Annihilation & The Horrors of Change

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1. REFLECTION

Movies are not puzzles.

I feel like I argue this all the time, but it sure doesn’t stop people from the pursuit. And it seemed like within mere hours people were arguing furiously about the ending / meaning of Annihilation as if there was some clear answer, one laid out in plain english for all to see. Do no misunderstand, I adore semiotic interpretation and symbology, along with they way they combine into dramatized thematic meaning (and I will be doing a ton of it in this essay). No, my complaint is more for the kind of hyper left-brain movie analysis that looks it like an rigid answer sheet to decode with certainty. I know this seems like I’m splitting hairs, but it’s actually super important. Because it is folly to see art like it is something to hack, that looks for logical explanation in place of reflecting on some kind of inner movement. For there is nothing to hack. There is nothing to outsmart. It’s a movie, which means it’s all about embracing right-brain abstraction. And often, the way forward in “understanding” a complex piece of art is largely to sit back and just listen to / absorb what it’s actually telling you and reflecting in it.

And Annihilation is one complex piece of art.

An impeccably made one at that. Alex Garland and his team has crafted a hypnotic, powerful sci-fi horror film that I’m still reeling from, to be quite honest. As such, I sometimes I feel bad that I don’t spend a lot of time in these essays lavishing praise on the craftspeople and performances at the heart of a great work. But nor am I really all that interested in meta-arguments of relative esteem, like how I could happily declare this film another miraculous entry into the sci-fi canon. Nor am I all that interested in comparing it a book I’ve never read. I’m not interested in any of these, because I view the job of criticism as rather simple: to reflect what the film “is” with mere words.

And this film is a haunting reflection on the horrors of change.

2. MEDICATION

Somewhere not too far there sits a person with cancer cells attacking their body.

And I love them. So I hate this reality with everything I have. But meanwhile, I sit here. Helpless. Writing words into this essay. Offering nothing of real value that does anything about it. Within that simple construct, I languish. Especially as I have no words of wisdom about cancer itself. No insight. No power. So I am left only to reflect on the lives already within that cancer. A life of regrets, tears, horrors, and joys, all adding up to a kind of love that is mostly incomprehensible to anyone else. But this is precisely what gets reflected in the haunting specter of disease. We reflect on life and guilt and what could have been different precisely because we are terrified. And we are terrified because a disease does not care about our narrative. It does not care about your toughness. It does not care about bad timing. It simply does not care because it is incapable of care, nor hate, nor even acknowledging our humanity. Which is also the reason there’s nothing inspirational to say about cancer. It is a machine. It just hurts. It just takes. With no rhyme or reason. Even on a biological level, it is “just” cellular change. A mutation. An existential horror that evolves against us.

To say that the language of cancer is written into the DNA of Annihilation is an understatement. Not just with Dr. Ventress, who literally has the disease and pursues a battle / non-battle with it to her own ends. But cancer even comes up right in the first (chronological) scene, where Lena (Natalie Portman) describes the process of cellular division and generation and how the goal of their work is nothing short of curing cancer. This detail is not accident. She is about the path of medication. And we can all understand the medical instinct to cure. To heal. To mend. To make well again and regain our former self. And how so much of that urge comes from the deep understanding of the terrifying possibility that you may not be able to cure it at all.

But soon Lena will come face to face with a “cancer” beyond her comprehension. Within The Shimmer, she faces a world her deepest fears and most morbid biological curiosity: a world where cancerous mutation and refraction run rampant. Animals become dangerous hybrids of another, alligators with rows of sharks teeth, even plant life spilling into man and vice versa. It is life out of control, and unchecked by that which we consider “the natural order” (again, like the effect of cancer upon the body). It’s all at once beautiful and hideous – true transfixing horror. So yes, for once I’ll take a proper second to again commend Garland and his team for this, because this film has some of the most intense and haunting imagery that I can remember in recent film. Not just in the body horror, or the floral unmaking of human beings, but also the damn tension. For not one person in my theater even dared move during the bear “screaming” sequence. But what is perhaps most interesting to reflect on is that for all the otherworldly imagery, that technically speaking, the life within The Shimmer is perhaps no dangerous than traversing the dangers of the Congo. So no, what makes this journey so terrifying is constant, evolving instability of what we consider safe. What we consider “the rules.” And the fear that you are unmade within it. Which means things that the deeper things that can annihilate us go beyond disease. After all, there are many different kinds of “cancer.” And often more terrifying…

Are the ones from the inside the mind.

