A reflexion by Martha Sigargök-Martin, 19.07.2018
Genre: Science Fiction, Horror | Country: United Kingdoms, United States | 2018
Directed and Written by Alex Garland
Starring: Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny
It’s a while I’ve watched Annihilation on Netflix, but I was affected by that new kind of science fiction storytelling so much, that I knew I had to write something about it at some point.
So, for those among you who haven’t seen this very remarkable piece of work, here is a little something about the story. I couldn’t avoid spoilers, just so you know.
„Area X“ is a government facility on the southern coast of the US. After a strange phenomenon called „The Shimmer“ has occurred, several exploring groups disappear or come back sick, after having entered it.
Like Lena’s husband, who was the only one to come back and got sick after his return. A psychologist named Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh) explains Lena (Nathalie Portman), who also happen to be a cellular biologist, and former soldier, that the center of this anomalous shimmering electromagnetic field is a lighthouse.
Wanting to help her husband and pushed by curiosity, Lena volunteers to enter „The Shimmer“ with Dr. Ventress, two scientists, Josie (Tessa Thompson) and Cassie (Tuva Novotny), and a paramedic, Anya (Gina Rodriguez).
The mission is to take samples and notes to analyze the environment and maybe understand what happened.
Beyond the frontiers of the area, the laws of physic (time) and genetic, seem to be confused. During their exploration, the women meat mutated creatures and seem to fall deeper and deeper into a psychological distress.
Despite the fact that I’m not motivated by doing a classic film review this time, I have to acknowledge the impressive and magical visuals that have been used for this psychological horror-science-fiction adventure.
Annihilation is a deep-dive into the world of dreams and the human psyche. It provides, just by its visual aesthetic, an unforgettable cinema momentum.
The Characters & Their Surrounding
There is almost no need to underline how the performance of an actor is central to the effect of a film and there wasn’t any disappointment there. Who appreciate Tessa Thompson (Westworld), Nathalie Portman and Jennifer Jason Leigh, will surely dive easily into Annihilation. Tuva Novotny and Gina Rodriguez were excellent as well, but I had less to no references related to those actresses before and have therefore no point of comparison.
Very intriguing to me – and I’m probably not the only one – was the subconscious aspect of ourselves invoked in those feminine figures.
Lena (Nathalie Portman) impersonates suffering and a form of resilience through alienation. What do I mean by that? Alienation is „the withdrawing or separation of a person or a person’s affections from an object or position of former attachment.“ In the case of Lena, the one who’s alienated is oneself.
Obviously, the character of Lena goes through several states during the story as well. First, she’s afraid of what she ’s going to find out. But her fascination for the biology surrounding her, which defies the laws of nature, seems to maintain her sanity. In fact, on their way to the lighthouse, the women encounter an alligator who seems to have been hybridized with a shark, a bear who imitates the voice of Cassie crying for help – one of the creepiest scenes I’ve watched in horror by the way – and humans who turn into plants.
Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh) impersonates the illusion of self-awareness – she’s a psychologist. She leaves the group before they reach the lighthouse and as Lena enter the lighthouse by her own, she witnesses the mental and then physical degradation – even disintegration – of the psychologist, as the latter’s body comes apart and form an energy mass, that absorbs the remaining blood from Lena’s face.
Cassie (Tuva Novotny) isn’t assimilated by this strange nature. She’s attacked by it. She ends up killed by a bear – yes, the one. She comes back as an echo when the bear is entering the basement, where the four remaining women are hiding. She impersonates the fragility and vulnerability in us.
Anya (Gina Rodriguez), who discovers that Lena has a secret. As they enter a basement, they watch a man on tape cutting open one of his fellows who has an alien life living inside him. It’s her husband, Kane, who has been in „The Shimmer“ before and returns mysteriously while all of his comrades are dead. In reaction to this discovery, Anya has paranoia and threats her the four remaining women, in particularly Lena. While she’s restraining them, the bear, who killed Cassie, comes back and kill her as well. She impersonates the unpredictable, impulsive and out-of-control side of us.
Jossie (Tessa Thompson) makes a transformation of her own, as she grows flowers inside her. It almost seems like a choice, as she disappears among the human-shaped plants. Jossie represents acceptance or resignation – depending on from which perspective you’re looking at it.
As Lena’s blood has been absorbed by what remained of Dr. Ventress, the form in front of her shapes itself into an alter ego of the biologist. It looks exactly like her and mirrors her entire movement as well as it keeps her from escaping the lighthouse. A dance, face to face, begins, in which Lena seems to almost lose herself. Finally, she accepts the mirroring of this strange creature and exploits its movement to put a phosphorus grenade into its hands, and activates it before she flees.
She goes back as the only survivor of the group. Through this inner and maybe physical transformation – one can’t help but doubt if it’s really her or not – Lena impersonates resilience, the only character trait that seems to enable surviving in Annihilation.
Alex Garland has shown before, that he can dives very deep into the human psyche – Ex Machina is one of the most brilliant films on Artificial Intelligence-, and with Annihilation, he’s gone one step further. He wrote the screenplay but the story is based on the bestseller by Jeff Vander Meer. Usually, the cathartic aspect of a film shows something that we want to see in us. The definition of cathartic is this: „Providing psychological relief through the open expression of strong emotions“ Mostly this is related to emotions like fear, expressed aggressions, deep sadness, and finally courage in finding a way to one’s own truth and it has usually a happy end or at least a satisfying plot twist.
But not Annihilation. It shows us the parts of us we don’t want to see, even if we aren’t ready for it. Although its cathartic aspect is undeniable, the transformation and return of Lena isn’t a pure relief, because she lost something in „The Shimmer“, that she’s never going to get back, maybe her own life.