The film 7 Days in Entebbe, directed by Jose Padilha, is about one of the most ingenious and daring hostage rescue missions of the last century, when Israeli commandos stormed an airport in Entebbe, Uganda on 4 July 1976 to rescue some 100 Jewish and Israeli hostages and an airline flight crew after being held hostage by terrorists.
After some introductory historical notes, the film begins with an Air France flight being hijacked by two terrorists from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and two historical figures from the German group Revolutionary Cells, Wilfried Böse (Daniel Brühl) and Brigitte Kuhlmann (Rosamund Pike). After boarding in Athens and taking control of the plane, the terrorists redirect the flight first to Benghazi to refuel, and finally to an airport in Entebbe, Uganda. There with the direct aid of Ugandan leader Idi Amin, the hostages are placed in a disused part of the main airport.
Upon their arrival, Böse and Kuhlmaan are met by other terrorists from the PFLP who take control of the situation and prove to be more ruthless than the Germans had anticipated. With the help of Ugandan soldiers, the PFLP terrorists separate the Jewish and Israeli passengers from all the others and say they will start killing them if their demand for the release of certain political prisoners and $5 million is not met.
Although, Böse and Kulhmann do their best to maintain a tough exterior and stay focussed on their mission, it is clear that they are upset about how the PFLP is handling the situation. In a flashback, we learn how they were warned by a fellow German Red Cell member named Juan Pablo, that they shouldn’t go on the mission because of how it will look to the rest of the world to have Germans once again kidnapping and “selecting” Jews. Kuhlmann dismisses his warning, and says that they are not Nazis but “revolutionaries” and therefore must reject the guilt of their fathers. For his part, Böse just spouts a litany of Marxist cliches about how West Germany is “fascist society” and how there is a “right of revolution” against “oppression and social injustice” and of course “capitalism.” Both are mocked by Pablo because Böse, who owns a business, is thus not only a capitalist but is clearly not oppressed. Kuhlmann ends by saying that she is not afraid to go on the mission, but only fears “living a life without meaning.” In the end the two decide to go along, at the very least to add some of their own terrorist group members to the list of political prisoners they will demand to be released.
Nevertheless, it is clear as the movie progresses that the two begin to have serious doubts about what they are doing there. From the moment the plane is hijacked, Kuhlmann struggles to harden her emotions against the plight the hostages, even going as far as taking drugs to do so. As for Böse, he tries to keep his own composure in spite of being berated by one of the PFLP terrorists for not being “committed” (i.e. ruthless) enough and continuously chided by the airplane’s flight engineer who tries to get Böse to admit that the hijacking won’t accomplish what he wants. However, his greatest trial comes when has to deal with and comfort an elderly German hostage who is suffering from dementia, only to see from the tattoo on her arm that she is a Holocaust survivor.
Meanwhile, in Israel, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Defense Minister Shimon Peres, with memories of the 1972 Munich Massacre still fresh in their minds, continuously argue over whether to pursue a political or military solutions. Peres, nevertheless encourages his generals to start drawing up a plan for a rescue the likes of which they had never done before, and in a limited amount of time. Various plans are considered and rejected until they find one that will work, which they dub Operation Thunderbolt, and which is given the green light after their political solutions to the crisis go nowhere.
When the night of the raid occurs and the terrorists realize that Israelis commandos are coming, a PFLP terrorist tells Böse, that if all seems lost he should start shooting the hostages. When that moment comes, Böse who is next to a spaced outed Kuhlmann, points his AK-47 at the hostages, only to meet the eyes of the flight engineer who by now he has grown to respect, and instead just says, “Everyone get down.” He and Kuhlmann are then shot, both without firing a their guns. In the end, the raid finishes up and the hostages are loaded up on a cargo plane, and flown back to Israel after refueling in Kenya with the loss of only one soldier and four hostages. The movie ends with some more historical and political facts about the fallout over the raid, and what has happened since then.
As a final note, one thing that some viewers may find odd or even annoying about this film, is the inclusion of two interpretive dance routines by famed Israeli choreographer Ohad Nahadin throughout the movie and during the end credits. The main dance is entitled “Minus 16” and it is performed to the song “Ehad Mi Yodea” which is a traditional Hebrew song sung at Passover, and is historically out of place since the dance premiered in 1990. It is in the movie because one of the soldiers on the raid, Zeev (Ben Schnetzer), had a girlfriend trying to learn the routine. Scenes of her final performance are intermixed with the climatic raid in order to, as actor Daniel Brühl mentioned, show the level of passion and choreography of both the raid and the performance. Not being really keen on interpreting the performing arts, that’s good enough for me.
