The Fence

Which side of the fence are you on? When making a film about a civil war, it’s a good question to ask.

So, when a director attempts to craft a harrowing and immersive experience set in a dystopian near-future America, deploying evocative cinematography, art-house editing and eclectic use of music, against a screenplay so bereft of logic and meaning, the result is some of the dumbest shit committed to film. This is quite an achievement considering how bad cinema has devolved since 2016.

It’s not that formidable a task, and yet here we are.

The subject matter of a civil war, especially in modern society, is as compelling as one can get. It can closely mirror what is happening in the world right now. With rising political tensions and social unrest internally and in the rest of the world, the notion of civil war breaking out in your country is a potent plot device for exploring the potential breakdown of societal bonds. A civil war scenario offers a framework to examine human behaviour under extreme stress, presenting moral dilemmas and highlighting the consequences of societal collapse. This narrative can delve into how individuals and groups react when their survival and ethical positions are challenged. It can expose human nature and the fragility of civilized behaviour.

Furthermore, another civil war occurring in the United States is an ongoing and popular zeitgeist, more so than ever, given the current ultra-polarisation of the American political landscape.

This film follows three journalists — battle-hardened and cynical Lee Smith, gung-ho thrill seeker Joel, and green behind-the-ears Jessie Cullen — as they navigate the chaos of a nation torn apart by conflict. A good enough plot device, but the execution is so absurd that by the end, you can’t help feeling insulted and mentally abused.

Journalists are the ‘good’ guys?

The narrative goes out of its way to point out that these photojournalists are inhuman, heartless beings, whose only ambition is to ‘get the shot’ and use it for some vague activism. They behave like pretentious neoteric artists creating art for the sake of art, as evidenced by the use of black and white cellulose film photography – yes, that is correct, these guys are running around the country with SLR cameras, developing the film, scanning the negatives, and uploading to ‘the cloud’ with dodgy internet service. This is how stupid this film is.

You don’t even get a sense of who their intended audience is. Who is meant to see these photographs? Is it meant to win them a Pulitzer? No, it’s just ‘war is bad’, almost to the point of hyper-cliche. Yet, these journo’s are the heroes. Forget the current perception and reality of the legacy media being propaganda stooges for the deep-state government and globalist elites, something such a movie could have delved into – no, these journalists are virtuous creatures who would rather take a snapshot of a human tragedy than intervene. This movie is tone-deaf; nowadays nobody respects, trusts or likes journalists. If this screenplay introduced independent journalists and pitted them against the established media goons, then you would have some semblance of credibility, but as it stands, this movie’s protagonists are almost despicable or at best dumb-as-fuck, leaving one unable to relate to them. Maybe Joel had some kind of character arc, but overall there is nothing for the audience to latch onto.

The Embedded Press

This is not how it works. War correspondents are not present on the contact line. Sure, they can get caught up in the crossfire, but to mingle with the soldier in the middle of combat is unrealistic. Firstly, it’s 100% fatal. Secondly, they’d be a nuisance and an overt danger to front-line troops. This director has the protagonist right into the fray, amidst the firefight, literally getting in the soldier’s way. This delves into more ludicrous territory when the soldiers or militia are not fussed about having these journalists documenting everything while they commit war crimes. In a post-apocalypse, or post-zombie-apocalypse movie, yes – who would care about sharing atrocities with the public? To get to a point where prisoners of war and civilians are slaughtered openly with extreme prejudice, on camera, there would have to be a reason – something deep must have gone down. No context is given. Only this air of undefined hatred is left unexplained and unexplored by the filmmakers.

The Politics of Vagueness

If one is to tell a story about a civil war, you would think the main plot would encompass, in detail, the factions fighting this war. This movie is as vague as one could get for some unknown reason.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) is set during the American Civil War and follows a trio of gunslingers tracking down a stash of Confederate Gold. Blondie, Tuco and Angel Eyes each don’t give a shit about the war – the Union and Confederate armies are just in their way. Even though each side’s politics is inconsequential, both factions are clearly defined. It’s grey uniforms for the southerners and navy for the northerners. The Sergio Leone movie doesn’t boast any political message, it focuses more on the greed of man. If anything, it treats the conflict as a stupid meaningless endeavour.

The war drama film Savior (1998) takes place during the Bosnian War, where an American soldier becomes a mercenary who ends up fighting for the Bosnians. This film doesn’t shy away from who the factions are, depicting all sides as brutal fanatics. Whether it is Bosnian, Serbs, or Croats, each side is treated equally, representing the worst in human nature.

Even The Star Wars prequels, which are set during the final days of the Clone Wars, are a clearly defined galaxy-wide conflict between the Galactic Republic and the Separatist Alliance. But no, the writer of this film avoids this altogether. The audience has to pay extra attention to discern which side is which. It is as if the filmmaker did this on purpose. But if you pay close enough attention, it becomes obvious why.

