Movie Songs

All the Songs in A24’s Civil War

April 12, 20245 Mins Read

Alex Garland’s incendiary “Civil War” is now in theaters, and it’s sure to get people talking.

The film imagines a near-future where America is engaged in another Civil War, this time with multiple successionist factions (led by a coalition between Texas and California known as the Western Forces) fighting against a tyrannical President of the United States.

The film follows a group of journalists (Kirsten Dunst, Wagner Moura, Cailee Spaeny and Stephen McKinley Henderson) as they travel from New York City to Washington, D.C. in an effort to document the fall of the White House and try and get an interview with the fascistic President (Nick Offerman) before he is executed.

A lean, mean, satirical action movie, “Civil War” is clearly indebted to the films of John Carpenter, in particular “Escape from New York” and “Assault on Precinct 13.” But instead of Carpenter’s chilly synths, Garland goes a different direction altogether, amassing a collection of esoteric but perfectly compatible songs and arranging them for key moments. (The score, by regular Garland collaborators Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow contribute some music as well.)

Let’s get into the songs – and where they are in the movie. Major spoilers follow. Only check this list if you are ready to know what happens in “Civil War.” And trust us, you’re going to want to see this one.

• “Lovefingers” by Silver Apples

The first needle drop of “Civil War” comes courtesy of Silver Apples, a somewhat groundbreaking underground electronic due from New York City, who first perfrormed in the late 1960s and then again in the mid 1990s. “Longfingers” is off their first, self-titled album in 1968. It follows the movie’s cold open (a State of the Union address by Offerman’s President), as the camera chillingly surveys the damage.

• “Rocket USA” by Suicide

One of two Suicide tracks that are prominently placed within “Civil War,” the first track from the duo of Alan Vega and Martin Rev, drops when the gang of journalists first leaves New York City. They dodge burnt out cars and snake through checkpoints, all while the dissonant electronic beat throbs overhead. (This version is from their 1986 live album “Ghost Riders,” which was a recording of a 1981 concert and was originally only available on cassette.) We’ll return to Suicide in a minute.

“Say No Go” by De La Soul

What a bop. This song plays after a firefight between two of the warring factions (we’re not even sure who they are but some of the soldiers are in uniform, take that as you will). Prisoners of war are executed while this De La Soul single, from their 1989 debut album “3 Feet High and Rising” plays on the soundtrack. The song is also notable for sampling, among other things, Hall & Oates’ “I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do).” The disconnect between sugary yacht rock and more forward-thinking hip hop, mirrors the disconnect between the disturbing imagery and the upbeat choice of song. One of the more unforgettable moments in the movie.

• “Sweet Little Sister” by Skid Row

This song, from American heavy metal band Skid Row’s self-titled debut album (released in early 1989), accompanies a moment of extreme vehicular mayhem. Kids – do not try this at home. It’s the perfect hair metal backing for a moment of true recklessness.  No notes.

• “Breakers Roar” by Sturgill Simpson

The most contemporary song in the movie is this achingly beautiful song from Sturgill Simpson’s brilliant 2016 album “A Sailor’s Guide to Earth.” “Breakers Roar” accompanies one of the more emotional moments in the film, as the group drives through a forest on fire. One of the members of the group is mortally wounded, and stares out the window as the burning embers, floating gracefully towards earth. It’s gorgeous, but in a deeply nightmarish way. There’s so much sadness in that moment – and indeed in the song – that deepens the sequence. And it’s hard not to watch and not choke back tears. What a great choice.

“Dream Baby Dream” by Suicide

And here we have it – Suicide’s second appearance in “Civil War.” This time it’s the vaguely Talking Heads-ish 1979 single “Dream Baby Dream.” (Perhaps you know the Bruce Springsteen cover, which might be more famous at this point than the original?) Produced by Ric Ocasek of the Cars, this song is pretty much perfect. And its deployment at the very end of “Civil War,” following the fall of democracy and one of the more chilling final lines in recent memory, is absolutely peerless. The lyrics to the song about keeping that flame burning only add to the power of the scene and the moment. The flame has been extinguished. The dream is dead. But it’s also good to have dreams. Godspeed.

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