Spielberg’s Munich and Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia

After seeing Spielberg’s Munich, it suddenly struck me that the movie has many parallels with David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia. The character development of the main protagonists, Avner in the former and Lawrence in the latter, is very similar, even near-identical, as are many other aspects of the films.

Both movies are based on books retelling (alleged) true events, though understandably dramatized, as movies tend to be. Avner and Lawrence are both low-ranking military servants who are sent out into the field. There they each lead their own small band of “bandits” in various guerilla attacks against the enemy. Their activities seem successful at start, but things don’t always go according to plan. Group members get killed. Moral doubt grows in the mind of both Avner and Lawrence. They are pulled out of the field before their jobs are finished. Their respective assignments leave them morally devastated, and they both feel manipulated by higher powers. When returning from the field, they are greeted by admiring strangers, but they themselves seem to be in a state of confusion and disillusion. Even though their field assignments are considered to be successes by the higher-ups, both movies end without offering any proper resolution or closure for the main protagonists.

There are indeed many similarities. Both Lawrence and Avner start from inexperience and enthusiasm, go through success and satisfaction, a phase of fanaticism, and they both end up with disappointment, disillusion and paranoia. There’s also the small guerilla group, the sporadic attacks against the enemy, the death of fellow group members, the revenge killings (the “No prisoners!” attack on the Turks, the killing of the Dutch girl), and there’s all the guns and the bombs.

Spielberg is a self-confessed Lean fan. He’s even stated that Lawrence of Arabia probably has the best script ever written for the movies (included in an interview accompanying the Lawrence of Arabia DVD). Perhaps he’s in the habit of making hyperbolic statements. I wouldn’t know. But it wouldn’t seem impossible to imagine that Spielberg did indeed use Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia as a vague blue-print for his own movie. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. We all seek our inspirations from somewhere.