Apr 19, 2024 - Culture

"Civil War" is unsettling — especially if you live in D.C.

Characters in the movie "Civil War" walk through the White House.

Actors Kirsten Dunst, Wagner Moura, and Cailee Spaeny walk into a re-creation of the White House in the movie, "Civil War." Photo: Murray Close

Earlier this week I did something extremely out of character: I left my couch to see a movie IRL at a theater — the much-discussed "Civil War," the final D.C.-based act of which was pretty triggering, to say the least.

The big picture: The movie follows a band of journalists as they travel from New York to D.C. to cover the expected fall of an authoritarian president, barricaded in the White House amid a violent civil war provoked by seceding states uprising.

State of play: The movie ends in D.C., a thunderous, engulfing, visceral stretch of scenes where the journalists embed with soldiers as they close in on the White House to assassinate the president.

  • It's full of explosions and shootouts that take place along the Lincoln Memorial, downtown D.C., and buildings like the Renwick and Eisenhower Executive Office Building.

Watching this left me uneasy and solemn: As someone who lived in D.C. through the eerily empty streets of the early pandemic, the low-flying helicopters and police crackdown during 2020's social justice protests, and the Jan. 6 insurrection — well, some of the moments in these scenes felt a little too familiar, even if the movie was far more dramatic and dystopian than anything D.C. actually experienced.

  • Sure, it's not uncommon to see D.C. attacked in films — think aliens blowing up the White House in "Independence Day" — but this felt much more rooted in reality.
  • It seemed to evoke similar flashbacks in my fellow local filmgoers — in the elevator afterward, everyone kind of stared at each other, a heaviness acknowledging what we'd just watched.

When I got home, unable to fall asleep, I flipped through pictures on my phone from the spring and summer of 2020, and the time around January 6 — re-processing that seismic time in our city and country.

The intrigue: Since the film's release last week, "Civil War" has received some pushback from critics who say it's "exploiting tensions," "misery porn," or generally heavy-handed.

Thought bubble: Yes, the movie's disturbing, violent, and maybe sensationalist, but also delivers the crucial ingredient of any effective piece of work — it leaves you thinking about it long after it's over.


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