The Second Civil War (Dante, 1997)

I once heard that comedy, above all other genres can lead to the greatest truth, no matter how disturbing or uncomfortable the consequences. Whether or not that’s the case, this statement certainly describes many of the films by director Joe Dante, works that blend brutal political satire with cataclysmic reminders of drastic change. In The Second Civil War (made for HBO television), Dante explores a near-future America where the Governor of Idaho (Beau Bridges) closes the borders of his state to the rest of the country. This aggressive move comes in response to the overwhelming influx of illegal and legal aliens (the Chinese have taken over Rhode Island). As the media outlet NN, the White House, and various other corporate and social entities scramble for a response, the situation turns chaotic quickly. The process, often hilarious and absurd (the Governor is in love with a Mexican reporter), shows an infrastructure crumbling under the pressure of egotistical ideologies from all sides, left and right, breaking the back of the constitution and throwing the country into war. The result is surprisingly bloody (at least for HBO’s early productions), and Dante brilliantly juxtaposes comedic moments with those of horror and death. The shear depth and range of Dante’s story is amazing, incorporating a multitude of issues into a comedic script ripe with classic one-liners and social commentary. The film is funny and entertaining, almost preposterous at times, but Dante cleverly masks his real intent with this more mainstream aesthetic. The Second Civil War wants to scare the living hell out of you, and it’s final images of Federal troops shooting at National Guardsmen accomplish just that. Dante might be the most political American filmmaker working today and his work marks a crucial dialogue between substance and content in Hollywood film. The Second Civil War, while a farce in tone, remains a staunch warning against ignorance, apathy, and closed-mindedness, something that unfortunately still rings true today.

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