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Dissecting The Politics Of ‘Civil War’

Now that Alex Garland’s latest and last solo directing feature, Civil War, is in theatres, audience members are left with many questions surrounding what the eponymous Civil War was fought over and what exactly the consequences are.

This article will contain spoilers for Civil War. 

Dissecting The Politics Of ‘Civil War’
Civil War / Image Courtesy of A24

Alex Garland clearly meant for this film to be left ambiguous to avoid controversy and focus on the politics rather than its characters. A decision that we can respect, but ultimately choose to explore in this article.

The movie follows a group of journalists, chronicling the battle between the Western Forces (an Alliance of California and Texas), versus the United States of America (the rest of the states). They journey from New York in an attempt to arrive at Washington D.C before the President (Nick Offerman) is killed in order to get an interview. 

Through a variety of events, Lee (Kirsten Dunst), Joel (Wagner Moura), Jessie (Cailee Spaeny) and Sammy (Stephen McKinley Henderson) give away a few clues to the audience regarding what exactly is happening in this dystopian America. 

Dissecting The Politics Of ‘Civil War’
Civil War / Image Courtesy of A24

First and foremost, when the group approaches a gas station in the first act of the film. Lee offers the gas station owner 300 dollars for a tank and two cans of fuel. Sounds overpriced no? Well, not exactly as the gas station owner says that’s not even enough to cover a ham sandwich and Lee quickly offers 300 Canadian Dollars. This implies that the US dollar heavily depreciated in value, as many countries in the midst of civil wars do.

Probably the most interesting and telling set of details was revealed in a throw away line between Joe and other press members at the beginning of the second act where it is revealed that the President had assumed a third term as the leader of the U.S., perhaps being the catalyst itself for the events unfolding during the film. This act in real life usually is considered as a dictatorial power grab which is largely frowned upon.

Next, in the same interaction between Joe and the other journalists, it is revealed that the President had the FBI disbanded. This is particularly interesting as we truly do not know any reason for this action but we can speculate that it was to avoid any detection of highly illegal actions from other government agencies. It could even be an attempt at hiding the next clue… Missiles used on American civilians.

Dissecting The Politics Of ‘Civil War’
Civil War / Image Courtesy of A24

Missiles in real life are intended to be used in warfare, against the opposing forces of said warfare and it is heavily frowned upon, even a war crime according to international law. So this is by far the biggest reason why the public turned against the US Government and split into rival factions.

As far as laws go, they are seemingly non-existent. Cars driving on the wrong side of the road, speeding, torturing of looters and more. But that being said, it is implied by Sammy that Jesse Plemons’ character looks to be doing something in secret despite his duty as a soldier. He is building a mass grave for citizens killed in an unknown fashion and also guns down two defenceless journalists for no reason at all.

That being said, several communities try to maintain a sense of normalcy but keep guarded via armed soldiers on rooftops and other outposts. 

Dissecting The Politics Of ‘Civil War’
Civil War / Image Courtesy of A24

The U.S. is split into several regions as a result of whatever catalyst caused these events. The Florida Alliance is a collection of many Southern U.S. states that want to split off from the U.S.A. and become their own thing. The Western Forces are opposing forces to the general collection of states and consist of California and Texas. 

Civil War Territory Maps Courtesy of A24

What remains of the United States is the northwest and northern states which refer to itself as the New People’s Army (not mentioned in any major way in the film) and the loyalist states which stretch from northeast to southwest, dividing the other factions. Alaska (and presumably Hawaii) are neutral zones.

In terms of consequences, many roads are destroyed, deserted and inaccessible, disrupting the transport system heavily. WiFi is implied to be impaired and the power grid is heavily damaged and extremely unreliable. Trust between business owners, the working class and the purchasing class is almost non-existent and everyday citizens bear visible guns as protection and a deterrent to any looters. 

Dissecting The Politics Of ‘Civil War’
Civil War / Image Courtesy of A24

It can truly never be known how this war began, what sides are fighting for what and how things ended up due to the highly ambiguous nature of the film and that’s okay! Some things are better left off unknown.

A24‘s Civil War is now playing in theatres. The film is directed and written by Alex Garland (Ex Machina, Annihilation, Men) and stars Kirsten Dunst as Lee, Wagner Moura as Joel, Cailee Spaeny as Jessie, Stephen McKinley Henderson as Sammy, Nick Offerman as the President and Jesse Plemons.

If you liked this breakdown, please feel free to have a look at our other articles and reviews here at Feature First!

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Zanda is the Editor-in-Chief of Feature First and oversees the publishing of the outlet and content of the social media pages. He is based in Queensland, Australia and may or may not have a life like cardboard cut-out of Ryan Gosling in his room. Zanda has been actively turning Feature First into a reliable and high quality entertainment outlet since 2023.