ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel
  • »
  • Entertainment and Media»
  • Movies & Movie Reviews

Secret Agents in Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent and the 2005 Movie Munich

Updated on December 5, 2015

Secret agents and assassins have long held attraction in public media and entertainment because they are people above the law, tasked with demands that normal people can only imagine. Their strengths are what give them power, and it is in this power that they are capable of actions that most common people would find reprehensible by nature. However, it is often in the greatest strength that one finds their greatest weakness—and this hold true with the characters of both Avner Kaufman of the movie “Munich” and Mr. Verloc of the novel “The Secret Agent.” To best define the ideals of strengths and weaknesses, and how these ideals play a larger role in both movie and novel, a close look will be taken into the characters of Avner from the 2005 movie “Munich” and Mr. Verloc from Joseph Conrad’s 1907 novel “The Secret Agent.”

Is it right to kill a killer, even though you then become a killer yourself?

Directed by Steven Spielberg, “Munich” was released in 2005 and is based upon the novel by George Jonas entitled “Vengeance.” The movie itself features Eric Bana as a former Mossad agent named Avner Kaufman and is set in 1972 shortly after the Munich massacre of Israeli Olympic athletes. Agent Avner is given the task of hunting down the Black September terrorists who were responsible for the massacre and is granted a team of four fellow assassins to help him in his quest. To relieve the Israeli government of any involvement should suspicions be aroused for his assassination quest, Avner resigns from his position within the Mossad and breaks any official ties to the Israeli government. The story itself focuses on the effects the assassinations have on Avner’s team, as they eventually begin to question the morality of their quest. Avner, for his part, is open to discussion with his companions, but does not give in to his own inner-demons until a heist goes wrong and he inadvertently kills an innocent teenager. From this particular assassination gone awry, Avner seems to have a psychotic breakdown and becomes as mentally wrought with grief as his companions.

Avner is a strong character, even during his most psychotic and emotional moments. While he eventually gives in to his inner-morality, his strength lies in his total commitment to the action at hand. Never does he waver in his quest, and never does he shun his team members when they begin to do so. And it is only at his final breaking point, the moment when he realizes that he has killed an innocent victim, that he begins to see the darker rationale behind assassination. While he is led to believe, much like the audience, that the eleven members of Black September deserve to be killed for their actions, he eventually realizes that he is no better than they were—killing as mercilessly as they were, even though he may have had government permission to do so. Avner’s plight is the epic moral decision between right and wrong. Is it right to kill a killer—even though you then become a killer yourself? Even more, when the justice system holds no justice for members of an elusive cult, what gives any mortal man the right to destroy them when they could have, just as easily, be taken into custody and held accountable for their actions in the legal system? The answer given is not so simple as the questions. While anyone watching can sympathize with Avner for what he is tasked to do, a watcher also begins to understand the deeper turmoil that drives him to insanity.

At one point, Avner’s comrade Robert remarks that “we are supposed to be righteous. That’s a beautiful thing. And we’re losing it. If I lose that, that’s everything—that’s my soul.” Avner, tells Robert to take a break, but later this remark had begun to eat Aver up inside. He began his task as was his duty—prepared to fulfill it with honor and loyalty to defend and seek vengeance for those who had been massacred by the members of Black September, but what he found instead was a deeper affinity for life itself. As Avner himself remarks, “there is no peace at the end of this.”

Holding on to a deeper mortality

In comparison, “The Secret Agent” was written by Joseph Conrad in 1907 and is set in London during 1886, following the life of a man named Mr. Verloc and his profession as a spy and secret agent. His greatest task is not in his professional tasks, but in balancing home life with that of his work life. His defining job is to destroy Greenwich by way of bomb, though he inadvertently kills his wife’s brother, Stevie, which sets events into motion that lead to his demise. When his wife discovers the hand he dealt, she goes after him with a knife and brutally stabs him to death.

