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Morning Spew

Ugh, ‘Civil War’ Actually Got Me

And more links to ponder this Wednesday morning.

(Hell Gate)

From watching the trailer for "Civil War," the newest A24 release directed by Alex Garland of "Ex Machina" and "28 Days Later" fame, I knew the movie was about a group of journalists traveling across the country during a contemporary civil war in the U.S.; I knew that something bad was probably going to happen to President Nick Offerman; and I knew, as a journalist myself, that I could probably squeeze a blog post out of watching it. I went into "Civil War" expecting to be treated to an hour and 49 minutes of doomer porn—schlocky, overwrought visuals of important American buildings and important American institutions being destroyed, with the occasional intrusion by some semblance of a quest plot and a cast doing their best with the material at hand. (This is, to be clear, something I probably would have enjoyed. I saw "2012" twice in theaters.) 

But, perhaps thanks to my low-ish expectations, I was moderately impressed. Like, three and a half stars. Not so much with the way the movie portrayed a potential civil war in the U.S.—sorry to go all "Cinema Sins," but I have to ask anyone who watches "Civil War" to look out for the perfect multicolored pastel dye job on a rebel combatant who appears towards the latter half of the movie. How is he maintaining that during war? 

Also, despite what the movie's poster featuring the Statue of Liberty seemed to imply, this movie is not about New York City. Like, at all. They're there for 10 minutes max—but we do get a nice shot of Manhattan commuters traveling on what else but bicycles! Not a car in sight! You Hell Gate readers like that kind of stuff, right?

What I did find to be surprisingly resonant was the way that the movie portrayed journalism and the people who do it. I often find that movie and TV portrayals of journalism exaggerate the nobility of the profession for dramatic effect, making a pure-hearted hero out of the dogged, justice-driven reporter who will do anything to Expose the Truth. Of course, that's what movies and TV do for every job—but it tends to be a little too rich for my taste. 

I expected "Civil War" to be this kind of movie, but it actually did a decent job grappling with the ethics of documenting other peoples' suffering—and portraying the effect, both protective and corrosive, that the layer of professional remove has on a reporter. We watch the main characters—especially award-winning photojournalist Kirsten Dunst, whose name in the movie I forget, and Wagner Moura, a writer and adrenaline junkie dying to interview the president—get excited by the violence and the conflict that they're seeing, but we also watch it eat away at them, as they do things like take sad baths or pop prescription pills to cope.

Obviously, that's still a bit heavy-handed, but there's something there. 

I've never been anything close to a combat journalist, but I have, during the course of my work, spoken to people in desperate, hopeless situations in order to produce a deliverable for my job that could, possibly, fingers crossed, make the subject's life a little better through the power of things like "accountability" and "witness." Then I've hung up the phone, or turned my voice recorder off, or clicked my laptop shut, and gone back to my safe and pleasant life with someone else's pain rattling around in my head for a little while, until I eventually finished my article and moved on. I think someone behind "Civil War" understands how mercenary this transaction sometimes feels.

On a lighter note, I also think "Civil War" knows exactly what kind of characters you'll find in a newsroom: an old guy, an extremely competent woman who is mean, an annoying 23-year-old, and a man who offers you prescription pills, all of whom run directly toward danger and action at various junctures. They also all smoke weed. That's media, baby! 

Katie Way

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