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Kirsten Dunst Breaks Down ‘Civil War’ Ending, Who Shot [SPOILER] and That Trump Resemblance; Plus, How a Sequel Could Work

SPOILER ALERT: This contains major spoilers for the ending of “Civil War,” now playing in theaters.

Call it the fog of war.

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At the height of the blood-soaked third act of Alex Garland’s “Civil War,” audiences may be unsure who is on which side of the battle between two factions in an America torn asunder. The bullets and rockets are flying at such an unyielding clip amid the film’s deafening sound effects that theatergoers will likely struggle to keep score and instead become immersed in the real-life chaos of combat.


In the dystopian thriller set in a not-too-distant future, Kirsten Dunst stars as Lee, a world-weary photojournalist who has seen and shot it all, including “the motherfucking legendary photo of the Antifa massacre.” Heading into the film’s final 30 minutes, Lee has finally embedded with the Western Forces, an alliance of states led by California and Texas in a heavily armed rebellion against the federal government. She is joined on her ill-fated quest to capture the violence by veteran journalist Joel (Wagner Moura) and neophyte Jessie (Cailee Spaeny), the latter becoming an anchor around Lee’s neck given the young woman’s lack of combat experience.

As the trio moves on foot alongside resistance soldiers, they find cover behind torched cars and bullet-riddled marble columns before they breach the interior of the White House. (In an ironic twist, the uber-violent scenes were shot at the replica White House at Tyler Perry’s Atlanta studio — the same place Madea once played for laughs as President Trump’s fictitious communications director.) The three-term president (Nick Offerman) very much resembles Trump, even if Garland insists otherwise (“I had a very clear goal in my head, which is to not instruct the audience what to think but actually to prompt an exchange [of dialogue],” the director says.) For her part, Dunst says Offerman is not Trump. “It’s just a fascist president. But I didn’t think about Nick’s character being any certain political figure,” she said during a Variety cover story interview. “I just thought this is this president, in this world, who will not abide by the Constitution and democracy.”

As Western Forces combatants close in on the Oval Office, the president’s secret service returns fire. In a chilling scene, the president’s press secretary is shot and killed as she tries to negotiate his surrender (but it’s a trap).

All along, the trio are snapping photographs of the dead and wounded as though they were capturing a lively parade rather than the end of America. But Jessie would prove to be a liability as Western Forces soldiers trade fire with the president’s contingent. She moves out into an empty hallway to take a photo and is about to be hit when Lee jumps in to save her. Lee takes the bullet and crumples to the ground while Jessie — in a stunning lack of empathy — grabs hold of her camera and takes the shot. For some audiences, it might be unclear which side killed Lee, but Dunst cleared up any ambiguity.

“It was definitely fired from the president’s Oval Office,” she says. “What happened was that I know when to cross and when not to cross with the soldiers when they fire. I know the signals and how to read them. You just know when it’s time to move and when it’s time not to. That’s something that Cailee’s character Jessie obviously does not know.”

For Moura, the reverberations of Lee’s demise spilled over into real life.

“When her character died, it really kind of broke my heart because I was so used to having Kirsten every day with me in that journey,” he tells Variety. “From that point on, we’d have to shoot without her like an extra week. And I remember telling her that this is not gonna be the same without her. She was really the heart of the movie.”

After Lee’s death, the film carries on until the ultimate denouement of the president being gunned down by rebellion soldiers. The credits roll on top of a black-and-white photo of a group of Western Forces soldiers smiling as they stand next to the dead president. It was a shot presumably caught by Jessie.

A “Civil War” sequel would seem to be in the cards given how much of the drama remains open-ended. Will the military continue trying to quash the rebellion and bring out the big guns, like tactical nukes? Will the citizenry loyal to the federal government lay down arms now that their leader is dead? Will Jessie win the Pulitzer?

The fate of a follow-up will likely depend on whether or not “Civil War” resonates with both red and blue states in a divided America.

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