Civil War (2024)
April 12, 2024 11:18 AM - Subscribe

A journey across a dystopian future America, following a team of military-embedded journalists as they race against time to reach DC before rebel factions descend upon the White House.
posted by kokaku (40 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
i absolutely loved this. the trailers pulled a complete fakeout. this isn't so much a war and politics movie, though it is that; it's a war journalism movie, specifically war photography. the main cast is incredible.
posted by kokaku at 11:20 AM on April 12 [10 favorites]

I saw this earlier this week in IMAX. It did not disappoint. It is a strange film: it's basically a picaresque story. I want to go back and watch it again because as much as I enjoyed it, there was something odd about the film regarding the protagonist. Specifically who the protagonist is, and why they are. (Do we do spoilers here?)

I'm going again on Monday, I will talk much more about it after that.
posted by nushustu at 1:08 PM on April 12 [3 favorites]

I'm here for the MeFite reviews. Reviews I've seen have come across as mixed. In part that Garland kind of comes across like a centrist "can't both sides just get along?"

(Do we do spoilers here?)

For movies, absolutely. For episodic content, you're expected not to discuss events that happen in future episodes. If the show is based on a book or something, often the book can be treated as a spoiler (future content) but typically there are book (spoiler) versus non book posts so people don't have to worry about accidentally spilling the beans so to speak.
posted by Atreides at 1:13 PM on April 12 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't say there's a centrist tone at all. To the extent that politics are made explicit, it's clear what one side represents, not so clear what the other side represents. However, the overall tone is war is terrible, let's not do a war on each other.

In discussions on Reddit, I'm seeing a lot of focus on the war which to me misses the finer points of the movie. The war is a setting for the relationship between a hardened photojournalist and a newcomer, for their relationship to war and other people, for the responsibilities of media to the public.
posted by kokaku at 3:50 PM on April 12 [5 favorites]

Having Helen Lewis and Andy Ngo in the credits doesn't really speak to the better judgment of the director.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:39 PM on April 12 [15 favorites]

team of military-embedded journalists

They were very much NOT military-embedded for like 90% of the movie.

I thought it was good, for the most part, but also uncomfortable to watch. I think it had a distinct pro-democracy (with an implied view of being pro peaceful transition of power, and of following constitutionally term-limited elections), anti-authoritarian slant, and only one side of the political divide seems to feel attacked by that.

It declines to get into specifics of other political issues that may have led up to the civil war, and I'm sure there's a segment of the viewing population that might embrace the envisioned scenario (the way people miss the point of Starship Troopers, or of being red-pilled in The Matrix, or being really into Helldivers 2 without getting the satire).

The thesis is clear from Lee's early statement: "Every time I survived a war zone and got the photo, I thought I was sending a warning home: Don’t do this." The movie is also saying "don't do this" but who knows if that will be similarly lost on a lot of the audience. It's not "Can't both sides just get along?" but "Can we not escalate it to large scale violence and warring against ourselves?"

As destroyed landscapes go, there's actually far less destruction than in so many current fully post-apocalyptic worlds, which is almost more disturbing in the way it feels more familiar and plausible. It's clear there are people in other parts of the country that are able to live their lives and mostly pretend there's not much going on.

It's also a travel mission story with a variety of distinct stops/encounters along the way, not unlike a Children of Men or 28 Days Later, or even a sort of Apocalypse Now/Heart of Darkness-light. Also with a few lighter "fun and games" interludes of relative calmness and safety, with some underlying dread of knowing that it won't last.

Then there's the whole thread of commentary about journalism, and of observing/witnessing violent acts without actually taking part or intervening to save anyone, and what that does to a person, especially when they do lose someone that was supposed to be similarly neutral and uninvolved. And that when you do take action, there is a cost for that too.
posted by Pryde at 9:29 PM on April 12 [11 favorites]

Garland kind of comes across like a centrist

I thought it was pretty obvious that Offerman was a stand in for Trump. They mentioned his disbanding the FBI and also in his speech at the beginning he uses the word "very" way too much. I think the line was something like "a very decisive victory." As if there was such a thing as a partially decisive victory. But I also respect the fact that Garland was wise enough to combine California and Texas forces so that it wasn't obviously partisan.
posted by nushustu at 11:13 AM on April 13 [7 favorites]

The movie is definitely about journalism - specifically, photojournalism in war. That's the film's primary focus.

Secondarily, I agree that it's a picaresque. In particular, it's part of the venerable tradition of American road movies. Our main characters go on a journey, see scenic parts of America, experience goodness, badness, and development.