In the same way that I wrote that Dunkirk was not your typical action-packed war film, 7 Days in Entebbe is not at all like the other three film versions that have been made about this event. While it is not as morally complex as a similarly themed film like 2005’s Munich, the film just barely manages to balance both the historical and ongoing politics surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which I will not even attempt to discuss here. Instead the film sticks to the outlooks and motivations of the characters, whose story arcs are all brought to satisfying culminations during the raid, which actually takes up a very small part of the film. Although, to be honest I thought there were too many characters whose lives we learn about to give any one of them any real justice, which kind of made some of them feel like stock characters.
So while it might not be the most exciting film to watch, it is definitely worth seeing but probably not for any reason Padilha had in mind. What struck me about the film was how the story arcs of the two German terrorists offered a striking portrait of the sense of modern aimlessness that plagues a lot of young people today; especially (like the two Germans) among the highly educated and socially advantaged. In one respect, Kulhmann’s statement that she is afraid of living a life without meaning, is a perfect description of the “intellectual, tract-writing type of Socialist, with his pullover, his fuzzy hair, and his Marxian quotation” that famed psychologist Jordan Peterson says just loves to “lash himself into frenzies of rage against the class to which, by birth or by adoption, he himself invariably belongs.”
However, at the same time, her statement completely jibes with unfortunate fact that at the same time a Gallop Poll says Millennials “are a largely optimistic group, and they believe that life and work should be worthwhile and have meaning”, they are also among the most educated and most un- or underemployed in today’s workforce. This dissonance leaves them vulnerable to the radical Leftist polemics that a lot of them have had to endure at far too many of our nation’s institutions of lower learning, where they are taught to hate and reject any personal duty to recognize and uphold the foundational principles and traditions that have given them such privileged lives. Instead they are told that they can find meaning by being part of a “movement” that will do away with all the things they are told are holding them back, by people who, like one preening Dartmouth professor, not only justify using violence to accomplish their goals but who will also, like “professor bike lock”, lead by example.
This is the situation that 7 Days in Entebbe brilliant portrays, such as when the water stops running at the airport and Böse and the Air France flight engineer go up on the roof to unclog the pipes. As the engineer works, he asks Böse how he ended up being a hijacker, and Böse replies that he used to run a “revolutionary” bookstore but wanted to “do something” to help the impoverished and oppressed Palestinian suffering in refugee camps. When the engineer asks him how hijacking a plane will make life better for those refugees, Böse doesn’t have an answer. When the engineer finally unclogs the pipes he quips, “One plumber is worth more than 50 revolutionaries.” In a later scene, Kuhlmann who is sleeping little and dazed out on drugs, goes over to the main part of the airport and uses a pay phone to have one-sided conversation with Juan Pablo back home about her regrets and concerns about the mission. Only to be tapped on the shoulder by an airport employee and told that the phone she’s on doesn’t work.
Thus in both cases, as the audience, we are shown how in the end all of Kuhlmann’s and Böse’s lofty ideals about revolution and injustice are nothing but solipsistic fantasies and empty platitudes which are not only disconnected from the lives of ordinary people, but have lead them to engage in acts as equally evil as the ones they are claiming to fight against.
Contrast all of that with the character of Zeev, a member of the Sayeret Matkal, the special forces branch of the Israeli Defense Force. He is shown as having a very stoic personality who is unhappy being away from his girlfriend, and is even told by his commanding officer to get rid of her if she can’t accept the fact that his job requires periodic absence and absolute secrecy. Nonetheless, he is portrayed as a dedicated man who manages to balance his professional duties of the endless drilling for the mission, with his relationship with her. When she complains that he appears to give more attention to his unit than their relationship, he simply replies, “I fight so that you can dance.”
An this is where I think the Passover allusion from the Ehad Mi Yodea song in the movie sums up why I think his film should be seen by and explained to young men. Just as the Passover marked the beginning of the Exodus from Egypt, “that place of sin”, and into the wilderness, 7 Days in Entebbe should give us all pause to ask why when we bring the next generation of young people to the edge of our culture’s own Promised Land and, like Moses, offer them blessings and curses and life and death, some of them are choosing cursing and death? And make no mistake about it, for anyone who has ever read The Black Book of Communism will know, as puerile and vapid as slogans such as “Smash the Fasc!” sound, history tells us that sooner or later those words will lead to violence and death if left unchallenged.
The lives of Kuhlmann and Böse as portrayed in this film (who in real life were 28 and 27 years old when they were killed) should be a reminder for us as men the we have a positive duty to counter the scapegoating and nihilistic attitudes that is infecting our culture, and poisoning the optimism of the young. In its place we need to both extol and model a life that honors virtue and self-sacrifice for the sake of loving both God and neighbor. We must be willing to raise up a generation that like Zeev and the real-life commandos who went to Entebbe that night, can be “a warrior, someone who is walks the hero’s path. Someone who can walk into he heart of darkness, into the universal human phobia, and walk out unscathed.”