in september i watched the following teaser trailer:
immediately after doing so, i went to barnes & noble and bought the novel it was based on by jeff vandermeer. my intense interest in lovecraftian cosmic horror and high praise for this director's previous film (ex machina) had me wanting to know what this was all about. after reading annihilation in a day, i still had little idea what it was about.
i finally caught the film this past week with chelsey. i would say it is best described as a reinterpretation of the novel. alex garland stated that he only read through the book and based his film off of what he remembered - no annotated copy of vandermeer's novel tucked beneath his shoulder on set. i found this reminiscent of kubrick taking 'the shining' and creating a whole new spectacular work in the same vein as king's original story.
annihilation spoilers follow below
while the book of annihilation is a meandering, mesmerizing account of an expedition, the film is a bit more streamlined. while there are no named characters in the novel, we learn the names of the expedition members and see some of the lead character lena's life before entering the shimmer - an ever-expanding area defined by it's rainbow like barrier. it is from this place where nothing has ever returned - until lena's husband does.
played by oscar isaac, lena's husband first entered the shimmer with a previous expedition. he is the only person out of multiple expeditions to ever return, though seemingly as a shell of his former self. lena is then whisked away to area x, the immediate perimeter around the shimmer controlled by a secret government sector dubbed 'the southern reach.' after her husband falls ill, lena turns her attention to the shimmer and joins the next expedition with hopes of finding what caused her husband's sickness.
the film touches greatly upon the theme of self-destruction. any human who has experienced depression in their life has been inside of the shimmer. i like to believe alex garland sees the shimmer as the place a person is when overwhelmed with feelings of isolation and dread. it is a space that confines you, scares you - but where the inner-workings are wondrous and beautiful. the old adage for artists is to use your feelings of existential dread as the fuel for your art. this could be one reason the shimmer is depicted as a place of undiscovered beauty while being the horrifying, crawling catalyst of everything that happens in the film - and what is ultimately happening is change.
the shimmer does many things - but it does not destroy. lena even says so while answering the hazmat suited benedict wong's questions. kane, lena's husband, goes on his own mission into the shimmer before lena even knew what it was. it is implied that he knows of lena's affair beforehand, and consequently he decides he can serve a better purpose by heading into the unknown barrier that seems to be eating the world.
inside of the shimmer is where change happens. refractions of everything inside. the shimmer is a point in time that everyone finds themselves at at some point - and ultimately some form of change is needed to grow from that. another character in the movie, josie, states towards the third act that 'ventress [the team leader] wants to face it, you [lena] want to fight it, but i don't think i want either of those things.' josie then walks off and accepts the changes happening to her.
when kane finds what lies at the heart of the shimmer, his core is so shaken that he doesn't identify as himself anymore. a descent into lovecraftian-inspired madness drives him to suicide by phosphorus grenade, allowing an alien replica of himself to take his place. he asks this replica to 'find lena' and the replica pronounces 'i will.' i believe kane wanted to save their marriage, and unknowingly did so by setting off into the shimmer and accepting his 'change.'
counter to kane's change, when lena finds the alien attempting to create a doppelganger of herself, she does not allow it to do so. she has a reason to get back to the world outside of the shimmer, whereas kane felt like he did not. she lets the doppelganger burn itself and it's home down, a nice parallel to the real lena destroying her marriage. self destruction, while being a core theme of this film, is not entirely representative of the overarching story. i believe it is change, be it good or bad or just as it is. the nature of the shimmer is self-reflecting, and it forces humans inside to confront themselves.
humankind has always had an internal narrative, and with narrative comes struggle. we are not static beings in any sense, and are constantly evolving or devolving. remaining dedicated to a relationship, career, or any practice takes commitment, strenuous work and forces the person doing so to evaluate the positives and negatives. people must make a choice on which of the parts they can accept, and in doing so grow together or fall apart. hard times will force the individual to decide how much to push against or simply flow with this 'change' - exactly what lena was doing in the amazingly profound third act against her alien counterpart. our control over it is not always what we had hoped or intended but it is through fighting out our own internal wars that we begin to relate to, and ultimately accept those around us. we begin to realize that they, too, fight internally and are just as flawed as we are. realizing this is when you begin to learn and grow together, as a couple or otherwise (see: shimmering irises in both kane's doppelganger and the real lena, as they both went through the same experience, and through different outcomes learned more about one another and accepted each other as such.)
the title annihilation refers to the natural human inclination of self-destruction, but also the need to 'annihilate' the broken parts of ourselves in order to allow room for 'change' -- ultimately the defining theme of the movie.
go see annihilation in theaters. you deserve it