Unlike other well-made war movies, this one has a not-so-subtle political point of view.

What are the Factions exactly?

Well, there is the side known as the Western Forces, who are moving in on the White House and the President. Composed of secessionist states California and Texas, both have seceded from the union to form the Second Republic of Texas and the Republic of California. Why these two states would align makes no sense, unless they each have their strategic ambitions. You’ve created it, explain it.

And there are the Loyalist States who support the ‘authoritarian’ United States government. In other words, the bad guys. The New People’s Army makes up mostly the Northwestern states. The Florida Alliance consists of southern states. Both are somewhat aligned with the Western Forces. Why?

It is a needless, complicated mess. It’s not as if this is a study of “The Nine Nations of North America“. These are factions lumped together with no obvious common denominator.

Until a viewer pays attention to the hints.

The subtle use of rainbow colours by the Western Forces, the disbandment of the FBI, the unconstitutional extension of the presidential term, and the overt Trump Derangement Syndrome when it comes to portraying the President, and not forgetting the racist, bigoted militia dude digging the mass grave. This film is a blunt, stark message from one group of the American population to the other. The message is this; if Trump or MAGA take over the country, the ‘good’ Progressive people will revolt and hunt them down and kill them. It’s the same paranoid narrative the legacy media has been propagating to anathematise an entire section of the population.

This entire movie is a threat.

The hate on display against the film’s president is relentless, and it doesn’t let up until his summary execution. After over ten years of vilification of MAGA supporters by the legacy media and by the deep state, viewing this as anything other than political manipulation is disingenuous. The filmmaker is vague and subtle, but once noticed, it’s so glaringly obvious, making this the most cowardly work of cinema I’ve ever seen. If you’re going to make a point as a storyteller, make it. The photojournalist narrative achieves nothing profound, and if this is a Robert Capa type of movie, why fuck around with a hypothetical US Civil War, when this whole routine could play out better and be more effective set inside the Syrian Civil War, or in the Russo-Ukraine War where war correspondents and photojournalists have gone bananas. If you’re going to make a movie about a civil war, fictional or actual, make it.

What kind of American are you?

The most horrifying aspect of a country torn apart by domestic strife is the fact that citizens of the same nation, are willing to kill each other because they no longer trust each other anymore, to the point that family members hate and mistrust each other enough that they see killing as a viable option. The whole point of nationalism and patriotism within a democratic framework is that no matter what political or cultural differences the citizenry may have, they trust that everyone has the country’s best interest at heart. It is this trust that allows each faction to take turns in running the show. One side takes a turn to implement their ideas, and then the other side takes a turn. Sure, each tries to score better conditions for their team, but the national interest is the red line. Break this trust, and you are on the road to hell.

The other dramatic aspect of civil wars is… you don’t know who the other side is.

The first trailer of ‘Civil War’ hinted at this, a positive sign, when the ultranationalist militant asked, “What kind of American are you?” This is what is truly horrific – Americans killing Americans over superficial differences or points of view. Any family who has been through the wrecking ball of a civil war can relate to this. My grandfather, who fought during the Greek Civil War, affirmed that this was the most dangerous aspect of the conflict. He would come across a group of strangers and be asked the same thing. “What kind of Greek are you?” A Royalist? A Communist? It was bad enough dodging relatives hunting him down over vendettas that had nothing to do with politics.

But no, the second trailer dropped and sure enough, the ultra-nationalist militant is a racist bigot psychopath. The question had no meaning. It made no sense to ask it. This movie relies on shock value and depictions of violence. Wow! Atrocities! Meaningless atrocities! Shocking! People are bad! This movie is too afraid to pick a side or, is too clueless to sit on the fence and point out how both sides are pathetic.

The Chromium Fence

This is what Philip K Dick does in his short story, “The Chromium Fence

The story is set in a future society where two factions, the Naturalists and the Purists, compete for political dominance. The Naturalists advocate for a natural human existence, while the Purists abhor things like bad breath and sweat, aiming to mandate the removal of sweat glands and sanitize bodily functions. When the Purists win the election, the protagonist, Don Walsh, who desires only to live in peace, is betrayed by his own son and reported to the authorities. Despite his wish to be left alone, Walsh finds that he cannot escape the demands of his society. Ultimately, even after being offered an escape by a state psychiatric robot, the police tracked Walsh down and instead of picking a side; he chose to die on the metaphorical fence.

Why couldn’t the protagonist stay on the fence, or at least attempt to play on both sides of it? Why couldn’t the film explore honestly the absurdity of both political cultures?

It’s not that difficult.

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