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
For those among you who haven’t seen this Netflix production, here are my thoughts about it. I couldn’t avoid spoilers, just so you know.
Area X is a government facility which does research on a strange phenomenon called the Shimmer. Explorer groups who’ve entered it have either disappeared or come back sick.
Lena (Nathalie Portman), a cellular biologist and former soldier, comes to the facility after her husband’s return from the Shimmer. A psychologist named Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh) explains to her that they have to get to the center of this anomalous shimmering electromagnetic field; a lighthouse.
Wanting to help her husband and pushed by curiosity, Lena volunteers to enter the Shimmer with Dr. Ventress and three other scientists: Josie (Tessa Thompson), Cassie (Tuva Novotny), and Anya (Gina Rodriguez), a paramedic.
The mission is to take samples and notes to analyze the environment and to understand what happened.
Beyond the frontiers of the area, the laws of physics (time) and genetics no longer apply. During their exploration, the women meet mutated creatures. They fall deeper into psychological distress.
One thing that strikes the audience watching Annihilation is the visual aesthetic of the movie. The creators have shown lots of creativity and improved special effects in the past 15 years, but I must say I haven’t seen something quite like Annihilation lately.
Annihilation is a deep-dive into the world of dreams and the human psyche. It provides an unforgettable cinematic experience.
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 on this aspect in Annihilation. Fans of Tessa Thompson (Westworld), Nathalie Portman and Jennifer Jason Leigh won’t be disappointed.
Apart from the storytelling aspect of the film, what I liked was the psychological topic underlined in it. I saw those feminine figures as allegories of human states and emotions.
Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh) impersonates the believe that one is self-aware when one isn’t. She’s a psychologist, but she lost it pretty quick. She leaves the group before they reach the lighthouse. As Lena reach the latter, she witnesses the mental and physical deterioration of the psychologist. Dr. Ventress’s body comes apart and forms 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. As the bear enters a basement, it has assimilated her voice (one of the creepiest horror scene ever by the way). The echo of her crying for help is a reminder of the vulnerability and fear in us.
Anya (Gina Rodriguez) discovers Lena’s secret as they enter the basement and watch a man on tape cutting open one of his fellows. The man is Lena’s husband, who has returned, while all his comrades have died. In reaction to this discovery, Anya develops paranoia and threatens the four remaining women. While restraining them, she gets killed by the same bear as Cassie. Anya impersonates the unpredictable and impulsive side of us, that leads to disaster.
Jossie (Tessa Thompson) is the one who fights the least against her circumstances. She makes a transformation of her own, as she grows flowers inside her. She makes the choice of disappearing among the human-shaped plants. Jossie represents acceptance – or resignation.
Lena (Nathalie Portman) impersonates suffering and a form of resilience through alienation. Alienation is the withdrawing or separation of a person or a person’s affections from an object or position of former attachment (Merriam Webster). In the case of Lena, the one who’s alienated is herself.
The character of Lena goes through several states during the story. First, she’s afraid of what she’s going to find out, but overcome this fear through her scientific curiosity. Her fascination for the surrounding biology helps in maintaining her sanity.
The culmination of Lena’s transformation happens as she encounters what has remained of Dr. Ventress. As she’s lost a drop of blood to the shape in front of her, an alter ego of the biologist comes to life. It looks exactly like her and mirrors her entire movement. As she tries to escape the lighthouse, it tries to stop her from going. A dance with her other-self begins, in which Lena seems to almost lose herself. Finally, she manages to liberate herself from it.
Lena impersonates resilience, the only character trait that is able to survive in Annihilation.
Director Alex Garland wrote the screenplay but the story is based on the bestseller by Jeff Vander Meer. Yet, he’s shown before, that he can dive deep into the human psyche – Ex Machina is a brilliant film on Artificial Intelligence-, and with Annihilation, he’s gone one step further.
One aspect of Annihilation that stuck longer with me, was the cathartic effect it had. The definition of cathartic is this: Providing psychological relief through the open expression of strong emotions (Oxford Dictionaries). It’s enjoyable when the cathartic effect of a film relates to positive characteristics. If a film shows something that we want to see in us, like courage, we feel happy and satisfied after watching it, even if it’s not a perfect happy end.
But not in Annihilation. The film shows us the parts of us that aren’t empowering. Resilience should be something positive, but in Lena’s case, a bitter taste remains. She’s survived, but it’s not evident if we’ll like what she’s become.
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