Civil War Director Alex Garland Talks About Every Alex Garland Movie


Increasingly I was feeling that they’re not geniuses— they’re entrepreneurs who coincidentally are working in tech rather than milk production. We are ascribing qualities to them—or they’re assuming those qualities and believing they contain them themselves—on the basis of not much evidence. So that was in my mind, I guess.

The skeptic in me worries about enormous concentrations of power in people or organizations that are not subject to the kinds of rules that we give otherwise to places of power, like governments. Corporations that are very, very powerful but do not have systemic checks and balances on them, and end up being more powerful than nation-states. It’s not a secret that power is problematic. If you have a sudden arrival of massive power concentrated in a small space, particularly when it ends up with individuals, it’s just wise to be skeptical, I think.

You seem to have an atheist’s distrust of the god that we’ve made of technology.

Yeah. I’m not big on any kind of deification of any sort ever. That’s probably why I’m skeptical about film directors.

Men (2022)

Widow (Jessie Buckley) rents a cottage in the British countryside and extremely British folk-horror ensues; written and directed by Garland

Civil War (2024)

Journalists traverse war-torn America as loyalist forces clash with insurgents; written and directed by Garland

On the one hand Men feels like it’s pulling from very old sources—these folkloric images like the Green Man and the Sheela na gig. But it also feels informed by very modern ideas about gender and the pervasiveness of misogyny that have entered the public consciousness since the #MeToo movement. Were those things on your mind when you wrote this?

I was thinking about that, sure. I was thinking about context, but I was also thinking about tone. What is the tone of the debate? It’s a complicated set of things, but with Men, and also with Civil War, I was leaning consciously and deliberately to a particular thing, which was to embrace the concept of subjectivity and the line between what the writer does and what the reader or viewer receives, and how much of that is contained in them, and whether that line is really maintained.

You’ve said you wrote Civil War first, is that right?

I wrote it first. I wrote them back to back, which is I think why they share this funny connection—which is probably just a private connection. It’s not something that would be obviously contained in them at all.

But yes. They were literally written back to back in a very intense five-week period. I’d got ill with COVID right at the very beginning—obviously not as ill as some, but I got pretty ill and was knocked out of action for quite a while, and was, in a way, only dimly aware of a lot of stuff for quite a while.

When I came out of that, there was a funny, slightly 28 Days Later sense of things having moved. Time had taken a big jump forward and things had moved in a way that I wouldn’t have guessed [would happen] in January, say. I got ill in March and sort of came back into the world, in a really observant way, around May, something like that.

These films [were] a product of that—it provoked some really intense kind of writing surge in me, and I wrote those two scripts back to back.

You’ve made some headlines lately by telling people you’re going to stop directing films after Civil War. Has that been misreported?

The Guardian interviewer reported exactly what I said. There was no distortion in it. I said, “I’m going to stop directing for the foreseeable future,” which is a very kind of open-ended statement.

It’s also just a literally true statement, because I’m working as a screenwriter. I’m writing something for Danny Boyle. I’m working with a guy called Ray Mendoza. I’m working with someone else, in fact, two other people as well.

Somewhere embedded in this this relates to my own atheism about directing in this respect, which is that there’s a contained assumption, [that] if you’re not directing, you’re not filmmaking. What that does is erase the role of screenwriters, who are categorically also filmmakers, and also directors of photography, and sound designers, and editors, and so on. To me, this is just a kind of over-interest in the role of directing, which I don’t share.


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