Guy Nattiv’s Golda is more about the 1973 Yom Kippur War than Golda Meir. While the objective was to take a closer look at Israel’s first and only female prime minister, there is a lack of clarity. For an audience unfamiliar with the figure, the film does not offer much to create interest. Helen Mirren tries her best to be convincing beneath all the layers of prosthetics. Golda Meir’s swollen ankle, redness around her eyes, stained fingers holding a cigarette, fizzy gray and black hair, and wrinkly skin are executed to perfection. She was a chain smoker, and at times, it did seem that was the only aspect we were getting to see. The film is not a promising biography, though there are moments in the film that kept us hoping for more, but we were disappointed by the end of it.
Plot Summary: What Is The Film About?
Guy Nattiv tries to tell the story of Golda Meir through the decisions she made during the Yom Kippur War. Meir’s health was deteriorating when she had to tackle the threat of the Arab countries (Egypt and Syria). An Israeli spy who was known as The Chemist was the first person to warn Meir of a possible attack. The Chemist had once failed them, and Meir struggled to trust him completely. Moreover, she could not make any move without the support of her defense minister, Moshe Dayan. He was confident that the threat was not real, and he initially showed restraint in taking action. The pictures shown by the commander of the Air Force, Benny Peled, of the canal with tanks and men lined up proved that war was near.
Dayan and the head of military intelligence, Eli Zeira, tried to convince Golda that it was an empty threat, but Peled and Israeli military chief David ‘Dado’ Elazar guaranteed that there would be an attack. It all came down to Golda to decide, and she chose to be prepared instead of being regretful. Since there had been false alarms before, Meir did not sanction as many men as Dado demanded, but she did not let the warning go to waste. At the Agranat Commission, when Golda Meir was asked about the reason behind the lack of preparation even after receiving intelligence that suggested a possible war, she explained that she trusted her defense minister completely, and since Dayan was not convinced, she did not wish to go completely against him. Even though Dayan’s decision had resulted in countless deaths, Golda Meir did not let him take the fall for it. When he suffered a breakdown, she supported him and requested that he be there by her side to guide her during the crisis. This speaks volumes about the person that Golda Meir was. She could have chosen to protect herself from accusations, but instead she decided not to point fingers and act on the crisis together as a unit.
Which Real Event Is Film Based On?
As the title of the film suggests, Golda is based on the life of Israel’s first and only female Prime Minister, Golda Meir. The film takes into account the tumultuous time of 1973, when the Yom Kippur War broke out. The neighboring Arab countries, Egypt and Syria, gathered their forces and trespassed the Israeli borders from the north and south. Golda Meir was accused of not taking action even after being warned about the possible invasion. Through the film, we learn the reason behind Israel’s delayed action. The entire decision was not up to Golda Meir; one of the most memorable scenes in the film is during the Agranat Commission, when the Chairman asked Meir why she did not mobilize reserves on the day that the attack was anticipated, and she responded that Dayan did not believe that the Arabs would invade any time soon. As the Prime Minister, she had the final say, but as a woman in a room full of men, it was not as easy as it seemed. Ministers often forgot to pay her respect as the Prime Minister; she remarked while joining a meeting how the behavior of the ministers was radically different when a man headed the table. Even with people in the room doubting her judgment, Golda Meir ultimately was able to achieve the unimaginable.
The Egyptian forces were equipped with Russian arms, and Golda Meir sought help from the United States. A few snippets used in the very beginning of the film, suggest the friendly ties between the two countries. Nixon was facing backlash due to the Watergate scandal, and the tense situation was not favorable for Israel. The United States could not openly show their support for Israel owing to the fact that they depended on the Arabs for oil, but at the same time, they agreed to diplomatically deal with the situation.
