It is difficult to think of the graphic-novel version of Waltz with Bashir as anything other than a well-packaged storyboard for the film of the same name. Ari Folman, the writer/director of the film and coauthor with David Polonsky of the graphic novel, said in a promotional interview that both projects were created simultaneously. Bashir, masturbatory cross-promotion aside, is an attempt by Folman to narrate his personal quest to make sense of the massacre by Phalangist militia of Palestinian refugees in Sabra and Shatila during the Lebanese Civil War. Nobody knows exactly how many civilians were killed in the refugee camps as the Israeli Defense Forces stood by—estimates range between 300 and 3,500—but there is no dispute that a preventable atrocity did occur.
The conflict in Bashir is the problem of remembering horrific events. What is at issue here, and what ultimately fails, is a question of methodology: How should the memory of unspeakably awful tragedies be discussed and kept alive in the public's consciousness? Folman seems to think that his graphic novel does nothing but degrade (by commercializing, or by telling it wrong) the killings at Sabra and Shatila. It certainly doesn't help that Bashir is peppered with trite narrative—"There were hardly any waves. It was just me and the sea"—and concludes with a high-school student's version of clarity—"What I was looking at was a massacre."
The German philosopher Theodor Adorno, when discussing pop songs protesting the Vietnam War, said that he found these attempts "inseparable from... consumption, from the cross-eyed transfixion with amusement. When somebody [is] singing something or other about Vietnam being unbearable... I find, in fact, this song unbearable. By taking the horrendous and making it somehow consumable, it ends up wringing something like consumption-qualities out of it." The problem of art and genocide was also touched upon in George Steiner's classic essay "To Civilize Our Gentlemen," where the literary critic explores the ability of literature to exist in a world where humans are systematically murdered. Folman pays no heed to Steiner's delicately elucidated paradox of the impact well-publicized atrocities have in a society that also values and produces art. Instead, he adds a book and a movie to the pile of films—Waking Life, Schindler's List, and Saving Private Ryan, to name a few—that deal with complex and terrifying concepts in a package designed for mass consumption. Bashir's crude attempt at realism drags the reality of Sabra and Shatilia into the realm of buttered popcorn and easily forgotten glossy drawings of a long ago, far away massacre.