Sorry Oppie – ‘Civil War’ is the Movie That Made Me Believe in IMAX

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Imagine a film about war. Then, imagine a film about journalists. Somehow, Ex Machina’s Alex Garland fashioned one of the most compelling stories of the year by marrying these unlikely premises. Even more unlikely? He convinced A24 to make an action film. Don’t worry, this is not a souped-up Marvel movie. It’s exactly what you’d expect from our favorite indie studio’s first venture into the action genre: subversive, thrilling, and intrepid.


After wowing audiences with films like
Ex Machina and 28 Days Later, it’s no surprise that director Alex Garland’s latest dystopian effort is unsettling and awe-inspiring. The highly anticipated film is already rated 93% on Rotten Tomatoes after premiering at SXSW 2024.

At a SXSW panel, Garland gave some insights into what it means to make a movie about the dystopian future that feels so close to being real. While movies like
Contagion and Garland’s own 28 Days Later felt prescient at the height of the pandemic, no one could have predicted that. But Civil War feels like a nightmare we’ve all been having for the past decade. It’s comforting, in a way, to know others are experiencing this nightmare too. But it’s dread-inducing to see it play out on screen and think: this is us. This will be us. Soon.

And that’s precisely the state of anxiety Garland wants us in.

“Cinema is inclined towards whatever it’s presenting itself, and it’s inclined to not being anti-war,” Garland told the panel at SXSW. “To accurately present the action, it contains adrenaline. And if you add music to that, and you add a certain kind of imagery to that, essentially, it becomes seductive.”

Garland didn’t want to make a sexy war movie. He didn’t want to give us an easy watch.

His solution: making it as disorienting as possible. Unexpected musical moments, atrociously violent cuts of brutality, and gore abound.

“That De La Soul track [that plays during a pivotal scene] had a particular function which was to be jarring and aggressive and speak somehow to the perverse pleasure in what was happening,” Garland explained.

From the score to the cinematography, Garland has managed to make a war movie that does not, in any way, glamorize war. To do that, he had to keep the audience anxious and tense The product: the most stressful watching experience I’ve ever endured. But my god, it was worth it.

What is Civil War (2023) about?

@moviesaretherapy Civil War review #fyp #foryou #movies ♬ original sound – Kit Lazer

Civil War is set in a not-too-distant future when California and Texas have seceded, and the ensuing civil war has caused chaos across the United States. A team of war photographers and journalists make a dangerous journey to Washington DC with the goal of interviewing the President before American democracy falls.

It stars Kirsten Dunst in a career-best performance as jaded photojournalist Lee, alongside Wagner Moura, Cailee Spaeny, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Nick Offerman, and Jesse Plemons.

It’s a war movie. An action movie. A morbid road trip movie. But above all, it’s a nuanced ode to journalists. “I wanted to make journalists the hero,” said Garland. “In any kind of free country or, let’s say, democracy, journalists are not a luxury, they’re a necessity. They are absolutely as important as the judiciary, the executive, or the legislature, and they are literally as important as a free press that is respected and trusted. Now, journalists have done some of the work to be distrusted themselves. But a lot of other interested parties have been complicit in making them untrusted. And I think it’s unhealthy. And I think it’s wrong. So I wanted to put journalism at the heart of it.”

Though the characters are complex and flawed, we spend enough time with them in a van to cause us to not just love them, but respect them. We believe in them. We believe in their work. If the film’s action doesn’t manage to seduce us, we are seduced by the characters’ prevailing idealism in such dire times.

It’s prescient, too, to be celebrating war journalists — people with nothing to protect them but cameras and press vests — in the current global climate. Garland could not have anticipated
Civil War would be released at a time when many of us are quite familiar with the names of press journalists across the world — Motaz, Bisan, Plestia. Outfitted with far less ego and equipment than the journalists in this film, the reality of journalists in Palestine is impossible not to recall while watching Civil War. It adds another thread of reality to the film that makes it all the more effective.

Is Civil War (2023) good?

Civil War pulls off Garland’s intended feat of creating an unequivocally anti-war war movie. But it’s by no means flat or didactic. The tapestry of scenes the characters encounter keeps the film moving. With each stop they make and each new character we meet, we learn something new about this world — and about ourselves.

This is perhaps the most impressive accomplishment of Civil War. It tells us about ourselves.

Garland shows us ourselves in the characters, in the polarized nation, and in the scenes of atrocity, the film never shies away from. “The first season of
The Handmaid’s Tale did something very interesting, which was it had bits of imagery that would seem shocking. But as you’re watching them, you realize there was a real-world allegory or parallel. We basically did the same thing,” revealed Garland.

“The scenes are referencing moments from the real world. But not, it’s important to say, exceptional moments. Moments that you would expect in any war. And in a way, that’s part of the point. I think it was necessary to do that if one is going to be anti-war. Some of the sanitizing might pollute the message.”

The film is also tremendously evocative emotionally because it is so immersive. The film offers the audience the chance to feel like it’s
behind the camera by following the photographers and revealing the shots the characters “take” during the film. And to get the shot, we go with them into the line of fire.

This is where I make my plea: you must watch
Civil War in IMAX. Wrapped in the giant screen and surrounded by the full power of a fantastic soundtrack, this was the most immersive watching experience of my life — even more than any 3D film I’ve ever seen or Oppenheimer … sorry, Christopher Nolan. As if we needed the movie to feel more real, IMAX puts you right in the thick of it.

Ultimately,
Civil War isn’t really a warning — it doesn’t make political moralizations. But it’s a call to action. Or a call to remembering. It urges us to appreciate, above all, perspective and truth.

Civil War has its wide release on April 12, 2024. Prepare your nerves. Watch the trailer here:



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