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Civil War: The war journalism representation in Wagner Moura’s new movie

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Casper Libero chapter.

Civil War is the most recent A24 production and it is already on everyone’s lips. Taking all the risks of releasing a political and war movie in a year of a polarized presidential election in the USA, Alex Garland (Ex-Machina) strikes again with a new action/thriller about a civil war in the country.

The story is about a group of journalists who, during the war, are trying to get to Washington DC to interview the three-term president (Nick Offerman). This dystopian plot introduces us to a reality where California and Texas are allies and seceded from the US, which could be very hard to imagine since they have, in real life, different political ideologies. 

However, the focus here is different from any other movie about civil wars. That is because the story is told from the point of view of war journalists. In other words, the public will follow the journey of this professional team, which needs to cover and report the conflict in their own country this time.

Journalists before the action

Alex Garland started to write the script in 2020 and since then he did not want to do a movie about the war itself. In an interview for New York Times, the director revealed that the production is about “checks and balances: polarization, division, the way populist politics leads toward extremism, where extremism itself will end up and where the press is in all of that.”.

Even if polarization is the main inspiration point, the political parties and other details are not mentioned and explained in the plot. For this reason, the press and the journalists are the real stars. According to Garland, the choice to put journalism at the center of the story was because journalists are responsible for checking and balancing the government. 

So, to bring on a true and tense journalistic coverage, the actors studied and got into a hard preparation for their characters. The Civil War cast, composed of Kirsten Dunst, Wagner Moura, Cailee Spaeny, and Stephen Henderson, who are playing journalists, watched two movies for the process: Under the Wire (2018) and Come and See (1985).

The first one is a documentary about one war correspondent and one photographer sent to report on the 2012 conflict in Syria. The other tells a Second World War story, bringing over some important war elements.

These cinematographic works served as an inspiration for the actors to compose their figures. Besides that, Kirsten Dunst, who plays a photojournalist, said that from the moment she took the role, she already asked for a camera to practice and took as many photographs as she could using the same lens that her character (Lee) uses. 

With Wagner Moura, the preparation was different. The Brazilian actor graduated in Journalism, something that helped him build Joel, his character. Also, in an interview for The Hollywood Reporter, Moura said that he got in touch with some journalist friends, who gave him some support for his figure, and read a lot of war journalism books, which provided him with realistic examples of how it is being a war correspondent, what are the experiences, etc. 

This preparation process enabled the actors to become immersed in their figures, presenting a great representation of combat journalism and all the struggles of being correspondents in the conflicts. 

The heroes of the story

The “road-trippy” way that the film was shot enriches the “war journalism” narrative, showing the journalist’s journey to the White House. The scenario they’re exposed to on this trip is marked by chaos and destruction. Burning builds, stray dogs, and the massive presence of soldiers are some of the elements that compose the new US reality. 

In this context, the movie trailers show scenes of the journalists hiding to not get caught by soldiers or being attacked, which seems to happen all the time. This is a close representation of the war correspondents’ reality, because they get into similar situations, risking their lives doing their jobs. 

Also, there are some scenes in the Civil War trailers that show the characters’ feelings and reactions to the horrors and cruelty of the moment. Lee, Kirsten Dunst, and Joel, Wagner Moura, are so immersed in covering and taking photographs of the war, but they suffer from that. There is this responsibility over their shoulders to report everything, but their feelings and pains are not left out.

This happens with real war journalists because they need to do their jobs with impartiality and objectivity. However, they are not shielded from the horrors and the fears that war causes, and, when they go back home, the images never go away. This was inserted in the movie with Lee´s speech “Every time I survived a war zone, I thought I was sending a warning home: Don’t do this.”. 

Another thing that the movie will probably depict is the differences between an experienced photojournalist and a beginner one. Lee, the veteran war photographer, will coach Jesse, Cailee Spaeny, who is covering her first conflict. The different ways these two characters see and comprehend the war will possibly demonstrate divergences between a senior journalist and a new one, and how their covers of the same war can be so different.

Civil War will represent war journalism faithfully to the real profession, revealing the struggles and the necessary actions that these journalists need to take during the conflicts. The storyline is kind of a way to show the public the importance of these professionals to the world´s information about wars, because they are in every battle, risking their lives to report and register this. It is not a coincidence that Alex Garland has put journalists as the center of the narrative and, as a consequence, the true heroes of the story. 

Now you probably want to watch the film as soon as possible! Civil War premiere in Brazilian theaters on April 18th.

The article above was edited by Malu Alcântara.

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Isabelle Bignardi

Casper Libero '26

Hi! I´m a journalism student at Cásper Líbero and I love to talk about movies, pop culture, music, astrology and books. By writing some texts for you, I hope to make a difference in the way you see these topics. Hope you like it! =)