The titular subject is only tertiary in importance. The civil war is as empty of content as any Hollywood movie featuring a president. We begin the film when the war's just about over, and learn nothing about its course or causes. The competing factions (president, western forces; maybe Florida; maybe militias?) have zero identity or political content - you can tell this, because of the wacky idea of California and Texas teaming up to shed blood together. We learn next to nothing about the war save what our characters see and the rumors they hear.

Technically, it's very well done, especially weaving sound and visuals.

Reminds me of Welcome to Sarajevo.
posted by doctornemo at 12:16 PM on April 13 [3 favorites]

I had mixed feelings about this one. There was something lacking in character development for me; I just couldn't get a good feel for the characters and thus didn't really care about them at all. Maybe that was the point? But good characterization tends to anchor a film for me, so this one aspect was a miss.
posted by extramundane at 3:21 PM on April 13 [2 favorites]

In part that Garland kind of comes across like a centrist "can't both sides just get along?"

Every review or comment I’ve seen that’s taken this stance has been pretty lackluster analysis, frequently from people that either haven’t seen it or already has this preconception when they did see it. This is one of those rare movies that’s absolutely not about what your typical viewer would imagine it’s about, even after being exposed to an accurate synopsis. Really needs to be experienced to be reckoned with.

If you get a chance to see it in IMAX, I’d strongly recommend it (if only for the sound).
posted by not just everyday big moggies at 5:21 PM on April 13 [9 favorites]

Yes, indeed, we have to actually experience this film - and feel the uneasy feels. It’s a lot more elevated and complex than I had any idea it would be based on its trailers. The aforementioned comparisons to 28 DAYS LATER and APOCALYPSE NOW are spot on. What a unique film, to be sure.

On a personal note, I finished watching NARCOS a few days ago (and several years late!), as well as seeing PRISCILLA recently, and was kind of taken out of the moments a few times with a couple of the lead actors - but in the best way. Both were totally transformed from their prior roles here, and are both so much younger looking than their chronological ages.

Man, I adored Kirsten Dunst here, too. Those world-weary eyes. Incredible.
posted by edithkeeler at 1:21 PM on April 14 [1 favorite]

I thought it was very good. As others say, its not quite what the trailer was selling, its more about the small story within the bigger story of the civil war than trying to tell the full story of the civil war. It worked for me as in interesting story though, everyone was excellent. Maybe the pacing of Dunst's burnout was a little off but she was very strong despite that.

There's probably someone gearing up to add this to their thesis on intimacy of violence.
posted by biffa at 3:19 PM on April 14

Thank you to everyone chiming in! While not excited about the Andy Ngo and Helen Lewis thing, everyone's thoughts are definitely making me lean into giving the film a chance.
posted by Atreides at 7:18 AM on April 15

I'm on the other side of that fence right now, Atreides. Reading that the secessionist states include both California and Texas, and that racist violence doesn't figure much into the reasons for the disruption, made me roll my eyes, and the reviews that claim the film doesn't really have much to say about politics, even as Garland gives interviews bemoaning the sharp political divisions in U..S. society, added to the disinterest.

Using even a few seconds of footage from and crediting an evil piece of Nazi-adjacent garbage like Ngo is definitely a choice, and one Garland surely made knowing full well what it would mean to folks who've followed Ngo's trash approach to political engagement (including stealing other folks' footage). Fuck Garland for that, and fuck this movie, too.
posted by mediareport at 8:02 AM on April 15 [3 favorites]

“War Lore,” [Caution: Disturbing images] Aimee Walleston, Do Not Research, 15 April 2024
posted by ob1quixote at 2:00 PM on April 15 [6 favorites]

“Box Office: ‘Civil War’ Sets A24 Record With $25 Million Debut,” Rebecca Rubin, Variety, 14 April 2024
posted by ob1quixote at 7:43 PM on April 15 [2 favorites]

“CIVIL WAR Movie Review - American Nightmare”Electric Playground, 09 April 2024
posted by ob1quixote at 8:37 AM on April 16 [1 favorite]

I just saw this and thought it was a brilliant, brutal, blunt instrument of a movie. I don't even know if I can hang out in the thread for this one, because not having even read any wrongheaded takes on this one yet, I'm already mad knowing they're coming.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:35 PM on April 16 [7 favorites]

OK, I feel like if I leave it at that, it's sour in a way I don't want to be.

So what I will say about this film is that it is not at all about the before or the how or the why of a civil war in the US; it is about the during. It is about making that chaos and violence a hell of a lot less abstract for Americans. It's about the JC Penney having been bombed out. It's about war crimes at the car wash. It's about a sniper trying to take people out in the town holiday decorations. Americans think of this chaos and slaughter as something you see on TV, happening elsewhere. This is what it looks like on the highway, on main street, on your block, barrelling through the capital.

