Civil War and Distancing the Viewer from the action



(0:00 – 0:40)
Welcome to another episode of shitty diary of a wannabe cinephile. In today’s episode we’re gonna talk about Civil War, the latest movie from Alex Garland. I watched this movie when it launched, I was in San Francisco so I managed to watch it at the IMAX, and I was a little bit disappointed, but I didn’t know exactly why, you know? Maybe I was influenced because I watched it with a photographer who was just pinpointing all the mistakes and all the bad representation of how photography works in the movie.

(0:42 – 3:25)
So I decided to give it a second try and I watched it at home last weekend, so two months, almost two months after, and it still didn’t really sit amazingly well. And maybe this time because I watched it with a journalist who also was pinpointing all the mistakes of how journalists were represented. But anyways, I keep thinking it doesn’t really matter for me the accurate representation of a profession in a movie.

I mean, you have to take certain liberties, if not it’s gonna be really boring. But I still couldn’t really pinpoint why did this movie… I don’t know, it’s a hard to pinpoint movie. I initially thought it was bad, after I thought it was medium, after I thought it was good, then I watched it again and went back to my initial impression.

But it’s a hard to understand movie of why, what makes it this kind of a mess, a messy movie. And I mean, the box office was really good for this movie, so I’m probably in the wrong here. I’m probably the wrong person to talk about this movie as any other movie.

But is it… I don’t know. For example, I admire that Alex Garland, which is one of my directors on the watch list, anything he does I’m gonna watch. I don’t even read about it, it just goes straight to the movie theater and watch it.

And why? Because he’s a director that likes to take risks. And I admire that, because I don’t go to the movies to see the same thing that I already know that is gonna happen. I like to expect something new, I like to be surprised, I like to see something totally that goes away from the beaten pathways of movies.

And Alex Garland has been one who constantly has been doing this. I mean, since 28 Days Later, you go on, you have his Ex Machina, I was amazed his latest movies, Masterpiece, Ex Machina, Annihilation. I appreciate the innovation that he brings to the movie, and he even tried to make it more, I think, commercial acceptable than the book itself, which doesn’t even give name to the characters, doesn’t even give background to the characters.

(3:26 – 4:09)
So the strangeness of this whole new world, I think, he managed to capture. The strangeness of how to decipher, you know, reality, what is happening, when nothing makes sense, I think he really brings this to Annihilation. But Silvo, oh, Mann, I’m sorry, Mann is amazing how he manages to put yourself in the position of what it is to be a woman and constantly being assaulted by this patriarchal society, and how he manages these emotions and just brings this to the spectator.

(4:10 – 6:20)
So I think this is something he does really well in his movies. Is that true? The combination of script, the aesthetics, his directorial decisions, everything, you know, I mean, that’s what, that’s the beauty of movies, is when someone manages to bring not just a good story, but wrap up everything that makes a movie. The mise-en-scene, the soundtrack, the editing, the art direction, the actors, how the edit works, everything, you know, and he manages to do this really well with a purpose, which is to insert the viewer, not just inside the story, but to live the sensations of what the characters are going through.

And he has masterfully done this, no? He has masterfully been able to insert the viewer, or at least myself, inside the state of mind of what the characters are living. And this is what I really appreciate. He does this taking risks, taking risks that go against this more classical conception of a movie, you know? Taking risks that brings you to catharsis, but through a different way, you know? It’s true, like, he managed to find a balance between logic and sensation.

And this is a topic that I’m really interested in. If you go, for example, for Julie Ducournau, I think that’s her name, movies Raw or Titan, the latest Titan, which is extremely in the sensational, in the sensation, not sensational, in the sensation area of cinema, where logic is broken for sensation. I think she’s a little bit of a disciple of Philippe Grandrieux, and his movies like Un Lac, Sombre, and there’s other movies where he purposefully breaks any logical in the stories to bring on these strange sensations.

