Civil War ending explained: What does Alex Garland think?

Civil War ending explained: What does Alex Garland think?

Alex Garland’s Civil War sees America (awkwardly) divided as journalists race to Washington DC before the conflict reaches its bloody end — so, here’s a breakdown of the ending.

War… (huh!), what is it good for? In Civil War, Garland’s newest dystopian nightmare, the answer is easy: great photos. The film primarily follows Lee Smith, a renowned war photographer who’s never far away from any major conflict, often working alongside her colleague Joel (Wagner Moura), a journalist from Florida.

With the war between the Western Forces (California and Texas — we know) and the loyalist states seeming to be nearing its climax (but by no means winding down, with chaos and violence still rampant across the country), Lee and Joel embark on a journey to the White House to interview the president (Nick Offerman). Sammy (Stephen McKinley Henderson), an old-school reporter for The New York Times, tags along with Jessie (Cailee Spaeny), an aspiring photographer who idolizes Lee.

Civil War just arrived in cinemas, so if you want to catch yourself up on everything that happens by the end, we’ve got you covered.

How does Civil War end?

Civil War ending explained: What does Alex Garland think?

Civil War ends with the Western Forces executing the president. Joel asks him for his final quote, so he begs for mercy, but a soldier shoots him anyway, with Jessie photographing his death.

The group has a frightening encounter with two extremist soldiers (if you can even call them that — they’re just lunatics in camouflage clothing with rifles). They manage to escape after Sammy hits them with the car, but he’s also shot as they’re fleeing, and he dies shortly after they arrive at the Western Forces’ camp in Charlottesville.

Soon, the WF sets off to take the White House, so Lee, Joel, and Jessie tag along as press with two other reporters. A violent, terrifying firefight ensues in the streets, and while Jessie has grown more fearless than ever, Lee is rattled by Sammy’s death and starts having a panic attack. Joel keeps her low and ushers her from A to B as Jessie hops around with her camera, peeking over barricades to get the perfect shot.

The Secret Service appears to make a desperate getaway with the president — but Lee knows it’s bait. Fortunately, it gives them a clear opening to walk into the White House uncontested, but WF troops aren’t far behind them.


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Inside, a senior White House staffer — it’s not explained if she’s the head of the Secret Service, Chief of Staff, or another close associate of the president — says they’ll hand him over if they agree on terms that guarantee his safe passage to a neutral location. Moments later, the WF soldiers shoot her and proceed to storm through the West Wing, killing everyone in their path.

As the WF and Secret Service exchange gunfire, Jessie steps out into the middle of the hallway to get an incredible photograph. Realizing she’s about to be killed, Lee pushes her down and gets shot in the back, with Jessie capturing the bullet hitting her to the moment she collapses onto the ground.

Jessie and Joel follow the soldiers into the Oval Office, where they pull the president down onto the floor. Just as they’re about to kill him, Joel asks them to stop so he can get a quote. “Don’t let them kill me,” he tells Joel. “Yeah, they all do,” he replies, before the WF soldier shoots him several times in the chest.

Jessie gets the final shot, with another photograph of WF troops smiling and posing over the president’s dead body developing over the credits.

What has Alex Garland said about Civil War’s ending?

Civil War ending explained: What does Alex Garland think?

What does it all mean? Garland hasn’t explained the ending, but he hopes it will start conversations outside the cinema.

“It was always that ending. You know, there [are] different sorts of films. And some films in a sense, and I don’t mean this is a bad way, but they’re almost designed so that you stop thinking about them as soon as the film is over,” he told Digital Spy.

“There is no judgment in that, that is completely fine. In fact I like a lot of films like that. But there are others that are designed to… It’s like you rang a bell, and you want the bell to keep ringing in someone’s head, so they’re remembering imagery or they’re remembering scenes or they’ve been puzzled about something and then they ask a friend: what did you make of that? Should it mean this? This is that sort of film. What I hope people will take from it is the sense of being in a conversation.”

In another interview with the BFI, Garland addressed the lack of explanation for Texas and California’s alliance. “My general position is that film is a broad church – a space for lots of different kinds of filmmaking,” he said.

“That’s the space I sit in. Other people want all questions clearly answered. And there’s separate pews allocated in the church for those people. In fact, it turns out it’s almost every pew. I don’t feel any particular need to add to the number of films that spell everything out. There’s enough of them.”

Civil War is in cinemas now. You can also find out what other movies you should be watching in April.

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