My spouse was in Romania during the Revolution in 1989 at the age of ten years old and, while as an adult, she has a lot of thoughts about the politics of it, as a child her thoughts were about sandbags and machine guns in front of the church down the street, about hearing machine guns outside while she was in the bath, about tanks rolling past her cousin's apartment, about students from her block being gunned down in front of a restaurant her family ate in. Her world became terrifying and familiar things were overlaid with violence and chaos. And that was brief and comparatively minor.

I feel like this movie is going to invite a lot of speculation over what its theme is, despite the fact that the theme is literally stated in the film: "Every time I sent photos back, I thought I was sending a message: don't do this." People are going to speculate about what Garland was trying to say about the politics that might lead to a civil war, even though he intentionally obfuscated the politics so as to make them irrelevant (the "Western Front" of TX & CA has no clear explanation; we do not know if the Antifa Massacre involved antifa as instigators or targets; this is because it does not matter for this film). People are going to insist that we try and delineate who is who, politically in the film, even though the film literally features a scene where the journalists try to do this and a combatant asks "Are you [the r-word]?" On top of this, people are going to insist that the film making a point that isn't about politics means it is both sides-ing things, even though the most frightening scene in the film involves a racist militia. I think people are going to have complaints about lack of nuance when the film was explicitly fashioned to be a blunt instrument.

This feels like one I would trench myself in and get fighty about and I don't want to do that here. So this is what I've got, and I'll move on.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:56 AM on April 17 [24 favorites]

(If it wasn't clear, I haven't read any of this thread and none of what I said is a response to anyone or anything in it. I am recognizing that I would probably be an argumentative crank if I did, and opting to drop a few thoughts and excuse myself rather than become exhausting. I apologize that it took me three comments to do that, but I really am done and I hope all of you are having a nice day.)
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:17 AM on April 17 [7 favorites]

See also the comics series DMZ (previously).
posted by Paul Slade at 8:23 AM on April 19 [1 favorite]

Just saw the movie. 100% agreement with DirtyOldTown. The message is, Don’t do this.

Tough watch.
posted by Don.Kinsayder at 3:04 PM on April 19 [5 favorites]

“What is the civil war in 'Civil War' about?,” Max Read, Read Max, 19 April 2024
posted by ob1quixote at 5:17 PM on April 19 [1 favorite]

I actually think the movie could have used a lot less context for the war. It’s not about this war at all. It’s about war.
posted by rhymedirective at 8:02 PM on April 19 [2 favorites]

The impression I got is that the only reason this takes place in America is because it’s the only conceivable way to get Americans to understand what it feels like to be a non-combatant in a war torn country.

One choice I thought was interesting was the degree to which the journalists are in the photos they take. Sammy and Lee have their pictures taken at various points; even in the climactic battle, journalists are in the background. Maybe I’m reading into it too far, but I wonder if that’s a comment on the idea of true objectivity; we imagine journalists as impartial observers, but they’re part of the story. This gets emphasized in Joel’s final exchange with the president.
posted by condour75 at 8:16 PM on April 19 [7 favorites]

On second thought, I might be giving Garland too much credit. I realize that you could read Joel’s hearing the president’s last words as a validation of his objectivity: the president begs him to intercede and he coldly says “that’ll do”. Curious what others thought about the film’s take on objectivity.
posted by condour75 at 8:29 PM on April 19 [3 favorites]

Garland's own several statements that he wanted to portray journalists as heroes has me confused. Either he has a very different concept of heroes than I think or he doesn't do a very good job of it. Lee is completely emotionally destroyed and Joel is an adrenaline seeking junkie. Neither are very sympathetic, which has a point in itself. Yet the final moment where they get that final shot of the president, they too very much become part of the war propaganda and not the objective neutral observers they claim to be. My initial thoughts on the movie was that it was an interesting critique of the role of war journalism, but Garland's own statement makes me think that wasn't quite intentional.
posted by winther at 3:26 AM on April 20 [2 favorites]

Linked in the footnotes for the Max Read piece:

Civil War’s Mystifying Vision of American Meltdown, Osita Nwanevu, The New Republic
Though he spends Civil War’s runtime trying to figure it out, Garland hasn’t a clue why journalists do what they do. In fairness, neither do many journalists.
posted by zamboni at 5:18 AM on April 20 [3 favorites]

“The Politics of Alex Garland's ‘Civil War,’” Daniel W. Drezner, Drezner’s World, 20 April 2024

“Alex Garland's CIVIL WAR has a clear and simple meaning,” [10:48]Science Fiction with Damien Walter, 21 April 2024
posted by ob1quixote at 12:47 PM on April 21 [3 favorites]

We now have a thread on the blue about the film, and I ended up putting my thoughts about it there rather than here. I'm Team DirtyOldTown, and Team Everyone-else-who-loved-it.
posted by rory at 2:35 PM on April 21 [4 favorites]

Ever since I read The Beach I've been an Alex Garland super fan. There's a bleakness to his stories that hits just right for me.