Golda shared an affectionate relationship with U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, and when the circumstances worsened, she demanded immediate action. She made it a point to constantly mention that the decision to not launch a preemptive strike only for the sake of Israel’s relationship with the United States was the primary reason why the situation had escalated. It resulted in the United States offering twenty McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II fighter-bombers. The decision to cross the canal cost seven hundred lives and left two thousand soldiers injured, though the move was necessary and tactical to exert pressure on the opposing forces. In the film, it was repeatedly shown that the Israeli Prime Minister always made it a point to note down the casualties—they were not just figures in the notebook, but to Golda, they were martyrs for whom she would be responsible throughout her life.
The Agranat Commission, formed a year after the Yom Kippur War, is also shown in the film. The Commission was appointed to investigate the war, and Golda Meir’s decisions were under extreme scrutiny. At the end of the film, we learn that Golda Meir was cleared of all the accusations. The Commission believed that, as the Prime Minister of the country, she performed her duties with her best efforts.
Why Is Golda Meir An Important Figure In Israel’s Political History?
As the first and only woman Prime Minister of Israel, Golda Meir is remembered for her bold approach to tackling the crisis during the Yom Kippur War. Even though she was suffering from lymphoma, Meir stood strong when her country was falling apart, and her strategic moves helped bring about a revolutionary change. She resigned from her post after the war, and in 1977, she met the President of Egypt, Anwar Sadat. To date, the meeting remains a significant event in recent history, considering the fact that the two countries were at war a few years ago. The friendly laughter that they shared during the meeting was incorporated into Golda.
Sadat specifically mentioned how Golda Meir was the first Israeli Prime Minister to discuss peace, making the entire meeting possible in the first place. Meir jokingly scolds Sadat for calling her an old lady in all his speeches. The meeting ended with the two handing over gifts to each other, an unexpected turn of events that was only possible because Golda Meir valued peace. She felt responsible for all the lives lost during the war, and she hoped to bring about a change. It was her efforts that resulted in the 1979 Egypt-Israel peace treaty. During the end of the film, we witnessed how Golda convinced Henry Kissinger to arrange a peace talk with Sadat. It resulted in the exchange of POWs (prisoners of war), a list of names for the Red Cross, and finally, referring to Golda Meir as the Prime Minister of Israel. Meir knew that change was near after confirming that Sadat indeed recognized Israel.
Golda Meir lived with the guilt of not doing enough and was her only companion with her pack of cigarettes and black coffee. We also witness the fond relationship that she shared with her private secretary, Lou Kaddar. She was more of a trusted friend, a daughter, and a confidante of the Israeli Prime Minister. Kaddar was asked by Golda to pull the plug on her life if she ever suffered from dementia. Even though the initial treatment worked, her condition gradually worsened. Watching the health of the woman she adored degrade drastically was not easy for Kaddar, but she never left the side of Meir. The painful silence in the scene in the film, where Lou Kaddar drained multiple strands of hair while brushing Meir’s hair, was deeply effective. Golda was aware that her time was near, and all she cared about was the well-being of Lou. The repetitive shot of Golda Meir entering the morgue through a secret passage to undergo a radiation treatment is also worth mentioning. The increase in the number of bodies in the morgue was a direct result of the onset of war. Meir’s walking through the rows of these bodies was a reminder of the guilt that she was carrying within.
The film ends with the death of its protagonist. Even though her defense minister had advised her against preparing for an attack, she was guided by her guts, and she chose not to take a chance. Her presence of mind during the tough days is reflected in Israel’s victory in the form of the Camp David Accords and the Israel-Egypt peace treaty. Golda Meir remarked that she was a politician and not a soldier, and as the situation escalated and worsened, she felt suffocated, much like the free bird who made their way through a chimney. There seemed to be a connection between Golda and the sparrows. They replicated the emotions she went through, be it the sudden darkness that had set in or being stuck in an almost inescapable place. In Golda‘s ending, we witness a bunch of sparrows lying dead on the hospital floor after the former Prime Minister’s death. This possibly hints at the unexplainable connection, or the sparrows might as well have deep religious significance.