Civil War parents guide

Civil War Parent Guide

Disturbingly relevant to the current US political climate, this film will be read as either inflammatory or precautionary, depending on viewers' existing opinions.

Overall D

Theaters: As civil war rages across America, a group of journalists try to make it to DC ahead of the rebel troops.

Release date April 12, 2024

Violence D
Sexual Content A
Profanity D
Substance Use D

Why is Civil War rated R? The MPAA rated Civil War R for strong violent content, bloody/disturbing images, and language throughout.

Run Time: 109 minutes

Parent Movie Review

In the not-so-distant future the Civil War that has destroyed the once-United States is nearing the end, with encircling forces closing in on Washington, D.C. In the midst of the carnage, war photographer Lee (Kirsten Dunst) and her colleague, Joel (Wagner Moura), have a once-in-a-career opportunity: If they can make it to DC in time, they will be able to interview the President (Nick Offerman). Since he’s almost certainly going to be killed or captured (or both) within a matter of days, there’s no time to waste.

Joining the two journalists for the hazardous drive from New York to D.C. are Sammy (Stephen McKinely Henderson), Lee and Joel’s old mentor, and Jessie (Cailee Spaeny), a young girl who idolizes Lee and dreams of becoming a war photographer. The next few days will see whether Jessie has what it takes to record some of the worst things people can do to one another.

There’s a lot to unpack in this intense production. I’m not going to give the script grief for having one of the belligerents in this war be a bizarre union of California and Texas, since that’s beside the point. The filmmakers wanted a civil war backdrop without having to talk about contemporary American politics, resulting in a wildly implausible premise. Despite their efforts, Civil War feels disturbingly relevant to the current American political climate. It’s up to you whether that backdrop feels inflammatory or precautionary, but the film makes it clear that the focus is very much on the latter. Mostly, the story is focused on the relationship between Lee and Jessie and the perils, both personal and professional, faced by combat journalists.

This is neither a fun action flick nor a blood-soaked propaganda piece, but a fairly honest look at what civil war would mean to Americans on a very small, almost individual scale. The combat scenes are as realistic as I’ve seen anywhere, and maybe this was just because I saw it in IMAX, but this movie has the most startlingly realistic gunfire I’ve ever heard.

As you might imagine, an accurate look at combat makes for grim viewing. The violence is graphic, frequent, and unpleasantly real. Have you ever noticed how many action movies just let the characters die right away when they get shot? It’s harder to have the hero look good standing in a room full of mortally wounded people, all crying out in agony and begging for help or death.

There is also, as you would expect, a significant amount of profanity, chiefly some 50 f-bombs over the course of the film. However, if sex is all you were worried about, have no fear: there are no scenes of sexual material or dialogue relating to same. There are also some scenes of substance use, most commonly involving adults drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes, and, in one case, marijuana.

With its horrifying images, fratricidal impulses and frightening “what if” questions, Civil War is a movie that will make you think - and hopefully not because it increasingly resembles our reality.

Directed by Alex Garland. Starring Kirsten Dunst, Wagner Moura, Nick Offerman. Running time: 109 minutes. Theatrical release April 12, 2024. Updated

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Civil War
Rating & Content Info

Why is Civil War rated R? Civil War is rated R by the MPAA for strong violent content, bloody/disturbing images, and language throughout.

Violence: There are frequent scenes of people being shot and blown up. Piles of corpses with bloody injuries and mass graves are seen. Corpses hang from overpasses. There are references to torture and murder. Individuals are frequently executed. Several people are burned to death. 
Sexual Content: A character is seen taking a bath without nudity or detail above the knee or below the shoulder.
Profanity: There are at least 59 sexual expletives, 15 scatological curses, and regular use of mild curses and terms of deity.
Alcohol / Drug Use: Adult characters are frequently seen drinking and smoking cigarettes and, on one occasion, marijuana.

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Civil War Parents' Guide

What are some of the social and political indicators of potential domestic conflict? Of the other nations which have experienced civil wars more recently, what have the long-term effects been? What instigated those conflicts? How could they have been prevented, if at all? Do you think the USA is at risk of armed domestic conflict? What would be some of the international consequences of a civil war in the United States?

Increasing political polarization in the USA has led to discussions of the risks of armed conflict. This potential disaster is discussed at greater length in the articles below.

NPR: Imagine another American Civil War, but this time in every state

The Guardian: The next US civil war is already here – we just refuse to see it

Politico: The Threat of Civil Breakdown is Real

The Atlantic: Beware Prophecies of Civil War

The New York Times: Is America Headed for Another Civil War?


Loved this movie? Try these books…

Stephen Marche writes about the risk factors facing the USA in The Next Civil War: Dispatches from the American Future”. Barbara F. Walter provides a warning voice in How Civil Wars Start: And How to Stop Them. Less dramatically, Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson catalogue the factors behind political collapse in Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty. Political scientist Steven Levistsky studies the breakdown of democracies in Europe and Latin America to sound a warning in How Democracies Die

Home Video

Related home video titles:

Alex Garland has also directed films like Ex Machina, Annihilation, and Men.

You can see Wagner Moura starring in Sergio, and Cailee Spaeny recently starred in Priscilla.

Other films about intranational conflict include First They Killed My Father, Sometimes in April, and Quo Vadis, Aida? If you’re more interested in films about the American Civil War that very much did happen, try Lincoln, Glory, Free State of Jones, or Emancipation.