Another thought: I adore Kirsten Dunst.
posted by phunniemee at 3:48 PM on April 21 [1 favorite]

This review by Aimee Walleston is far and away the finest review of the film and its cultural meaning. (Puts the Vicky Osterweil review discussed on 4/21/24 on the blue to fucking shame.) Thank you for sharing, ob1quixote. Stuff like this is why I love it here.
posted by edithkeeler at 12:55 AM on April 22 [2 favorites]

I hated the war in Starship Troopers, Apocalypse Now and Full Metal Jacket, A Bridge Too Far and Bridge on the River Kwai. F_ck, even Wargames. I hate the war in this movie, too.

It really doesn't matter why the secession happened or why the insurrection got as far as it does, this art offers everyone -- regardless of affiliation -- the chance to reflect on what it would look like and how we each respond to this level of violence against the seat and office of the President of the USA. Remember Wargames.

Plus, as a Britisher, I've got no need to have "my team" be the good guys -- it's called The White House because of the whitewash applied after we burned the building in (what you might reasonably call) recent British history.
posted by k3ninho at 11:11 AM on April 22 [1 favorite]

I just watched this movie. It was occasionally visually compelling but seemed to me a shallow movie about war, journalism, and people all at once. When I listened to an interview with Garland and he sounded like a not-very-astute observer of the country where the film is ostensibly set, I got excited that it might be big and dumb and unserious. It is big and dumb and self-serious instead. Agree that it wasn't ultimately a movie about the US, but it's also not very successfully about anything, I don't think.
posted by kensington314 at 7:55 PM on April 28 [2 favorites]

Wow. That Aimee Walleston review absolutely nailed it.
posted by Cpt. The Mango at 12:58 PM on April 29 [1 favorite]

We just came out of seeing it, and what a film. It is intense, and to me hit home because of the acting and seeing familiar scenes broken down. The amount of death in this movie is huge, but important. I don't think the journalists ever think of themselves as objective, they even say they are sending a message and warning.
posted by Carillon at 3:51 PM on May 3

Watched this the other day, and listened to a couple of podcasts about it since then.

Movie production times are quite long, and the script was written before the January 6 coup attempt, and before the Russian invasion of Ukraine. So the movie was never going to have the direct political relevance than some people expect, and it was probably a shrewd decision to keep this civil war divorced from a likely one.

Even so it feels a bit weird. They have smartphones and digital cameras in the movie, it's hard to see why using a film camera is anything more than an affectation for a serious reporter. What we see of the Ukraine war is largely through phone and drone video.

However the set-piece scenes in this movie are incredibly well done. They're shocking, tense and feel authentic. I listened to the "fighting on film" war movie podcast and they pointed out lots of details I would have had no idea about: apparently some of the militia members are wearing paintball armor/uniforms, to give a sense that they're scraping together whatever they can get.

It's also another movie that a relatively modest 50 million budget, way off the big MCU movies. It's another sign that you can get startlingly big results from not huge budgets now.

But yeah, the reflexive both-sides centrism of the movie definitely bugged me. It seems like every combatant is fighting out of sadism or just a cycle of violence. There doesn't seem to be a single character who can just say what underlying cause they're fighting for. Yes war is bad, but sometimes surrender to tyranny is worse.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 2:17 AM on May 5

There doesn't seem to be a single character who can just say what underlying cause they're fighting for. Yes war is bad, but sometimes surrender to tyranny is worse.

Since it's at least President Nick Offerman's third term in office I think one can make some reasonably informed assumptions about who may or may not be doing a tyranny.
posted by phunniemee at 6:48 AM on May 5 [2 favorites]

this is on streaming now so, I finally watched it and It's incredibly well made, but utterly incoherent. i have no idea what it's trying to say about journalism. like all antiwar movies, it's actually a pro war movie. i think the lesson at the end was, when the civil war comes, wouldn't it be cool if we had some really sick black and white Kodak Tri-X shots of the action as it's happening? that would be pretty sick, to consume the downfall of america with the proper film grain.
posted by dis_integration at 9:16 PM on May 26 [1 favorite]

Hmm… maybe it lost something on its way to the small screen? I definitely don’t remember anyone having that take away at the screening I went to.
posted by not just everyday big moggies at 3:25 PM on May 27

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