Verloc’s morality quest is similar to that of Avner’s in that he is tasked by those of higher authority to commit murder in the name of a deeper justice. And, in the same sense, Verloc experiences the same demise that Avner does when he too realizes the consequences of his own actions, however justified they might have been. But again, what makes Verloc’s actions justified? While he may have been professionally employed as a secret agent capable of assassination and massacre, does he have the moral obligation to follow in his directives, or to follow his inner sense of ethics? The only answer given by Conrad is that Verloc did as he was told, and though he suffered for his actions, those in power succeeded in their ultimate objectives.

In describing Avner, Conrad illuminates that “the famous terrorist had never in his life raised personally as much as his little finger against the social edifice. He was no man of action; he was not even an orator of torrential eloquence, sweeping the masses along in the rushing noise and foam of a great enthusiasm” (Conrad, 62). It was “with a more subtle intention [that] he took the part of an insolent and venomous evoker of sinister impulses which lurk in the blind envy and exasperated vanity of ignorance, in the suffering and misery of poverty, in all the hopeful and noble illusions of righteous anger , pity, and revolt” (62). Within the dense prose, a reader becomes acutely aware that Avner is not a normal secret agent by any means. In fact, his profession and capabilities mark him in line with common terrorists and bombers that are known within society purely for their distaste for national unity, commercialism, and freedom.

However, at one point, Verloc reflects that “the shadow of evil clung to him yet like the smell of a deadly drug in an old vial of poison, emptied now, useless, ready to be thrown away upon the rubbish heap of things that served their time” (Conrad, 62). He is fully capable of understanding that his actions might not have been the right ones in the grand scheme of things. While he was acting on professional orders, Verloc holds a deeper morality that was not within his emotional purview before the bombing itself. The evil itself has defined him, when his original objective was to act in defiance of evil itself.

Strength in loyalty to a professional cause

Now, while Mr. Verloc and Avner Kaufman seem to have little in common overall, they do share inherent internal strengths and weaknesses that ultimately culminate in their own personal destruction. Both are intensely loyal to their profession and those in leadership positions above them. Both are willing to do anything that is required of them, especially murder, and both have a strength that keeps them from focusing on the morality of their actions. However, in their strengths lie their weaknesses. Where Avner is strong and refuses to view the morality of his actions, he becomes so intent upon those actions that he makes a fatal mistake that brings his entire ethical block down upon his shoulders in so quick a fashion that it leads to his ultimate insanity and psychological break. If Avner had not been so strong in his moral blindness to start, he might have dealt with accidental killings better than he was physically and mentally capable of.

While Verloc never truly has time to appreciate the full moral episode that wracks Avner, he too becomes consumed with the destruction his actions have caused. Both men expedience a dark understanding of their actions and the moral implications that, in their professional task, they had never been allowed to consider. Ultimately, while this mental block made them the best secret agents of their time, it also made room for an emotional break that their counterparts never fully experienced. For, while most agents held out that their actions were morally wrong, Avner and Verloc never allowed this to be part of their vocabulary. And, while this seemed their greatest strength, in the end it allowed for their greatest weakness and ultimate destruction.

Overall, “Munich” was directed by Steven Spielberg in 2005 and highlights the members of an elite assassination team who were called upon to hunt down the members of Black September. The plot itself is not as important as the character development of Avner Kaufman, the leader of the assignation team, who comes to realize that he is no better than those he was quested to hunt and destroy. On the other hand, “The Secret Agent” was written in 1907 by Joseph Conrad in much the same philosophical vein. As the main character, Mr. Verloc, is given the task of bombing Greenwich, in the end, he too understands the deeper moral dilemma that one faces when they are tasked with killing people for the purpose of serving justice. Both Avner and Verloc share the same strengths and same loyalty to their professional cause—but in the end, it is those strengths that bring about their greatest weaknesses and ultimate personal destruction.

References

Conrad, Joseph. The Secret Agent. New York: CRW Publishing, LTD, 2005.

Munich. Dir. Steven Spielberg. Perf. Eric Bana and Daniel Craig. DreamWorks, 2005. Film.

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: "https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr"

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)