two reporters in an America ravaged by civil war


The fourth feature film directed by Alex Garland refers to a well-defined subcategory of Hollywood cinema which had its hour of glory a few decades ago. A subcategory whose particularity consisted of a way of mixing the conventions of violent adventure with a way of reflecting on it, or, more precisely, of maintaining a form of distance from it, of associating a certain relation to politics and contemporary history as well as to the moral conditions of individual commitment.

The characters of Civil War are war reporters, both involved and tossed at the heart of a conflict, subject, objects and witnesses of a bloody story. This type of character that Mel Gibson and Linda Hunt played with a certain allure in The Year of All Dangersby Peter Weir (1982), Gene Hackman, Nick Nolte and Joanna Cassidy in Under Fireby Roger Spottiswoode (1983), or James Woods in El Salvador, by Oliver Stone (1986). But if these titles each referred to a real conflict, anchored in current events or the recent past, Civil War is defined as futuristic speculation, imagining a new Civil War which would tear the United States apart in the more or less near future.

Kirsten Dunst plays Lee, a war reporter embarked on a journey intended to take her to Washington to meet the president who we can imagine is locked in the White House, surrounded by secessionist troops. She takes under her wing a young apprentice photographer, played by Cailee Spaeny, determined to follow in the footsteps of an elder she admires. Accompanied by two male colleagues, the female duo crosses spaces given over to destruction and experiences sometimes dangerous adventures where a banal barbarism asserts itself, that of men at war left to their own devices, nationalist and racist militias in action, for example example, summary executions. Witnesses to acts of cruel inhumanity that they regularly record at the risk of their lives, the two heroines see their own relationship evolve. Civil War is thus transmuted into a warrior road movie continuously weighted by a suspense exalted by the quality of the production.

Ideological confusion

“Peace is when there is war elsewhere”, would have said, in substance, Jacques Prévert. Alex Garland’s entire project thus seems contained in this way of transposing the images of military conflicts, as they are recorded all over the world and reproduced by the media, at the heart of the “domestic” space of the United States. . If the universe described and the postulate imagined can be understood as a logical (if not credible) extrapolation of a contemporary America, torn in two and watched by a fracture that the end of Donald Trump’s mandate and the assault from the Capitol, it could only lessen, nevertheless, the scope of a film which, moreover, does not avoid a certain ideological confusion in its way of placing the federal state and fascist and separatist squads back to back.

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