“Annihilation” provides a haunting introspection
Alex Garland’s second venture into sci-fi enthralls as a horrific analysis of self-destruction and recreation. | Photo Courtesy of amazon.com
“Ex Machina” proved itself a science fiction masterpiece as director Alex Garland intricately explored the relationship between man and artificial intelligence. Garland’s propensity for high concept science fiction shows once again as “Annihilation” excellently blends difficult themes of self-destruction and horror through complex storytelling and a gorgeous sci-fi world.
“Annihilation” provides a comprehensive and intelligent film as our protagonists explore the wonderfully harrowing Shimmer, in which their discoveries of death and life yield an allegory for humankind.
The film follows five women as they navigate the Shimmer, a mysterious national park area where a meteor crashed three years ago. These five scientists must collect data from the Shimmer and cease its growth, all while surviving the dangers the Shimmer presents. As it decimates the minds and bodies of our heroes, Lena––a biology professor and former soldier––portrayed by Natalie Portman, fights her way through the Shimmer seeking truth and freedom from her past mistakes.
Though terrifying beautiful, the environment of the Shimmer has been crossbred with animal, plant and human DNA, creating mesmerizing imagery and landscapes. However beautiful these landscapes are, they are equally dangerous and become increasingly more volatile as our protagonists venture deeper into the Shimmer. Garland does an excellent job at establishing terror through anticipation. As the plot progresses, the dangers evolve, culminating to a terrifying scene of savagery. This combination of horrifyingly imaginative visuals and monstrous sound design provide a truly frightening climax.
Garland’s actors are incredible storytellers, existing as the catalysts for this complex film. Portman anchors the film and gives another incredible performance as a strong, yet broken protagonist, showcasing wonderful traits of vigor and remorse. The supporting cast proves equally brilliant as Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson and Jennifer Jason Leigh strike a perfect balance with each other as wild, reserved and focused teammates.
“Annihilation” makes incredible strides towards diverse casting as the protagonists are all women and mostly ethnically diverse. However, the film falls into a tricky situation of whitewashing as Portman and Leigh’s characters are of Asian and Native American descent in the original novel trilogy “Southern Reach” by Jeff VanderMeer. While the film adapts the first novel, the ethnicities of these characters are not revealed until the second novel. Although Garland made an incredible film, one would question if he did enough research so he could be totally inclusive.
COMPLEX SCIENCE FICTION
An intricate story about self-destruction and recreation, the film begins with Lena closing a lecture on cellular division, teaching how cells are genetically programmed to malfunction with time, resulting in self-destruction. As the film progresses, the audience learns that Lena struggles with guilt about the relationship between her and her husband Kane, portrayed by Oscar Isaac. The story reveals that guilt drives all our protagonists and we see how the Shimmer cunningly manipulates this drive as a means of recreation. This raises questions about our own self-destructive tendencies and what within us needs recreation.
In a time where mainstream films feed audiences with answers, “Annihilation” keeps everything open to interpretation. The film remains so sophisticated that this deep theme of humanity may be missed or misunderstood. With so many themes, audiences may be more confused than satisfied, but “Annihilation” proves an important film for all, as it forces introspection about our own self-destruction and how we must acknowledge our need for renewal.