Home/Action-Adventure, Conscious Creation, Drama, Movie Reviews/‘Civil War’ delivers a potent cautionary tale

‘Civil War’ delivers a potent cautionary tale

“Civil War” (2024). Cast: Kirsten Dunst, Wagner Moura, Cailee Spaeny, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Nick Offerman, Sonoya Mizuno, Jefferson White, Nelson Lee, Evan Lai, Greg Hill, Edmund Donovan, Melissa Saint-Amand, Karl Glusman, Jin Ha, Juani Feliz, Jesse Plemons (uncredited). Director: Alex Garland. Screenplay: Alex Garland. Web site. Trailer.

Cautionary tales often have some of the most significant impact when brought to life on the big screen. These pictures generally deliver powerful, troubling, concern-filled messages with a sense of graphic, in-your-face urgency, all aimed at warning us of catastrophes potentially waiting to happen. And, when they reveal the nature of those calamities, they shock us into submission in the hope that we take steps to avoid them before they materialize. Such is the case with the latest offering from writer-director Alex Garland, “Civil War.”

In a dystopian version of America of the near future, the nation is locked in a brutal domestic conflict in which the last remnants of society are quickly deteriorating. Nineteen states have seceded from the Union, forming various rebel factions, the most powerful being the Western Forces contingent made up of combatants from California and Texas. The WF alliance has amassed legions of troops trained on battling the military of the Loyalist States, soldiers who are demoralized and only loosely devoted to the administration of a corrupt, self-serving, third term President (Nick Offerman) whose autocratic rule has caused him to fall out of favor. And, as the film opens, the Western Forces have made their way east to a new front line in Charlottesville, VA, their last stop on their way to launching an assault on Washington, DC – and removing the President from power by any means possible.

From a political standpoint, that’s about as much as what any viewer needs to know, because these considerations are truly secondary to the message of this film. Given the prevailing brutality that has been unleashed in this conflict, the greater concern for those in this story is a simple one – survival. Finding ways to stay alive has become the priority for those caught up in the unrelenting madness on display here. And, considering that, when the bullets start flying overhead, in all honesty, ideology doesn’t matter a damn.

In light of the foregoing, then, “Civil War” is a vehicle designed to take viewers on a tour of the war zone to show them what they might expect under circumstances like these. Leading this excursion is a quartet of journalists who are attempting to make their way from New York to Washington via a circuitous route through western Pennsylvania and West Virginia in order to get an exclusive interview with the President, a conversation that’s likely to be his last. It’s an inherently dangerous journey given a lack of essential resources, the presence of rogue militia forces, battlefield hot spots, and, of course, the inherent mistrust of journalists, who are believed to be responsible for fanning the flames of the insurrection.

War-hardened photojournalist Lee Smith (Kirsten Dunst) leads a group of reporters in covering a brutal domestic conflict in writer-director Alex Garland’s latest, “Civil War,” now playing theatrically. Photo courtesy of A24.

Leading this entourage are Lee Smith (Kirsten Dunst), a war-hardened photojournalist, and her reporting partner, Joel (Wagner Moura), a Reuters correspondent. They’re joined by Lee’s aging mentor, Sammy (Stephen McKinley Henderson), a veteran New York Times reporter, and Jessie Cullen (Cailee Spaeny), a neophyte photographer who wants to become a wartime field correspondent. Lee is not comfortable with Sammy and Jessie tagging along, concerned that their presence could complicate matters and get in the way of doing her job. That’s because, despite her outwardly tough-as-nails demeanor, there’s a strong compassionate streak that runs through her, and she’s quietly uneasy that this attribute could compromise her commitment to her work.

So, with that backdrop in place, the foursome sets off on their odyssey, one that takes them through an array of situations in which they witness the civil war in all of its various expressions. And they quickly find that there’s nothing at all “civil” about this conflict. It truly is a real-life mural of a world gone mad featuring depictions of angry participants only concerned with venting their unbridled fury on any target and of innocents caught in the crossfire struggling to stay alive. The journalists see symbols of a once-civil society in ruins, such as a bombed-out shopping mall whose parking lot is strewn with the wreckage of downed helicopters, as well as a winter wonderland theme park with holiday figure statues having been pelted by barrages of bullets. They also have a range of unsettling experiences, such as a visit to a Norman Rockwell-esque small town that looks like a replica of Mayberry but with snipers on the rooftops and a chilling encounter with a trigger-happy militia man (Jesse Plemons) on the verge of wanting to kill everyone just for kicks. Indeed, as David Bowie so famously sang in the 1985 thriller “The Falcon and the Snowman,” “This is not America.