3. REMEDIATION

I consider society’s willingness to start grappling with the reality of mental illness to be perhaps the most important medical breakthrough of the second half of the century (do not forget, Titicut Follies was only 1967). And as much as it changes, we still live in a world that largely ignores the basic realities of mental illness and how it impacts us in our day to day. Even just yesterday I saw an amazing Donald Glover quote about why so many black people self-medicate with marijuana because “all black people have PTSD” from having to live through the basic day-to-day horrors of racism. It’s something so jaw-droppingly obvious that I can’t believe I hadn’t heard someone say it out loud before (they may indeed have, I just hadn’t heard it). But that’s the thing about mental illness. We still don’t know how to engage it because we still don’t understand how to talk about it. We still don’t know how events impact us on a deeper level and thus drive us to have impulses. We don’t know how to transcend toxic masculinity. We don’t know how to talk about perceived “weakness” in ourselves and others. We don’t know how to create true empathy because we both fear it and dismiss it. Which is exactly why de-stigmatizing of mental health continues to be of such stunning importance.

Take it from a guy who always had sympathy for that notion, but could not directly relate to the urgency of it. For I was a guy who thought he was all good, ignoring what was deeply wrong about his own system. Then in coming face to face with it, I learned I was deeply unprepared for the horrors of depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts that come with facing it. Simply put, it shook me to my fucking core. And it still does. But at center of this is not some lesson about the mere gravity of mental health, but more the painful understanding of collective human behavior. Because right now, within your own system, you are on path toward your deepest mental health battles (and thereby self-destruction) without even realizing it. You will have to face the thing you are most afraid of. We all will. That’s the whole point.

We all have a potential annhilation to face.

As such, each of the characters of this film go into The Shimmer with their own unique trauma. Yes, some of this is just accounting for the basic logic about who would volunteer to run into a dangerous alien blob thing where no one comes out. But really, it’s more the thematic exploration of those who have had their lives already “annihilated” and therefore have nothing to lose in losing their bodies. For the psychologist Dr. Ventress, that’s literal in the case of her disease. For others it’s clear signs of cutting, or thrill-seeking, or life-saving, or pick your trauma-signifier. But perhaps the most telling is Cass, who admits that what brought her was the death of daughter, wherein she realized she had to grieve twice. Once for her little girl and then once for her old life (this doubling with the “old self” will end up being very important).

For Lena’s journey, it’s a bit more complicated. Because the truth about mental health and self-destruction is that for most of us it is not some deep perceptible trauma, but the fate of hard-wiring and conditioning that comes from little everyday realities. Whether feeling unloved or unsafe or even misunderstood, these situations tend to add up to the kinds of pathologies, behaviors, secrets, and choices that make up the conflict and pain within humanity. In short, these realities create internal systems that drive us forward in lovely productive ways, but also in ways that can undo us. For Lena, she’s literally learned to put all her value in the pursuit of honor and decency. Hell, she’s a former soldier who is literally fighting to cure cancer. That’s quite the two-fer. And yet, she feels like a cancer. That’s because of guilt and consequence, and how they tie into her husband’s disappearance. She had a duplicitous affair that pushed her husband away. Or was he already pushing away and this was a reaction to that? Or was he incapable of accessing his emotions as a soldier figure in deep toxic masculinity? Or was it all just twisted up and tied together like the same devastating fractal of self-damage? It doesn’t actually matter, because she’s filled with guilt and regret anyway. And in her trying to “cure” it, by bringing her husband back to the way he was, by going into The Shimmer, she words the reason very specifically “I owe it to him.”

And yet, this guilt, this “owing” him is just another step in our her own journey toward self-destruction. At every step she should go a different way to heal it properly, to accept and own, but her system doesn’t know how to do that. She wants to “cure” it, but really she’s trapped in her cycle of self-torture and self-abuse. But she thinks there is the way out in fighting it. There’s a reason they are all headed to the proverbial and literal lighthouse, yet all headed to self-destruction. Dr. Ventress literally says as much as says it in the film. And the problem with self-destructive cycles, is that for all the times along the way you “win out” and do not face consequences, all the times you get closer to what you want, you just end up doubling down, deeper and deeper into your own battle within The Shimmer…

Until it all finally blows up.

