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Vanessa Reviews: Civil War

**Spoilers for "Civil War" Ahead**


When I stuffed a couple of hotdogs into my knockoff Yeti tumbler (not a euphemism) and headed for my usual Saturday trip to the movies, I thought I’d be sitting down to a riveting film about a near future societal collapse after civil war breaks out in America.

Instead, I got an accidental reminder about the moral degeneracy of journos.

Civil War opens up in the middle of chaos, with Nick Offerman (Ice Age: Collision Course) as POTUS about to give a speech (honestly, really hard to think of him as anything other than Ron Swanson). He looks into the camera and assures everyone that victory is near and the national nightmare is almost over.

Okay, you have my attention.

Kirsten Dunst (Jumanji) plays, Lee, a photojournalist who we meet while capturing photos of a small protest breaking out on an otherwise quiet street in New York City. In a matter of moments, a shouting match between police and civilians turns into a suicide bombing, with bodies and smoke littering the intersection. The photographs continue. Young photojournalist, Jessie, snaps a few of her own.


The main characters—all journalists in some regard—are shown covering the ongoing war between The Western Forces (Texas and California found a way to become friends, I guess?) and the sitting government, while also stopping to “cover” the societal collapse that bubbles in the background. They pat themselves on the back as being a neutral force in the chaos; not rooting for either side, but simply observing and reporting.

As they all make a brief pit stop at a gas station on the way to Washington DC, the youngest of the bunch (Jessie) notices that a nearby drive-thru car wash contains two bloodied men strung up by their arms. She’s clearly disturbed and rattled. Lee approaches, calm and collected. They both find out from the gas station attendant that the two men are looters. To Jessie’s horror, the men are still alive despite being tortured. Lee studies the situation for a moment as if she wants to help the men. She then asks to take a photograph of the attendant and his prisoners as they writhe and hang in pain while he poses like a dentist on an African safari standing over a felled lion. Jessie walks away traumatized.


As the movie progresses, the merry band of journos continues their road trip to DC photographing every skirmish they come upon. A brief stop is made to get some action shots of a Boogaloo bro militia engaging in a firefight with uniformed soldiers before ultimately capturing the soldiers and executing them on a hillside. POWs aren't a thing anymore. With each photo of the dead and dying that Jessie takes, you see her lose a little bit of her inhibitions. What was once disturbing is now addictive. The group camps out in a parking lot while Lee ponders her work.

“Every time I survived a war zone, I thought I was sending a warning home: Don’t do this.” See? She’s the good guy. She’s trying to help!


At a refugee camp, Lee views the negatives of Jessie's photos. They bond over how “great” the shots are while Lee recalls all the great photos her name was attached to. And right here is when you see it. This war, this suffering, all of this chaos isn’t some news topic to be covered and shared to inform the public. It’s entirely a subject medium for their art form. Each unpublished photo of a man bleeding out from his side or a soldier painting the countryside with the brains of another is a little trophy for them. A little treasure to keep in a photo album like it was a happy moment from a family vacation.


As the film plays out you start to realize that the “bad guys” and the “good guys” aren’t really made clear. This was something that the director, Alex Garland, did on purpose. You as the viewer aren’t sure who to root for, but I argue that doesn’t really matter. Neither does how the country found itself in a civil war (another thing not explained). The journos treat each side the same. Unfortunately, it means we all get treated like shit. Whether you’re fighting the good fight or just trying to survive, your pain, suffering, torture, and death are simply a muse for their art form. Nothing more.


Garland makes a point to portray the journalists in a positive light. They are our moral betters, risking their lives to bring us the news. Without them, how would anyone know that all of this shit is happening? But if you look closely, you can see their self-absorption. They spend the entirety of the film intentionally blurring the line between the morality of reporting on war and the artistic value of capturing atrocities, no matter the human expense.

They show up to a firefight, flash a press pass (as if that would even fucking matter in a civil war), and start reporting. They always find themselves where the action is (as any seasoned war reporter would), except you start to wonder if they are really there because that story of that small battle needed to be told or because they needed another print for their collection. It's a shame that guy had to die, but did it at least look cool for the camera? Were you able to capture on film the exact moment his soul left his body? When his pupils dilated and his arms fell limp at his sides?? GOOD.


War sucks. Humans are capable of doing horrible things to each other in its name. A lot of film critics (and viewers) think this movie is really about that. Or maybe the film serves as a warning of what could happen if we aren't paying attention to politics. I disagree. The film is good, but it's actually about how a national crisis brings out the worst in humanity (including, most notably, journalists). The journos in this film are only covering that crisis to get one thing and one thing only: the perfect photo or the perfect quote with their name attached to it. It’s only ever for their own glory.

Surprisingly enough, the final scene of the film gets this exactly right. Go see it for yourself.

1 Comment

3 days ago

I don't know what's worse: being suckered into seeing a movie about loser journalists or that Nick Offerman is nothing like Ron Swanson.

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