What the Civil War Film Says About Current Political Liberty

What the Civil War Film Says About Current Political Liberty

Excerpt of Reason’s take on the implications for political liberty by new movies like Civil War:

Civil War is a political movie with no overt politics. It’s a war movie in which the nature of the dispute is wholly unclear. It’s a movie about journalism and journalistic ethics in which the media as we know it is a hollowed-out shell of itself, almost an afterthought. It’s an of-the-moment, extrapolated-from-the-thinkpieces movie about a polarized and divided country that refuses to either explain the causes of that division or propose anything like a solution. If you’re looking for a headline, a diagnosis, a lead, a thesis sentence, a compact Tweetable lesson, a talking point for a cable news roundtable, you won’t find it. Civil War is designed to leave you feeling empty, exhausted, and adrift. It’s a war movie without a take.

Written and directed by Alex Garland, the writer behind The Beach and 28 Days Later and the mastermind behind Ex Machina, Annihilation, and the still-underappreciated DevsCivil War is not quite a science fiction movie, but it bears some of the same genre hallmarks. It’s a dystopian thought experiment about the nature of humanity and morality in a world where the rules and conventions that are usually taken for granted have broken down.

As with those earlier works, what Garland posits is that the bonds of civil society—the customs and expectations and hidden social rules that ensure that most people act with something like decency and respect toward each other—are far more fragile and contingent than we think. Civilization, in Garland’s stories, does not uphold itself.

When the movie begins, the American civil war is already well underway, to the point where it’s almost taken for granted.

The Western Forces (WF), a coalition made up of California and Texas, are making their way toward Washington, D.C., where a president (Nick Offerman) who stayed beyond his second term in office remains. A third faction, the Florida Alliance, is also in play, perhaps in alliance with the WF, perhaps with its own goals. But the nature of the conflict, and the backstory, remains murky.

Garland’s script plays coy on what seem like crucial context questions, briefly referencing, for example, an “antifa massacre.” But wait, was the massacre against antifa? Or by antifa? If you’re looking for answers to questions like what are the precise political aims of the factions? you won’t find them. It’s war. It’s complicated, and it’s ugly. Mostly, it’s about staying alive…

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