4. IMMOLATION

Lena reaches the lighthouse. The end point. The place of sought answers. Of hopeful curing. A place where everything can, somehow, someway, go back to how it was before. There she finds a camcorder. She turns it on and discovers a recording made by her husband, Kane. This is a man who was already volunteering for suicide missions, remember. Now at his lighthouse, he talks about not knowing who is anymore, someone driven mad by mental instability, the fear, the panic, and the confusion. But it’s all centered around the want of escape from the pain of this, and wishing directly to whoever is operating the camera, that they will take care of things after he is gone. The person behind the camera say yes. Simply put, this is the exact expression of the yearning for suicide. And so, Kane sits down, just as a buddhist monk would for immolation, and sets off a phosphorous grenade in his hands, killing himself instantly (and horribly). Then, his alien doppelgänger, comes forward in front of the camera. Lena covers her mouth in horror. The man who came home to her is not her husband. He is something else. Something new.

There’s a longer tradition, but Self-Immolation was largely popularized by the aforementioned buddhist monks protesting the Vietnam war. They would douse themselves in gasoline, sit in the Buddhas pose, and light a match. Thus ending their life for the martyrdom of a greater cause and the highest attainment of sacrifice. And look, I’m not here to parse out the religious nature of this act, but I am here to talk about how it plays into Kane’s behavior and the suicidal instinct in general. Because the truth is that suicide is a remarkably complicated act. For me, at the height of my suicidal thoughts I would constantly think about doing something productive out of such action. Whether donating my body for science, sacrificing it in some act of heroic good, or even just finding a way to let those who would affected know that their love meant so much and not to carry around one ounce of guilt in their hearts. For some others, there is an incredible fear of the doing the act. And if they’ve learned to deal with the world in pain and lashing out, then the murder-suicide route is largely about enacting revenge for making them feel suicidal and the immense cowardice of not wanting to go out alone. But at the center of most motives within the spectrum of suicide is the basic inability to face what is on the other side. No, not the other side being “death,” but simply choosing not to commit suicide and thus facing “more life.” That’s the other side we really fear. For we are sure that it will be one full of pain, loneliness, regret, and dire consequence. And it is at the center of this, we finally unlock the idea at the heart of the entire film..

Change is so scary because on of the hardest things to do in the world is actually change.

We all know this to be true and yet we ignore this basic reality all the time. We’ve all become hardwired with certain behaviors and yet we act like we can make all these surface level changes and that will fix it. But no, to face them is to face the deepest levels of self. We have to face our worst behaviors and admit that which we do wrong. That’s why Lena has such immense difficulty with her guilt. There is no mitigation allowed. No magic cure. Just the day to day maintenance of change. Just doing “the work.” Hence the incredible difficulty of 12 step programs, therapy, and learning to outgrow our most damaged selves. There’s seriously a reason immolation is preferable to some. But I don’t mean that comment to be all that flippant, because immolation isn’t always about actual suicide. A lot of times, it’s more insidious and invisible. To wit, when you think about Kane’s choice, specifically his words and the emotional plea of the scene. Symbolically, he is “dying” and sending his lifeless husk out into the world for the rest us.

Yup. Sometimes, immolation is the mere act of giving up.

5. ANNHILATION

It is easy to view the the word annihilation through the classic definition of “complete destruction or obliteration,” but there’s actually a more pointed definition in physics, which is: “the conversion of matter into energy, especially the mutual conversion of a particle and an antiparticle into electromagnetic radiation.”

It’s the sort of thing you read then slap your forehead it’s so damn clear to the purpose of the film. Not just in the iconography of the terrible imagery, the dueling particles and anti-particles, nor even the notion of contaminating radiation. It’s that the horror of annihilation isn’t really the horror of facing nothingness, but the horror of facing deep change, especially existential ones that mutate us into something else. Note the way characters fear their voice becoming like a death rattle. Or the way some part of them will be wiped out. Note how the birth / death imagery is freaking everywhere in the film. Bodies and fungus seeding out like walls in horrendous birth, the fear of otherworldly life growing out from the very inside of you. Likewise, Lena’s journey to the alien core is as clear a birth canal motif as I’ve seen in a recent film. But you’ll note that these threshold changes are not… pretty. Some art treats birth / death metaphors as a gentle, glowing white fades, like a nice pleasant hug as you transition from one life to the next. But no, Garland’s is much less comforting because he’s not trying to lie to you. And thus, it reflects the notion of change as it really is: wild and terrifying.

