Oh my Turkish is up for it, the thing is, it’s just not done apparently. She told me she can’t really even imagine what lovemaking talk would sound like in Turkish.

this point in the confessions of jehosaphat humper, is, i think, the appropriate time to say… geez, you’re up really, really late tonight.

were i anyone else, i’d press the matter more… but i’m not… i’m me.

My only obligation in life right now is my part-time job in the evening, and B’s been working at home for the last week or so, so we’ve been going to yatak around 4-5am lately. There hasn’t been as much sikişme as that might imply. But I’ve been frank enough already tonight! How else to make my point about cross-lingual usage of sexual terms?

Tamam arkadaşlarım. Çok ilgelinçdi ama şimdelik yeterdir. İyi geceler!

The online translator, which—other than the Turkish economist for whom I freelanced a year ago, no longer in IC—is my only other source of Turkish, says you said, “Completion arkadaºlarm. Much ilgelinçdi but ºimdelik sufficient. yi by night!”

That is an awful, awful translator. I merely said, “Ok my friends, it’s been interesting, but that’s enough for now. Good night!”

What you wrote is much more pleasing that way!