'Civil War' and a More-Than-Real Dystopia

'Civil War' and a More-Than-Real Dystopia


In a recent interview on The Guardian, Ruben Östlund said: “What if you were only allowed to use a camera if you have a licence? You need one for a gun – at least in sophisticated countries. The camera is also a powerful tool.”. While, he was talking about his upcoming new film, you can't imagine how much this quote underlines Alex Garland's 'Civil War' . Until you see it yourself. 

It's been a while since a film has surprised me on so many levels. Initially, I contemplated the reasons on why a potential civil war could happen. Who would be involved and what would drive such conflict? Despite knowing it's set in a dystopian future, the question of why lingered until the moment I sat into my seat at the movie theater. When you make the decision to watch it, do so in the optimal manner – in a cinema, with excellent visuals and sound. Approach it with an open mind and heart. Observe it through the same eyes that you perceive your everyday reality. And as you watch, consider whether the elements portrayed belong not only to a dystopian world but also to the current life we inhabit.

In Alex Garland's latest film, the world is portrayed as utterly devastated, yet the narrative centers on the four primary characters, four journalists. The film opens with them reporting on a confrontation in New York City between apparent government law enforcement and aggressive members of the opposing side. Kirsten Dunst portrays Lee, a renowned female photojournalist reminiscent of Lee Miller, an American photographer and photojournalist of the 20th century.

She's partnered with Joel (Wagner Moura), a reporter from South America. Both are employed by Reuters news agency and share a close bond with Sammy (Stephen McKinley Henderson), an elder African-American journalist  who navigates protests and conflicts by motivating them, while also keeping their head on the ground concurrently.

Ιn a warring conflict on the streets, Lee will save Jessie (Cailee Spaeny), an aspiring photographer who admires Lee deeply. Jessie ultimately joins the trio as they start their journey to Washington, D.C.,to secure an interview with the president, before he subordinate to the military forces of an entity known as the WA, or Western Alliance.

During this unfamiliar journey, as they head towards DC with a definite goal in mind, our characters will face the hursh truths of their surroundings. They'll navigate through utter disorder, striving to fulfill their duties to the best of their abilities. Along the way, their bond will strengthen as they let theirselves feel more vulnerable inevitably. They'll encounter individuals who deliberately turn a blind eye to reality, preferring to dwell in illusions and limiting their perspective to the doorstep of their shops and smartphone screens.

Viewing events unfold from the lenses of Lee, Jessie, and Alex Garland feels like seeing through the familiar screen of our smartphones, a daily occurrence for all of us. Countless images of violence, horror, suffering, and fear flash before us, illuminating our faces, yet we remain mere spectators. Without pausing, we continue to scroll through pieces of news that pop up on our feed.

I can't help but wonder, are we merely bystanders as events unfold, or are we actively participating, running alongside them? Do we really notice the world around us being destroyed day by day? Is Ruben Östlund correct in suggesting that our cameras have the potential to "function" as guns?

Each member of the Civil War cast uniquely captures the essence of their surroundings, infusing even the seemingly tougher and stronger characters with a deeper sense of humanity. Alex Garland's directorial eye is complemented by Rob Hardy's excellent cinematography, as they have worked together on some of Garland's previous films (Ex Machina, Men). In my view, the film excels in all technical aspects. I found myself holding my breath, eagerly anticipating each moment, fully immersed in what might come next. 

Civil War is a remarkable intense and unsettling film. It possesses a unique vitality of its own, distinct from any of Garland's previous works or those of other filmmakers, despite drawing inspiration from numerous films and novels that seem to have influenced the director's creativity.

I believe this movie has broad appeal. This film is one of many reasons of why we need to go to the movies. While I can't guarantee everyone will enjoy it due to the subjective nature of taste, watching this film might prompt a shift in perspective for some and this is quite a win. Even if you don't delve into its themes as deeply as I do, you're still likely to have a great time, especially if you're a fan of action movies, or dystopian themes.

Anyone with a deep connection to photography cannot ignore the profound insights gleaned from the conversations between Jessie and Lee. Similarly, individuals with a public voice, particularly those embroiled in war conflicts due to their professions, can't help but reflect on moments from their own experiences. Those of us simply observing from screens may need to empathize more with their perspectives.

For better or worse, it's not merely another dystopian vision of the future. This may be our dystopian present. 


Photo Credits: Murray Close, Courtesy of A24
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