Page 80 - S Summer 2024
P. 80

Through gritted teeth, she reflects on the futility of her previous efforts to prevent America’s rapidly escalating second civil war. “Every time I survived a war zone, I thought I was sending a warning home: Don’t do this,” she says. There’s a despondency in her voice, but despite the dystopian reality she finds herself in, she seems more resigned than despairing. It’s as if to say: it is what it is, even if it’s the end of the world.
Civil War (directed by Alex Garland of Ex Machina and Annihilation fame) is an all-too-real cautionary tale that follows a ragtag crew of journalists in the distant future as they travel across the United States during a war between a dictatorship government and separatist “Western Forces” led by Texas and California. Along their harrowing journey,
the journalists encounter violent partisan militias, willfully ignorant shopkeepers, and would-be insurrectionists who all feel like exaggerated stand-ins for the extremists that currently live inside social media comment sections. “I know that the people who have seen [the film] cannot stop thinking about it. It really shakes people to their core, but to me it wasn’t depressing because it is mostly about humanity and what happens when people stop communicating with each other,” says Dunst.
On screen, the 41-year-old actor has found a home in this kind of discomfort. As Lux Lisbon in The Virgin Suicides, her languid expression of teenage ennui was at the centre of Sofia Coppola’s landmark feature- length directorial debut. She played a bride in the throes of depression on her wedding night in Melancholia, a Lars von Trier film with a similarly eerie end-of-days storyline as Civil War (trade a planet threatening to collide with Earth for compatriots turning on one another). And in Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog, she gave an Oscar-nominated turn as a ranch wife whose torment devolves into alcoholism. “It’s these directors, they keep hiring me to play these roles,” she tells me, with a smirk. Dunst
is downplaying it, but her unique ability to illuminate the many degrees of female sadness has made her a natural icon for unsettling times.
In one of Dunst and Coppola’s most notable collaborations, 2006’s Marie Antoinette, the actress repainted one of history’s most famously unrelatable figures into someone who was innocent, yet excessive, kind, yet tempestuous, triumphant, yet struggling—not good, nor bad, just a person at the centre of a revolution. When Dunst reflects back on the thread
that connects all of her work, she speculates, “Maybe I’m drawn to these extreme feelings of ‘what are we all doing here?’”
Maybe Dunst was the original sad girl, but it wasn’t all depressing. Who could forget Dunst’s turn as Torrance, the charmingly perfectionist head cheerleader in the Y2K era classic, Bring It On, Mary Jane, who was one half of a now canon upside-down kiss in Spider-Man, or Amber Atkins, an ambitious accidental pageant winner in the camp masterpiece, Drop Dead Gorgeous? There are too many singular performances to list here, but suffice to say, Dunst holds a very special place in the hearts and minds of so many women who have continued to see their innermost isms laid out in front
of them in her films. Likewise, I’ve felt kindred to Dunst since she played
a young Amy March in 1994’s edition of Little Women, a film that meant
so much to me I could scarcely discuss it with her without getting misty- eyed. “We grew up together,” she tells me. She’s being generous, of course, but from the sunny backyard of her Los Angeles home—flanked by monstera plants that she shows me still have her mother’s sloppily strung Christmas lights hanging from them—she comes across more like a friend than someone who helped define my womanhood. And even though our childhoods couldn’t have been more different, we share the same nineties nostalgia for times that were innocent, free, and lacked the self-awareness that kids on social media now inherently have. In the middle of our chat,

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