The fallout of a brutal domestic conflict is visible everywhere, as seen in the graphic and gripping new dystopian thriller, “Civil War.” Photo courtesy of A24.

The journey takes quite a toll on viewers and characters alike. By the time the principals make their way to Charlottesville, they see firsthand what’s become of one nation under God – and a preview of what’s to come as Western Forces troops begin their move on Washington. The journalists are themselves conflicted over everything they’ve witnessed and experienced and yet can’t tear themselves away from carrying out their intended mission, caught up in the mayhem as much as those actively firing their rifles, a situation that Jessie observes as being a time of her life in which she has never felt so afraid and so alive simultaneously. Suddenly, the nobility of pursuing the truth almost seems to be more than they can bear, given the nature of what the truth itself is. It’s like a bad car accident from which no one can look away – only on steroids, horrific in every regard.

Is this what we want for our future? And is it indeed possible? Those are the questions that this film is asking us, holding up these ideas and images squarely in our faces and forcing us to take a good, hard look at them. The outcome ultimately will depend on what we believe we want. We can indulge such notions and let all hell break loose, or we can step back from the brink and envision a different result. In either case, though, whatever happens will occur as a result of our beliefs and how much power we imbue them with, a product of the conscious creation process, the philosophy that maintains our existence stems from these intangible resources. Some of us may doubt that such possibilities can arise as a result of this sort of thinking, but we need only look to countless examples from history to see that the supposedly unimaginable can emerge when backed by enough intangible but palpable belief support. In cases as diverse as the rise of fascism to the fall of the Iron Curtain, we have witnessed the unthinkable brought into being, simply because those behind them believed strongly enough in their manifestation. So who’s to say that we couldn’t see something comparable happen in a scenario like this? That’s the point this film is striving to drive home.

A corrupt third term President (Nick Offerman) comes under fire and becomes the principal target of rebel forces in “Civil War,” the excellent new dystopian thriller from writer-director Alex Garland, now playing theatrically. Photo by Murray Close, courtesy of A24.

In a mass event like the one depicted here, a variety of beliefs contribute to its unfolding, as seen in the diverse scenarios playing out, all of which form a part in the overall story. But those conceptions with the greatest belief support rise to the top to characterize the major themes running through it, for better or worse. And, in this case, we witness the results of pent-up anger and frustration being let loose, largely without focus and merely for their own sake, driven by the beliefs behind them. That’s why the term “civil” war in this context becomes such an ironic misnomer.

Given how we’ve allowed events to play out in our own society these days, it’s easy to see and understand how such a result can arise. With so many of us believing that our world is off track, it’s consequently understandable how such fever-pitched emotions have been born, feelings that are becoming increasingly more difficult to contain. And, as shown here, we witness what can happen when the safeguards are finally dropped. While it’s true that some of the players in this story are directing their hatred specifically toward political figures like the President, it’s also apparent that those same raw sentiments are being inflicted by some on any convenient target, especially if the perpetrators dislike or disagree with those on whom they’re taking out their frustrations. And, after a time, the rogue combatants begin to take an almost-perverse glee in their actions, as if they’re addicted to what their strong-willed beliefs have wrought. In no time, the result is chaos, a melee of turmoil and anarchy that has little to do with which political faction is doing what. With the genie out of the bottle, control is lost, and it may be a long time before it’s restored, if at all.

This illustrates the dark side of our beliefs and what they can manifest. The power and persistence of these intangibles takes over. We may not be able to see, smell or taste them, but we can certainly bear witness to what they yield. And that is the key takeaway from this film.

Sammy (Stephen McKinley Henderson), a veteran New York Times reporter, embarks on a dangerous journey with three younger peers to get the story of a lifetime in “Civil War,” now playing theatrically. Photo by Murray Close, courtesy of A24.

