Not all, of course, but the majority of politicians typically turn out to be boring, quite predictable people who - in place of actual personality - feel the need to pervert even the simplest of exchanges or interactions as they often mistake complicated for interesting. Photographers, writers, and other members of the press, the more creatively inclined types, inherently stand to be more individualistic or at least more occupied with ideas than they are self-preservation or importance. To clarify, I'm not discounting the ego numerous members of the media possess, but am more drawing attention to the difference in those who believe they naturally possess a sense of charismatic authority and those who seek it above all else in order to prove to the world they aren't who they know they truly are. And knowing who you truly are is key to knowing where you'll land on Alex Garland's Civil War

Despite writer/director Garland's latest not explicitly making any type of political allegiances where his ideologies occupy are made more than clear in the text. By making his protagonists objective photojournalists who "record so others can ask questions" while making the antagonist a fascist President who has dismantled the FBI it's pretty explicit where Garland tends to fall even as the films allegiances end up not mattering as the writer/director and the movie itself are more interested and fascinated by what brings individuals to their loyalty in their beliefs in the first place; why they believe, not simply that they do. Drawing understanding from under the surface and not just from it gives the frame of mind of these photojournalists a more particular outline rather than being reduced only to the stereotype their label provides. Much of it goes back to Tommy Lee Jones in Men in Black when he said, "A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals, and you know it." While the context of the title and timing of the release would lead audiences to expect members of two staunch, opposing sides battling things out on the street in a modern fashion intercut with talking heads in suits discussing strategy and morality in board rooms the truth of the matter is, the bullet points for siding with one political party over another go out the window once actual bullets begin flying.

In essence, it no longer matters what we're fighting about but instead that in the scenario presented society has reached such a boiling point that the people's mentality has officially overpowered the independent rationale. As with any worthwhile film, each individual audience member will apply their own personal feelings or, in this case, politics to what they are consuming and that is one of the only guarantees regarding reactions to Civil War. By upending those expectations and making this something of a science fiction/road trip movie, viewers are required to answer the exact kinds of questions Garland seems to have gone into this project asking himself. There are all sorts of reasons people come to hold certain beliefs, but to write them off as good or bad based solely on some of those things doesn't always correlate. Sometimes they do, sometimes things are that black and white, but each person deserves the benefit of the doubt. Attempting to fill in these gaps by taking a journey across a dystopian future America presents contradictions both visually (a crashed helicopter in front of a JCPenney, a dead soldier in the middle of a Christmas display) and comprehensively (Texas and California?), but the more we begin to dabble in and attempt to understand why things are as they have become rather than being explicitly told why things are the way they are the more we realize what is being fought over isn't the point, but rather it is more about what we're losing in the process. 

Jessie (Cailee Spaeny) and Lee (Kirsten Dunst) are military-embedded journalists racing against time to reach DC in the midst of a civil war set in dystopian future America.
© Miller Avenue Productions LLC

My immediate thought upon leaving the theater after experiencing Civil War (and it is very much that, an experience) was that I don’t know that I want to watch it again, but I absolutely would. Aside from all of the philosophizing and contemplating taking place within and around the film, it stands to be said that this is Garland's most expertly crafted, paced, and impeccably performed (think)piece. If Jesse Plemons were to win Best Supporting Actor next year, I wouldn't doubt that choice for a second despite his limited screentime; the impact is unreal. Stylistically, the weight and symbolism added to shots of sprinklers considering the film's opening moments only enhance the questions and ideas around what I might have missed on this initial viewing. Technically, the film was a marvel in IMAX with the music supervisor especially deserving praise for choices that both elevate and encapsulate the tone and emotion Garland sought to elicit from his viewers - the scene featuring De La Soul's "Say No Go" is especially noteworthy and in the running for sequence of the year. This isn't a film where one can leave the politics at the door even if some will feel that is exactly what Garland did. Despite feeling amorphous in its ideals, the central theme of Civil War is as clear and prescient as ever in that right and wrong, conscience and immorality, become next to irrelevant - or are at least so far from being considered - when the world is literally crumbling around you.

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