Divided States of America: A “Civil War” Movie Review

Divided States of America: A “Civil War” Movie Review

“Civil War” hits a little too close to home



One of the most awaited films of every cinephile this 2024 is finally here; Civil War, a film written and directed by the disruptive and inventive Alex Garland—who is best known for his directorial work in 2015’s Ex Machina and 2017’s Annihilation—brings yet another dystopian fiction that might not be far removed from our current reality as one might think.


This film will leave you exhilarated, horrified and thoroughly entertained. From the opening sequence to the final frame, Civil War plunges viewers into a world ravaged by societal unrest, political turmoil and Nietzschean philosophy on perspectivism and nihilism. The harsh reality of being confronted with the possibility of a divided nation brought about by opposing ideas, religion and beliefs is a disturbing masterclass in gripping its viewers.


Divided States of America: A “Civil War” Movie Review


Civil War is a fictional film set in a war-torn America, captured through the lenses of two photojournalists attempting to document the violence and division during the war. A country that is ruled by a president—played by the talented Nick Offerman—that advocates for the glorification of violence, guns, hatred and the alienation of immigrants and genders (which honestly doesn’t sound too fictional when you think about a past US president that sought to “Make America Great Again”). Director Alex Garland masterfully crafts a bleak vision of America in a dystopian setting, just enough for audiences to feel withdrawn from reality, but still compelled and disturbed with its potential reality.



Lee Smith, our lead character played by Oscar-nominated actress Kirsten Dunst, is a renowned war photojournalist from Colorado who had spent years building her reputation by documenting war and violence around the world. Dunst nails it as the world-weary Lee, delivering a detached approach and pushing through because she feels it's her duty to capture the truth. But deep down, she's skeptical about her photos really changing anything. We later find out that beneath her steely exterior lies someone who is haunted by the relentless barrage of brutality she’s endured.


Divided States of America: A “Civil War” Movie Review


Warning: Spoilers ahead.


Enter Jessie, portrayed by the talented Cailee Spaeny, a young and aspiring photographer from Missouri, whose innocence and inexperience stand in stark contrast to Lee’s world-weary demeanor. Known for her breakout role as the titular character in Sofia Coppola's acclaimed 2023 film Priscilla, Spaeny brings vulnerability and naivete to the screen as she navigates the tumultuous landscape of conflict and her aspirations to become a great photojournalist like her idol, Lee Smith.


As fate intertwines their paths, Lee and Jessie meet during one of the riots that they’re both trying to document. Amidst the chaos, Lee’s seasoned instincts kick in as she observes Jessie, who is unknowingly edging towards danger. This scene gives the audience a better understanding of the difference between both characters, highlighting their experience, survival instincts and skills. As Lee leaps into action, recognizing the imminent threat of a grenade from one of the protestors, she showcases selfless bravery and rushes to Jessie's aid, shielding her from the impending explosion and guiding her to safety.


Divided States of America: A “Civil War” Movie Review


This pivotal moment seals both their destinies, as Jessie feels indebted to Lee for saving her life; she relies on Lee hoping to learn from her idol.


The movie then sets off to a journey where both journalists attempt to trek from New York to DC to document the White House under siege, with Lee hoping to make it to the capital to photograph the president before insurgents get to him. Their quest to document this particular moment becomes a metaphorical journey of self-discovery and moral reckoning, echoing Nietzsche's exploration of the eternal struggle between conflicting ideals and the pursuit of greatness.


Divided States of America: A “Civil War” Movie Review

Divided States of America: A “Civil War” Movie Review


At the heart of Nietzsche's philosophy lies the concept of the Übermensch, or “overman,” a figure who transcends traditional notions of morality and forges their own path in the world. In Civil War, Dunst's character embodies this Nietzschean ideal, portraying a conflicted protagonist torn between duty and personal agency. As she navigates the treacherous landscape of a society on the brink of collapse, viewers are drawn into a philosophical journey that challenges the very foundations of their beliefs.


Divided States of America: A “Civil War” Movie Review

Divided States of America: A “Civil War” Movie Review


Garland's direction imbues the film with a sense of existential dread, mirroring Nietzsche's own exploration of the human condition. Through Dunst's character, we witness the profound impact of moral ambiguity and the struggle to reconcile conflicting ideals in a world fraught with uncertainty. As the titular “civil war” unfolds, both on the battlefield and within the depths of the human soul, viewers are confronted with uncomfortable truths about the nature of power and the fragility of moral certainty.


As polarizing as this film is, Garland masterfully crafts a dystopian vision of America that feels unsettlingly close to home, inviting audiences to confront uncomfortable truths about power, morality and the human condition. This might interfere with others' own morality and values, but in reality, this film invites its viewers to look deeper into ourselves rather than just consuming it as a disposable piece of media.


Divided States of America: A “Civil War” Movie Review


I personally love this film and would recommend everyone to go watch it in cinemas. It explores similar themes with 2014’s Nightcrawler, with Jessie mirroring the character of Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal). Someone who is drawn to the aspect of success and doing whatever it takes to reach that goal. While Dunst's character mirrors 1966’s Persona, which examines a woman’s inner morality as she experiences strange emotional convergence.


In totality, Alex Garland crafts an epic that begs us to examine ourselves and the constructs that keep dividing our united states. States in the literal sense but also in the figurative. The states of ourselves that make up who we are. The civil war stands for not just the war going on home shores but the war within our minds. Morality vs. Neutrality.


Catch “Civil War” in theaters now.



Words Charles Boswell

Art Alexandra Lara

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