Civil War? I didn’t like it

I left the theater after watching Civil War with a gnawing feeling that I couldn’t quite place. It wasn’t until the middle of the night when I realized what it was.

This was me as I left the theater

Alex Garland’s Civil War

The movie is not about another America Civil War, the politics and meanings behind why a Civil War would take place are implied in parts, but never fleshed out for the audience. This, I believe, is because that’s not what the movie is about.

In the movie with have Kirsten Dunst’s Lee, an experienced war photo journalist who’s been disenfranchised by her life’s work. She had the belief that what she was doing around the world, showing America the horrors of war, would have an effect on American’s appetite for war, and she now realizes that she was wrong.

That’s it, that’s the whole movie.

Ambiguity reigns supreme

There are no reasons, no politics, and no motivations given for the actions of each “side” of this civil war. And that is the problem. Without knowing the why, it’s hard for us to care. This unknowing extends to the characters, who are barely fleshed out. Lee is joined by Joel, who drinks away the horrors of what he’s seeing. Sammy, an aging reporter who still wants to be involved. And finally Jessie, a wannabe photojournalist who just happens to be at the same place as one of her idols, Lee, at the beginning of the film.

Character development takes a vacation. We do get one scene of Lee and Jessie providing a little back story on themselves. There is also the absence of any sort of character arc for anyone. Jessie is the only one to develop into more of a full-fledged charater by the end of the movie.

I had no reasons to care for anyone in this movie, or for the state of the nation. There were no stakes, no high tension, nothing. The ending felt like a forgone conclusion from the opening frames.

Jesse Plemons was amazing though

Pales to the greatest Civil War movie of all time

So what was causing my unease when I left the theater? As luck would have it, Tara and I saw the 85th Anniversary showing of Gone with the Wind last Sunday. While some of it has not aged well, it shows us what Civil War is missing, character development. We began to know who these people were, what there motivations, aspirations, and dreams were, and what they were capable of.

I was also reminded of 1917, the World War I movie from 2019. Since the people fighting WWI really had no idea what they were fighting for, it fit right in with Civil War.

In summary

Maybe I went in expecting too much. I wanted a commentary on what a civil war could be like in today’s day and age, and how others may react. Instead I got a cookie cutter travel movie with characters I barely cared about. There was no suspense, no surprises, especially in the end.

I believe the goal was to show the horrors of war. We know that war is terrible, but a war where we don’t know the why is not a way to do this.