Civil War (2024) Movie Ending Explained: Alex Garland’s dystopian thriller, “Civil War” (2024), is startling and chilling, retaining its taut momentum until the final act. It is a film that brings horrors into its scenery. It is a broken, shattered world, leached of hope and humanity. The vision Garland plunges us into is unremittingly stark and unforgivingly brutal. But there’s little gratuity on display. The bleakness is immense, direct, and unflinching. The grim despair that pervades Garland’s vision has spare pockets of generosity and tenderness, which gives us some space to breathe. Watching the film, we are gripped in a breathless daze. Everything is horrific and unsparing. Every turn in the road feels abundantly bursting with a fresh set of torturous possibilities.

We watch with dread coiling deep within us as Garland pummels forth a series of punishing, pitiless circumstances. He depicts a world so fractured and ripped apart that there seems to be no escape, recompense, or redemption. Disenchantment and seething anger have spread through the masses, with a complete loss of faith in a government. It is no longer a democracy in Garland’s vision of America but rather a monstrous establishment that has set people against one another. Cynicism has hardened so irreparably and hope corroded to such a damaging degree an air of antagonism is steeped in the populace.

Fault lines run deep, and factionalism has crept up in America to a shocking extent. The atmosphere of paranoia and distrust has pushed reality into a hot boiler situation of absolute unpredictability and wild tension. Divisiveness has ripped America apart and sent it into a frenetic tailspin of violence, bloodshed, and a manic spree of vengeance. Opportunism and ethical minefields streak through every loaded, fraught circumstance as Garland investigates the role of journalism in capturing for posterity moments of unspeakable terror.

Civil War (2024) Plot Summary & Movie Synopsis:

The film opens in a particularly grim moment in America. Garland doesn’t let us know what led things to come to this unimaginably tragic, senseless instant. What precipitated the violent blowback by the secessionist movements that compelled the President to move into action with air strikes and absolute military coercion? Or was it a long-drawn-out period of fascism that forced people to retaliate, leading to a violently spiraling pandemonium?

Garland doesn’t choose to offer the clarity of strong, bright answers but what he illuminates is a people wholly sutured apart into utter confusion and unrest. Texas and California, dissident states, organize themselves into Western forces. Militias have propped up everywhere. All sorts of paramilitary structures have enforced an ecosystem of pure dread, albeit there are places as well that have cocooned themselves from the raging civil war and insurrection that locks the ‘democracy’ in a quandary of epic proportions.

Lee (Kirsten Dunst), a veteran photojournalist, and Joel (Wagner Moura), a reporter, decide to take off to Washington DC to interview the President. The road to DC is littered with fraught minefields. Therefore, Lee and Joel are persistently advised against the trip. They know they are stepping into something that could very well be a suicide mission. Sammy, an elderly colleague, insists they don’t embark on the trip. But he himself hasn’t retired, so he wants to tag along.

Civil War (2024) Movie Ending Explained
A still from “Civil War” (2024)

There is another sudden addition to Lee and Joel’s team, when a rookie young photojournalist Jessie (Cailee Spaeny) joins after she persuades Joel in the former’s absence. Jessie tells Lee she has looked up to her as her idol. Lee is deeply uncomfortable with Jessie chipping in since she is well aware of the immense peril loaded into the journey that will cover hundreds of miles.

Lee is vexed and distressed that Jessie will get involved in the path that lies ahead, mired in impossibly high stakes. Anything can go awry at any moment. But Jessie reassures her that she is joining on her own volition. She has signed up for it, knowing what it all could entail. At a gas station, they run into a menacing situation where there has been a feud and people assailed and bloodied. A detached Lee gives Jessie a crucial lesson in photojournalism, who is too affected by the scene to take a picture. The bloodshed of the war has been going on for so long people have lost track of the conflict and what they are fighting for, as the scene illustrates.

There are also stray pockets where citizens have chosen to isolate themselves entirely in their bubbles of privilege, removed from the insanity of what lies barely a few kilometers out of their radius. Amidst these contrasting situations, Jessie seeks from Lee lessons in neutrality essential for the job she wishes to master. Implicitly, there is a need for Lee’s approval, which significantly matters to her. Meanwhile, the group runs into the hands of a white supremacist (Jesse Plemons), setting up a scene of heightened paranoia.

The group edges close to being decimated but it is to Sammy’s timeliness that they are rescued. However, Sammy is hit while they are escaping. He doesn’t survive the hit. It completely shakes up the trio, who arrive at Charlottesville harrowed and reeling from the loss. But they learn that Washington has already fallen to the Western Forces. The government and the military have surrendered. Joel is anguished over Sammy’s death being in complete vain.

Civil War (2024) Movie Ending Explained:

What happens at the White House?

In the final section that unfolds in Washington, there are violent shootouts. Here, we witness Jessie’s growth in her pursuit as a photojournalist who is absolutely undeterred, fearless, and raring to take the perfect shot, no matter the risk. They follow on the heels of the WF’s siege of the White House. When Jessie leaps into danger in her pursuit of a perfect shot of the situation, she is saved by Lee, who takes the hit and dies immediately.

Just like she had been taught by Lee not to factor in ethical questions, Jessie photographs Lee’s fall to death. In the final sequence, as the WF is about to shoot dead the President, Joel stops them for a moment so he can get a quote. Although he barely gets anything sensational just as Sammy had hinted, he is satisfied. Not everything was in vain. The film closes with Jessie’s photograph of the forces surrounding the dead man, enjoying the glory of their kill.

Read More: 8 Movies to Watch If You Liked ‘Civil War’ (2024)


Civil War (2024) Movie Links: IMDbRotten TomatoesWikipediaLetterboxd
The Cast of Civil War (2024) Movie: Kirsten Dunst, Cailee Spaeny, Wagner Moura, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Nick Offerman
Civil War (2024) Movie Genre: Action/Drama, Runtime: 1h 49m
Where to watch Civil War

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