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Civil War Movie Review

Civil War Warning

Here’s a warning: Don’t see this movie if you can’t stand violence or want clarity about who the good and bad guys would be in a potential civil war.

Do see the movie if you can stand the disturbing violence and if you care not to let our country descend into civil war.

In an appropriately disturbing way, the new movie is a wonderful warning – for two reasons.

First, it is masterfully constructed and shot.  All the actors are effective.  The soundtrack is clear and compelling, varying between silence and horror.  The calm scenes make you yearn for a simple, friendly America.  The action sequences will make you wince. 

Second, the grizzly cruelty of anarchic chaos is the message irrespective of who’s who.  The ambiguity as to who is doing what will remind you that once violent chaos takes over, it’s hard to pick, much less be, a good guy.

In this fantasy war, Texas and California have teamed up, flying the two-star flag of the Western Forces.  A Florida Alliance also rebels.  Nineteen states have seceded.  An autocratic, red-tied president holds on to a third term during which he unleashes federal power against the people and journalists.  The well-armed Western Forces close in on D.C.

This dystopian tone poem centers on a team of journalists out to document the mess.  They naively want to go from New York to D.C. to interview the besieged president.  They pause at abandoned shopping malls and mostly empty towns.  They come upon gun-toting vigilantes torturing looters.  They drive through ember-laden fire storms.  Those in remote states deny there’s any trouble.  The photojournalists witness and photograph snipers shooting at each other, not knowing who or why.

In one especially tense scene, an innocent young photojournalist is caught by ordinary-looking men armed with AR15s dumping bodies into a mass grave.  With smug menace, one asks if they’re “real Americans.”  Some are because they come from New Jersey or Colorado.  But when the menacing man with a rifle asks an oriental-looking journalist where he’s from and he answers, “Hong Kong,” the bully says, “China,” and simply shoots him. 

A reviewer at right-wing Breitbart, who claims it is “a ridiculously dopey anti-Trump snuff film,” goes on to castigate that murdered journalist, saying, “Darwin demanded the idiot get shot.”  This reviewer reveals his character in this aside about the besieged Trump-like president: “(After we’re told the president disbanded the FBI and shoots journalists on sight, I was sure he was the hero.)”  Given that journalists are increasingly the targets of murderous governments such as Russia and Israel, you’d think he’d mask his homicidal impulses. 

Perhaps he’d be happier if the journalists in the story were also killed.  He refers to a fictitious Antifa Massacre as, “the only film I want to see.”  

He’s defensive because it’s white guys with guns who menace and murder, afraid we’ll assume this could happen here.  It could. That’s the point. Just who in our country intimidates others while brandishing weapons of war?

Most reviews weren’t so defensive and offensive.  Most appreciated the deliberate ambiguity of the unlikely alliance between California and Texas in bringing down the Trump-like president.  California joins Texas?  Would Barbie be an insurrectionist? 

Nor would modern photojournalists use old-school black-and-white film cameras.  Nor do they go to the very front, intimate with all the shooting.  Yet this is what director Alex Garland portrays.  We not only gaze at dramatic war images in our media with detached titillation, here we accompany the journalists as they overcome their humane reactions to just “get the shot,” letting us and others speculate on the meaning.

One brief effective scene shows the journalists, having narrowly escaped their murder at the mass grave, screaming in shock, but the soundtrack goes silent.  It’s too horrid for words.  We viewers scream silently inside, too.   

The National Review ridiculed the movie, calling it “shameless,” accusing, “…designed to be fun, it is, instead, offensive.”  The Financial Times called it a “tasteless disaster movie” that had “the thrill of polarizing with none of the lost ticket sales.”  The Esquire review claims our voyeurism “implicates everybody and throws us into the battle headfirst.”

We don’t want to go into any battle headfirst. 

The actual civil war in our country had more casualties than any other war, before or since, and the trauma still echoes.  Flippant threats of renewing such a war, which would be more stochastic and diffuse, not with organized armies, are no joking matter.  The actual pain and loss on all sides would be a tragic and foolish waste, a ruin of our country’s story. 

British Director Alex Garland has done us great service, a horrifying peek into the madness and mayhem such provocative talk leads to.  I don’t agree with the pretend patriotism of the MAGA movement, but I don’t mind their colorful shows.  Nor would I want to shoot any of them if it became necessary.  Such riled causes can come and go without initiating widespread slaughter and generations of revenge. 

America is wiser and wittier than that.  I hope. 

See the movie if you want to know why.

Byron has been using his writing and public speaking to engage, challenge and inspire audiences for over 40 years. Reverend Carrier's mission is to rescue and revive our earthly Eden, including our human worth and potential. If you enjoy his work, consider supporting him with Patreon.

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Vernon Chandler
Vernon Chandler
20 days ago

The history of Western Civilization is intertwined with war. The human propensity for evil is well known, if denied. Americans tend to glorify war and the insanity of armed conflict. We seem oblivious to the hundreds of billions of federal dollars spent promoting forever wars abroad while enriching the US military industrial complex. We are a spiritually diseased people facing a terminal prognosis.

Vernon Chandler
Vernon Chandler
20 days ago
Reply to  Byron Carrier

Oh, I think I agree with you. A spiritual awakening, or reawakening, might alter the trajectory but such a radical shift in our collective consciousness is somewhat synonymous with miraculous. A cultural crucifixion might be the necessary prelude for any resurrection.

Vernon Chandler
Vernon Chandler
20 days ago
Reply to  Byron Carrier

No, there is an apophatic or mystical meaning. It is a universal spiritual story of awakening: death of self and rebirth of Spirit. The seed dies for the green shoot to appear. Some describe it as the death of Ego. Saint Paul called it the flesh.

Alex Hanna
Alex Hanna
19 days ago

The kind of people who participate in and lead violent revolutions and civil wars are (for the most part) authoritarians. If they are not actually members of the military they are militarily inclined: accustomed to solving problems through violence and physical domination; suspicious of outsiders, whom they view as potential spies, assassins, and saboteurs; given to quick, authoritative decisions rather than slow, philosophical deliberation… It does not matter what ideology such people espouse when they are fighting battles to achieve political dominance; once they have it, they do not have the skills or worldviews that would lead them to create… Read more »

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