I find it curious how many viewers have sought to overanalyze this picture, looking desperately for the key cause of what’s driving the narrative – and then complaining that they’re not finding it, blaming the filmmaker for a fatal flaw in the creation of this offering. However, that thinking misses the point entirely in my view, as if those viewers aren’t seeing the proverbial forest for the trees. And that in itself is troubling to me, because, if we’re so blind that we can’t figure out the central message of this release and what it’s trying to tell us, we may one day find ourselves caught up in circumstances like these without having seen what the filmmaker was trying to warn us about in the first place. I implore viewers to open their eyes to see what’s going on and being cautioned about here before it’s too late.

“Civil War” may not be a perfect film, but it’s definitely an important one, sending out a big red flag to all of us in hopes that we recognize it before events like this come to pass. Director Garland is making an unadulterated statement that, when the bullets start flying, it may be too late to turn back, especially if we allow our emotions to get the better of us. That point is driven home with utter clarity over and over again in the film, even in such elements as the soundtrack, which features music reflective of the adrenaline rushes that the combatants – and journalists – experience in partaking in these events, a subtle but chilling reminder of the unrestrained emotions let loose in this cautionary tale. To be sure, there are some story elements that probably could have been made a little clearer and the pacing could stand some quickening in a few sequences. Moreover, in achieving his objective, the filmmaker holds nothing back, occasionally engaging in excesses that can make this a difficult watch, one definitely not for the squeamish or faint of heart. But the picture’s message is one of grave importance, especially in today’s trying, polarized climate. We’d be wise to pay attention to what’s being said in this landmark offering, handily the best – and most troubling – release of 2024 thus far.

Three intrepid journalists (from left, Kirsten Dunst, Wagner Moura and Cailee Spaeny) seek to get the story of their careers in writer-director Alex Garland’s latest, “Civil War.” Photo by Murray Close, courtesy of A24.

Despite this film’s troubling nature and somewhat mixed reception, it’s heartening to see director Garland get his career back on track with this release after a disastrous outing in his previous picture, “Men” (2022), an inscrutable and disappointing effort that represented a low point in his filmography. “Civil War,” by comparison, marks a return to form, comparable to his earlier superb works, “Annihilation” (2018) and “Ex Machina” (2014), a film truly worthy of the praise it has received. The picture’s fine performances (particularly Dunst, who turns in some of her career’s best work) and its excellent production design, cinematography and film editing make this one a genuine knock-out. It effectively combines the best attributes of in-the-trenches war correspondent films like “Under Fire” (1983) and “Salvador” (1986) with the chilling effects of domestic conflict pictures like “Delicate State” (2021). In sum, this one may make viewers squirm in their seats at times, but, if so, then it’s done its job. The film is currently playing theatrically.

In the run-up to conflicts like this, there are invariably multiple turning points where we can set ourselves on a new path that can help us forestall the kind of pandemonium depicted here. The question, of course, is, will we avail ourselves of them while we have the chance? If we don’t, the inevitable may ultimately emerge, at which point there’s almost no turning back without first putting ourselves through a hellacious ordeal like the one shown here. And it’s hard to fathom that we, as members of a supposedly civilized society, would turn our backs on those opportunities while they’re open to us. Maybe it takes a picture like “Civil War” to give us the wake-up call we need before we find ourselves in over our heads – and unable to find our way out.

Copyright © 2024, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.


  1. 82. Bildoptimierung April 19, 2024 at 2:50 pm - Reply

    Fantastic read! I was especially impressed by the depth provided on the topic, offering a perspective I hadn’t considered. Your insight adds significant value to the conversation. For future articles, it would be fascinating to explore more to dive deeper into this subject. Could you also clarify more about the topic? It caught my interest, and I’d love to understand more about it. Keep up the excellent work!

  2. Mack Jacobs April 19, 2024 at 7:31 pm - Reply

    Excellent blog here Also your website loads up very fast What web host are you using Can I get your affiliate link to your host I wish my web site loaded up as quickly as yours lol

Leave A Comment

Go to Top