Alex Garland’s Civil War is a dystopian anti-war film. The film, made by the British writer and director, conveys a sense of a sort of comeuppance for the United States. After all of its days spent intervening and aggravating wars on foreign lands, war has finally hit home. This film is still executed in an all-American manner. It is essentially a cross-country road trip movie which follows a group of war journalists on their way to interview the President of the United States. 

Civil War by Alex Garland film poster. Image courtesy of @civilwarmovie/Instagram.

The group, led by photojournalist Lee Smith (Kirsten Dunst) and writer Wagner Moura (Joel), has caught a whiff of news that the United States is losing ground to its opposition, The Western Front (led by States of California and Texas). As characters who represent everyday people compare the President to Saddam Hussein—the controversial President of Iraq who was executed for his war crimes— Smith and Moura believe that the President will soon face similar circumstances. Hence, they began their cross-country trip across a war-torn America, right into the heart of the conflict, to interview the President before his death. 

Still from Civil War by Alex Garland. Image courtesy of Civil War’s IMDB page.

Contrived through the eyes of war correspondents, the film is a moving portrait of the cruel realities that soldiers and citizens alike have to face in a war. At a time where a ceasefire is yet to happen in Gaza, the fate of Ukraine hanging in the balance and attacks increasing in Yemen, Civil War a timely and powerful call to action. Not just for Americans but also for citizens of the world. To rally them up to actively push for international peace and to call for a stop to American intervention in wars on foreign territory. This means that Civil War by Alex Garland is aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal of Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions.

One of the reasons that Civil War works as an anti-war film is because it is set in the near future. Battles are fought in Walmart parking lots, someone’s friendly neighbour in his favourite Hawaiian shirt is forced to take up arms, and so have the teenagers with their dyed hair and alternative fashion tastes. It is a portrait of the United States as it is today, with all of its issues of the day, such as racism, homelessness and gun violence, aggravated by the war. This ensures the film’s relatability to deliver its anti-war message effectively.

Still from Civil War by Alex Garland. Image courtesy of Civil War’s IMDB page.

Setting it up as a road-trip movie further proves Alex Garland’s ingenuity. Typically, road-trip movies are feel-good movies where characters pass by picturesque landscapes and meet various colourful characters along the way. In Civil War, this format has been twisted to reveal the worst of humanity that usually surfaces during wartime. Yet, Garland has also poetically captured the beauty of the American landscape that most road-trip movies have, too. Everything from its sprawling corn fields and large highways to towering cityscapes is still portrayed as beautiful despite gun smoke and bodies littering the view. These landscapes become intermezzos, a small break between one breath-taking and adrenaline-inducing sequence to another. Before finally, our group meets the President of the United States and understands that stripped of his title and country, he is but a man who cowers at the sight of a gun.

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