(6:20 – 8:20)
And Alex Garland, he managed to find a commercial way, a more, I wouldn’t say blockbuster, but a more mainstream way so that they can actually go to the cinemas, to the American cinemas, to the mainstream cinemas, and find a balance between the reason and the logic of the story, and how to insert the viewer and live sensations of what the characters are experiencing, you know? And I think this is what I probably felt that missed in Civil War. I’m not really worried about, oh, how it was depicted wrongly, the profession of a photojournalist, but I missed being really inserted into the minds of these characters. And why does this happen, you know? I think this happens, it’s a good question, what was missing so that I could feel the sensations of these characters? And I think the world is quite interesting.

He managed to build a world that criticizes contemporary society, but doesn’t exactly take a point. So by creating, for example, the Western front, I think it’s California with Texas, Florida is a separate militia, and you have this militias that kind of break the mode of the blue and the red states in the US, makes the film more accessible for any parts of your ideological convictions. And also, I think, brings it far enough from contemporary society, so it becomes more a fiction.

(8:22 – 9:35)
But, well, maybe it’s the characters that is missing, and maybe, I mean, can you really feel the pain and the suffering of these characters? I think that by putting these characters, and this is an interesting thought, so by using photojournalists that themselves are not a part of the story. So what do I mean? The premise, the whole premise of the movie, is that, for example, the Lee, the older photojournalist, played by Kirsten Dunst, and the younger photojournalist, they have to some kind of lose their humanity to be able to represent what is happening without having skin in the game, no? I mean, without having skin in the game in one part of the conflict. So they don’t take any part, so that they can showcase their point of view from all all parts of the conflicts, no? So the whole premise is that they want to do the most unpopular thing possible, and try to interview the president, which everyone hates.

(9:39 – 13:27)
And their whole trip is this, encountering all these different parties, these different militias, these different factions, and managing to stay above the politics of what is happening, in order to represent what is happening. And I think at some point, not having this, not being involved with any party, this distance, is also reflected, at least I felt, also this distance from watching the movie. So I felt this distance that the photojournalists have towards what is happening, also as a viewer, with a distance towards what is happening in the movie, in the photojournalist lives.

And differently to the previous ones, I think this movie creates a distance from how the story develops, from how these photojournalists represent themselves. And yeah, I think that is maybe trying to pinpoint what for me didn’t really work, or maybe this is the idea of the movie, I don’t know. If that is, if there is an idea, I don’t believe that there is like a certain point or certain ideas that have to be, that have to happen to succeed.

But I mean, this is an effect that for me caused this strangeness, you know, caused a strangeness that left me not knowing exactly what I thought about the movie. Because I’m looking, as the characters are looking towards the world, I’m also looking towards them in this kind of more distance analytical way. I mean, Alex Garland, he reinforces this, no? He reinforces this by taking us away from the situation that is happening and showcasing the photos that are being taken.

So I mean, you kind of live in the present, but these photos, you are watching them or you’re looking at them, it breaks the narrative. And you’re kind of looking this as someone would be looking at the photos in an editing room after the action happened. So at the same time that we’re watching and being inserted into the present of the movie, we’re also taking out of it and looking at it from this kind of editor point of view of what I’m going to publish or what I’m not going to publish in my newspaper.

Of what is happening, of what is going on, I’m kind of taking this analytical point of trying to figure out from the proofs, from the facts, from the photos that represent reality, what is useful and what is not useful. So yeah, well, maybe it was his intention all along, but this is the, I think this is what causes this more distance, at least in me, blurry vision, blurry sensations of what I thought about this movie. Anyways, that’s it for today.

Thank you for listening to another episode of A Shitty Diary of a Wannabe Cinephile. If you like this episode, please share it with more people or just comment what you thought about it. Am I rambling too much? If you think so, please comment.

You can find me at my website, and you can also find me at your favorite podcast player, your favorite podcast platform. See you next time. I just watched yesterday Mars Express and I think this is going to be an interesting episode about French sci-fi. Next on The Shitty Diary of a Wannabe Cinephile.

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