Commen: ‘Civil War’ movie could prompt some civil discourse

The dystopian movie serves to warn against division and for finding common ground in our concerns.

By Kristina Becvar / The Fulcrum

In an election year where the air crackles with political tension, the arrival of Alex Garland’s recent film “Civil War” has sparked a broad spectrum of reactions.

The movie presents a dystopian vision of a fragmented United States where various factions are at war. This narrative, while unsettling, offers us a valuable lens through which to examine our current political climate and the essential work ahead for those committed to reinforcing the bedrock of our democracy.

The essential role of journalism: At its heart, “Civil War” eschews partisan politics; it meticulously avoids taking any “sides” in a real or fictional political world. Instead, it focuses on a group of journalists navigating a war-torn America, serving as a potent reminder of trusted journalists’ critical role in a democracy in providing objective truth. Putting war journalists as neutral observers central to the narrative also anchors the film in neutrality. Through their lenses, we witness the chaos of war; stripped of bias, unburdened by allegiance.

Garland’s decision to set this dystopia in eerily familiar American settings magnifies the impact. Photojournalists’ shots juxtaposing the remnants of past “normalcy” with the current horrors of war serve to thrust the audience into the visceral truth that war, for Americans long something geographically distant, can become an intimate terror.

A stark warning against political violence: American political violence and war are real concerns that some may not just believe likely but mistakenly think necessary. Eighty-three percent of Americans are concerned about political violence, and 15 percent of Republicans and 20 percent of Democrats say the country would be better off if large numbers of opposing partisans “just died.” Four in 10 Americans believe a new civil war is “at least somewhat likely in the next ten years.”

But the brutality of this film serves well as a cautionary tale for just a slight glimpse into what that could look like. In an interview, Garland stated that that is the point: He wants the audience to suddenly feel a really deep, instinctive sense of aversion; of being appalled. For me, it was a mission accomplished.

Reflections from the cast: The concerns raised about the film’s release during an election year highlight the delicate balance between artistic expression and its impact on societal discourse. While some argue that portraying a nation at war with itself might amplify existing tensions, others see it as an urgent call to reflect on our collective path forward. Kirsten Dunst, one of the film’s stars, reflects on this balance, echoing the director in suggesting that the film, in its essence, is an anti-war message, urging viewers to contemplate the consequences of unchecked division and to reconsider the direction in which we are heading.

Other cast members have spoken about how the film has affected them; compelling them to want to take action. Wagner Moura said, “Now I’m really making an effort to sit down and listen to people that I disagree [with]. And I was absolutely surprised to see that if you value democracy, if you think that democracy is an important thing, then there’s lots of common ground.” We know that Moura’s observation is accurate; research from More in Common on the “perception gap” shows that we are not nearly as divided as we think.

A pivot, not a prophecy: Though fictional, the movie’s backdrop aligns with concerns raised by thought leaders and advocates within our network regarding the erosion of democratic norms and the rise of authoritarian tendencies fueled by polarization. Regardless of whether this movie was released in 2024 — or at all — we would still be in a divisive and potentially violent time in our politics and history.

Perhaps the film can catalyze discussions about these challenges to a broader swath of Americans; prompting us to reflect on our values, our responsibilities as citizens, and the importance of upholding a democracy that is inclusive, resilient and truly representative of all its people. Let “Civil War” not be a prophecy of our future but a pivot point toward a more united, democratic society.

Kristina Becvar is co-publisher of The Fulcrum and executive director of the Bridge Alliance Education Fund. The Fulcrum is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news platform covering efforts to fix our governing systems. ©2024 The Fulcrum, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Opinion

The vessel Tonga Chief, a 10-year-old Singaporean container ship, is moored at the Port of Everett Seaport in November, 2023, in Everett. (Ryan Berry / The Herald file photo)
Editorial: Leave port tax issue for campaign, not the ballot

Including “taxing district” on ballot issue to expand the Port of Everett’s boundaries is prejudicial.

Editorial cartoons for Wednesday, May 22

A sketchy look at the news of the day.… Continue reading

Burke: Torrent of lies doing what’s intended; wearing us down

When media outlets stop bothering to check the facts that leaves it to us to question the falsehoods.

Drivers could have helped limit mess from I-5 shutdown

While I was not involved in the I-5 northbound traffic backup on… Continue reading

Everett School District should allow graduates to wear regalia

My name is Lanie Thompson, and I am a current senior at… Continue reading

Making college affordable key to our future

The cost of attending college is prohibitively expensive. This barrier to entry… Continue reading

Snohomish County Councilmembers Nate Nehring, left, and Jared Mead, speaking, take turns moderating a panel including Tulip Tribes Chairwoman Teri Gobin, Stanwood Mayor Sid Roberts and Lynnwood Mayor Christine Frizzell during the Building Bridges Summit on Monday, Dec. 4, 2023, at Western Washington University Everett in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Editorial: Candidates, voters have campaign promises to make

Two county officials’ efforts to improve political discourse skills are expanding to youths and adults.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson speaks to a reporter as his 2024 gubernatorial campaign launch event gets underway in Seattle, on Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023. ( Jerry Cornfield/Washington State Standard)
Editorial: Recruiting two Bob Fergusons isn’t election integrity

A GOP activist paid the filing fee for two gubernatorial candidates who share the attorney general’s name.

Foster parent abstract concept vector illustration. Foster care, father in adoption, happy interracial family, having fun, together at home, childless couple, adopted child abstract metaphor.
Editorial: State must return foster youths’ federal benefits

States, including Washington, have used those benefits, rather than hold them until adulthood.

Making adjustments to keep Social Security solvent represents only one of the issues confronting Congress. It could also correct outdated aspects of a program that serves nearly 90 percent of Americans over 65. (Stephen Savage/The New York Times) -- NO SALES; FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY WITH NYT STORY SLUGGED SCI SOCIAL SECURITY BY PAULA SPAN FOR NOV. 26, 2018. ALL OTHER USE PROHIBITED.
Editorial: Social Security’s good news? Bad news delayed a bit

Congress has a little additional time to make sure Social Security is solvent. It shouldn’t waste it.

Kristof: If slowing Gaza aid isn’t criminal, it’s unconscionable

The allegations against Israel’s Netanyahu center on Israel’s throttling of aid into a starving Gaza.

Editorial cartoons for Tuesday, May 21

A sketchy look at the news of the day.… Continue reading

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.