REVIEW: Civil War by Alex Garland

Last Updated on July 15, 2024

Civil War (2024) by Alex Garland is a movie that a lot of people prejudged before they watched it. This is a tumultuous time in the United States of America, hardly the first time, but the prospect of a second American Civil War has occasionally popped up in political discourse. Usually, the individuals speaking are either joking or the absolute most extremes of the Far Right. The movie based around the premise of that finally happened was either viewed as taking advantage of sensationalism or possibly propaganda for either side. As fan of politically charged cinema and speculative fiction like The Division, I thought it would be interesting to give it a try.

Watch the trailer on Youtube here

The answer to most people’s questions before they even ask them are as follows: 1. This has nothing really to say about any divisions in America today. The Loyalists, Western Front, New People’s Army, and Florida Alliance are all incredibly vague in their politics. There are references to the “Antifa Massacre”, “Portland Maoists”, and the President (played by Ron Swanson himself, Nick Offerson) is vaguely Trump-like but there’s no real sides taken by anyone. Indeed, just about every side is shown to be constantly committing war crimes with no real sign of any moral authority. 2. This is its own statement. 3. It’s still a good movie and has things to say but its politics are about as meaningful as Far Cry 5.

The premise is as follows: The President of the United States has made a royal hash of things and about half of the country has seceded but into multiple factions. The US military seems divided on which faction to side with, and everyone is at each other’s throat. The US economy has collapsed and there’s a great deal of violence being done on citizens by other citizens with shortages of everything from food to gasoline. Canadian dollars are far more valuable than US dollars. Vigilante justice is common. There’s a rush to crush the President of the United States but no real sign that killing him will reunite the country or even stop the fighting.

Some people have commented on how weird the premise is and how Texas and California uniting into one country (The Western Front) is ridiculous. I don’t think that’s unlikely at all since people forget that both states have about 40% of the other party that they are most considered opposing. You could easily have said party seize power in one or the other, but it represents that you shouldn’t go into this movie expecting any meaningful world-building related to present day ideals. No, what it actually has to say is that, and get this, civil wars are bad for their citizens.

The Civil War is cataloged through the eyes of a group of reporters led by Kirsten Dunst playing Lee Smith (named after the famous female war journalist). The reporters are incredibly jaded and seemingly uninterested in any of the politics involving each faction. They just want the scoop. Given the behavior of everyone involved, it’s perhaps understandable why they’re incredible cynics. Cailee Spaeny plays Jessie Gullen, her Kitty Pryde-esque sidekick who wants to be a war photojournalist herself but has never seen a dead body outside of a newspaper article.

What follows is essentially a road movie as we pass through town to town and see how each community is dealing with the conflict. Some are using the war as an opportunity to settle old scores, others are trying to live their lives as if it wasn’t happening (which gets more contempt than it deserves given no faction is worth supporting), and others are carrying out massacres that are implied to be race or ideology related. If you don’t get the lesson that neighbor turning on neighbor is bad, then you aren’t paying attention. Ironically, perhaps the sharpest critique is of war journalism in general as the photojournalists seem like psychopathic vultures with their detachment as well as exploitative handling of their surroundings.

Dunst and Spaeny do a fantastic job in this movie but it really just feels like its only message is, “We really should avoid shooting at each other.” Which, again, IS a message. It’s not a particularly DEEP message but I can’t fault it either. The problem is that for a large portion of Americans, the issue isn’t my dislike of the other side’s policies on taxation. The problem is that for a large portion of Americans, the issue is my dislike of the other side’s general policies on wanting to kill or deport my friends. Oh, and deny them bodily autonomy. You can’t really “both sides” that.

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CT Phipps

CT Phipps

C.T Phipps is a lifelong student of horror, science fiction, and fantasy. An avid tabletop gamer, he discovered this passion led him to write and turned him into a lifelong geek. He's the author of Agent G, Cthulhu Armageddon, Lucifer's Star, Straight Outta Fangton, and The Supervillainy Saga. He is also a frequent contributor to Grimdark Magazine.

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