One of the most hotly anticipated films of the year is out Friday.

Ex Machina and The Beach veteran Alex Garland‘s Civil War depicts a modern-day United States at war with itself, through the lens of several reporters trying to cover the carnage. Kirsten Dunst, Cailee Spaeny, Wagner Moura and Stephen McKinley Henderson play the reporters caught in the middle of the conflict.

London-born writer and director Garland tells ABC Audio there were two specific things he wanted to explore: “One was just to do with this ambient situation that exists in America, but also exists in my country, in lots of European countries and actually globally in the Middle East, Asia, South America, which is just [this] very polarized, populist, divisive space that we found ourselves in.”

He adds, “And the other side of it was to do with journalism. And trying to put journalists as heroes front and center, because journalism has been under attack for a long time.”

He expresses, “You cannot have a society that is functioning properly and safely without journalists. It’s just not possible.”

Garland tells ABC Audio he hopes there’s one lesson people take away from the film, noting, “No country is immune from extremism and violent collapse. Absolutely no country. What you do is you guard against it.”

He adds, “And the guard is your system of checks and balances. And if you erode that system, if you attack or undermine the trust in the media, and undermine the institutions and their ability to create checks and balances, is there a danger of violent extremist collapse? Absolutely.” 

To Good Morning America, Dunst called Civil War “an action film disguised as a real love letter to journalism.”

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