In the case of an upcoming film, we must pray that art does not predict life.
The action-packed and tension-building trailer hints at a full-scale civil war in the United States and depicts many of the elements that are often associated with such fraternal conflicts.
Written and directed by Alex Garland, “Civil War” resembles a present-day setting. For example, nothing futuristic is shown in the trailer.
In fact, in an interview with Screen Daily in July 2022, Garland described “Civil War” as “a contemporary war movie.”
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The trailer began with a series of different voices making what sounded like urgent radio announcements in the voices of journalists.
“Nineteen states have seceded. The United States Army has increased its activity. The White House issued a warning to Western forces as well as the Florida Coalition. The three-term president assured that the rebellion would be dealt with swiftly,” the announcers said.
Then, the film's protagonist – a war correspondent played by Kirsten Dunst – walks into a clothing store with two other people. Dunst's male companion, surprised by the store's relaxed atmosphere, asked a young woman behind the counter if she had heard about “the huge civil war going on all over America.”
“We just try to stick out. From what we see on the news, it looks like it's for the best,” the young woman replied.
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Thus, in its opening seconds, the trailer presented familiar aspects of the Civil War such as secession and neutrality.
However, from there things got more confusing – and darker.
For example, in a brief shot of the American flag the traditional small 50 stars were replaced by two larger stars.
Then came the voice-over of the “three-term president”, played by Nick Offerman.
“The citizens of America, the so-called 'Western Armies' of Texas and California, have suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of the United States Army,” the president said.
In the next scene, a reporter asks the President if he “regrets the use of air strikes against American civilians.”
Moments later, an encounter with the light-haired, weapon-wielding soldier proved harrowing for Dunst and his companions.
“We're Americans, okay?” The male companion said to the constable.
“Okay. What kind of American are you?” asked the soldier with a disaffected and scary voice.
Action scenes and dramatic music dominated the rest of the trailer. However, along with those scenes, the following words appeared one by one: “Everyone. Empire. Fall.”
Finally, Offerman's voice came again.
“One nation. In the name of God. Indivisible. With liberty. And justice for all. God bless America,” the three-time president said, followed by screams.
'Civil War' will be released in theaters on April 26.
“In this land, anything is possible. Welcome to Alex Garland's Civil War. In theaters and @IMAX. April 26,” A24 wrote in a tweet along with the trailer.
– A24 (@A24) 13 December 2023
There was a swift reaction to this on social media. And much of it expressed skepticism about the film's timing in light of America's current political situation.
Clandestine, a prominent account with more than 380,000 followers on X, felt the threat was veiled.
“I feel like they're trying to normalize something. Or make Americans believe that the US government will carry out air strikes on American citizens. Some degree of propaganda,” Gupta tweeted.
I feel like they're trying to normalize something.
Or make Americans believe that the US government will carry out air strikes on American citizens.
Some degree of publicity.
– Secret (@WarClandestine) 13 December 2023
DC_Draino, an even larger account with more than 1.3 million followers, cried hypocrisy.
“Media: Trump supporters are threatening our democracy! Hollywood: *makes mass-distributed film about civil war in America*,” tweeted DC_Dreno.
Media: Trump supporters are threatening our democracy!
Hollywood: *Makes mass-distributed film about the US Civil War* https://t.co/U6vQqv1tWf
– DC_Draino (@DC_Draino) 13 December 2023
One user detected a pattern based on another recent movie.
“First Obama's cyberattack film and now this. Do you think they're trying to tell us something? The user tweeted.
– The Prepared Homestead (@ThePreparedHom1) 13 December 2023
Barack and Michelle Obama helped produce “Leave the World Behind”, which began streaming on Netflix on December 8. In Obama's film, a massive cyber attack throws America into chaos.
“Why would a former President of the United States be behind a film that envisions America's destruction and civil war?” Diamond and Silk tweeted on Tuesday.
After all, why would a former President of the United States be behind a film that envisions America's destruction and civil war? #DiamondAndSilk https://t.co/DAjUQx5BQN
– Diamond & Silk® (@DiamondandSilk) 12 December 2023
Given the way 2020 unfolded, Americans can hardly be blamed for feeling nervous about the upcoming election year.
After all, the most tyrannical administration in American history – President Joe Biden's – still has more than a year left. Indeed, Americans have good reason to suspect and despise top officials of their own government.
Thus, the “Civil War” trailer has undoubtedly impressed many people.
On the one hand, we should not doubt the basic plot of the film. The Texas-California alliance of “Western powers”, for example, does not arise from contemporary political realities.
Until we know more about what motivated those 19 states to secede and how Offerman's character led to his three terms as president, we cannot even guess the connection to modern politics.
On the other hand, audiences may have a strong reaction to the film's trailer for a reason. The events depicted seem inexplicably – yet clearly – more plausible than they did 10 years ago.
At the end of the climactic scene in Steven Spielberg's “Amistad” — the 1997 film about a group of African slaves who become the subject of a famous case decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1841 — lawyer and former President John Quincy Adams The role was played by famous actor Anthony Hopkins who uttered a memorable line about slavery and the conflict that arose from it.
“Give us the courage to do what is right. And if it means civil war, so be it. And when it does, it may ultimately be the last battle of the American Revolution,'' Adams declared in court, speaking on behalf of Africans.
It was intended to be a theatrical entertainment, but it never happened. The conclusion of Adams's original 1841 argument, in fact, included no such casual and high-minded invitation to bloodshed.
There is a lesson in this – perhaps a reassuring one. In short, sensible people who might have reason to expect civil war never approach the subject so casually.
We may rightly say “Take courage”, but we never say “Let it come”, because we pray that it never happens.