'Civil War' Review: Alex Garland Plays Both Sides


Garland and A24, one of the film’s distributors, declined to give WIRED an interview to discuss these topics and didn’t respond to emailed questions, so it’s hard to say how influenced Garland was by the Boogaloo movement when writing the screenplay. But given that an NBC report in February 2020, around the time when Garland was sitting down to write the script, was among the first major reports in the mainstream media about the group, it seems certain they influenced the narrative that plays out on screen.

Whether or not the inclusion of this real-world reference was intentional, the impact is likely going to be the same.

“A lot of these people, particularly right-wing, radicalized, young white men, they are absolutely steeped in media, and if you spend any time in these circles online, all of their references are either misunderstood art, such as the Matrix or Fight Club, or it’s ambiguous art that they are able to co-opt for their own purposes,” says political analyst Jared Yates Sexton.

Sexton’s book, The Midnight Kingdom: A History of Power, Paranoia, and the Coming Crisis, details how modern America is built on white supremacist rhetoric, Christian nationalism, and conspiracy theories that are now threatening to plunge the country into an authoritarian nightmare like the one playing out in Civil War. “I see this as absolutely being very ripe for the right to embrace it and celebrate it and turn it into their own sort of vision board for lack of a better term,” he says.

He hasn’t seen the film yet, but has reviewed Garland’s comments about making Civil War and believes that the disconnect between reality and the director’s vision may come from how Garland views the rift dividing the US right now.

When it premiered at SXSW earlier this year, Garland was quoted saying that “left and right, just to be clear about it, are ideological arguments about how to run a state. That’s all they are. They are not a right or wrong, in terms of good and bad.” This led to a lot of criticism, but in an interview published this week in Dazed, Garland attempted to clarify what he meant.

“I would just say to people: Before you start getting angry, let’s figure out if our definitions of left and right are the same thing,” Garland said. “Low taxation to stimulate economic growth, or high taxation to help disadvantaged people via educational welfare. That’s what I mean by left-wing and right-wing.”

To Sexton, this narrowly defined view of the battle between the left and right may be technically accurate but is not based in reality.

“American and global understanding of right-versus-left has just become a Rorschach test,” Sexton says, adding that Garland’s definition is not the widely held understanding of those terms. “Right,” he says, involves “rampant white supremacist, patriarchal fascistic power,” while “left” is defined as “diversity and inclusion and actual history and science.” Garland, he believes, “has a libertarian viewpoint that is likely to be co-opted by the right wing in times of political crisis.”

Garland has repeatedly said that the thing he wants audiences to take away from this film is “aversion,” but he has not defined exactly what audiences should feel an aversion to.

For many, the visceral action with brutal but realistic violence and scenes of tanks rolling into Washington, DC, will inspire an aversion to war, as it should. But to a small band of extremists who have been fantasizing about another civil war for years, the film’s garbled politics and confused narrative may create not aversion but inspiration.



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