All because the thought of becoming someone new (even if better) is terrifying. Sure, we all give benevolent change plenty of nice lip service. But in actuality, we rarely can actualize deep change because doing that means we have to experience a “death” of our old selves. And we don’t want who are to die because it will feel like *we* will really die. Because in order to real change, we have to let go of real behaviors that feel safe, correct, and “right” to us because we learn they are destructive. Because we have no idea what it really means to create new hardwiring, let alone live within it. And thus, we have to put the kinds of effort and trust it takes to make our brains accept that new reality as “true.” And more so, get a world we have damaged to accept our change, by being sure we rooted in the deepest honesty and ownership of our old and new selves. Which means you not only have to truly know and understand yourself, but be willing to say goodbye to everything that you are.

Yes, the true horror of annihilation is that it is a mirror.

There’s a reason Lena uses that exact verbiage in describing her fight with her double within the lighthouse. Even moments earlier, when Dr. Ventress reaches the core tells us with terrifying clarity that there’s nothing “it” wants. Sure she’s talking about the alien, but it’s doubling for her cancerous disease. An answer she likely knew, but had to forge ahead anyway, unable to come to grips with the idea there is no “why” behind the actions of her annihilation. And as for Lena, it’s at the heart of that amazing final sequence. Her battle with her cancerous doppleganger self, it mimics her movements, except when she tries to leave and flee. Then it suffocates her against a door, anxiety rampant. It is every part of her bloodied old self (literally made from her blood), and it is hell bent on their mutual, cancerous annihilation because that’s what it thinks progress is. This highlights the horrible truth: we pursue self-destruction because we think we think it is the cure, because we think we can beat it, because we think we can transcend it. But really there is only ourselves, and we have to let it all go. We have to leave the grenade in the hands of our most toxic mirror selves, the once born from cancerous inheritance, and burn it to the ground. Burn it all down, like chemotherapy burns away our cancer cells but also our healthy cells. We have to expunge, irradiate, and ultimately, we have to barely survive it.

As the final burning images spurred out in the film, I was shaking. Some people say Annihilation is an intense movie, but still a “cold” movie. And yeah, I supposed you could take all this same messaging and ground it some heartbreaking story of love and yearning, but it’s not interested in that game. This is about something in humanity more somber, broken, and honest. And it’s aiming to unnerve and undo that part of us on the deepest, most visceral levels instead. Say what you will, I spent the car ride afterward sobbing uncontrollably. But maybe the problem of existential horror is that you have to life a lifetime to experience that amass that kind of pain, guilt, and regret. For all the topics of toxic change in this film are not mere concepts or things I hope I never do. They are not warnings. They’ve already happened. So they’re as real to me and as relatable as coming of age films are to many others. And the metaphor of who we really are when going through the fires of annihilation, curl into my guts, twisting and turning like some otherworldly, alien eel. For the film confronts the parts of myself that lied, that feared, that brought me to the heart of my own personal battle with annihilation. And ultimately left me wondering whether or not I’ve “won.”

Which brings us to the very ending of the film, one we could get lost in some kind of argument over if we still thought movies were puzzles: is her story a lie? Was her alien doppelgänger the one who really get out? Is it just trying to give us a nonsensical horror scare? Yeah, those questions don’t matter because Garland isn’t playing a game, creating a puzzle, or trying to jerk you around. The answer lies in what happens when you merely accept what’s been given and follow the damn metaphor: having gone through the fires of annihilation, whether you are someone who has given in and immolated and left the husk of yourself behind (like Kane), or burned your worst bloody self in the name of finally expunging (like Lena)… the truth is we’re never really sure if we’ve grown or transcended those boundaries. Just as we’re never sure how much of the old us in still inside. Because the truly haunting thing about our grappling with disease, mental illness, or that which annihilates us, is that it’s never really gone. The pain and trauma of it is dyed into our bodies, and we must carry it with us into new lives no matter what. Like the final image reels, you can see the pain in our eyes, like singed ashes, burning radiant and wild, eating us still… We may be through the fire.

But we are not the same.

❤ HULK

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47 thoughts on “Annihilation & The Horrors of Change

  1. Your writing is profound, deeply considered, and difficult – much like this particular film. I’m quickly becoming a dedicated follower as your thoughts add immeasurably to each viewing, adding more and more layers of insight. Thank you.

  2. That was intense to read, I can only imagine what you felt writing it. Your take is a deeply moving, humanistic view on a film that I’m not sure is deserving of your level of praise and insight.

    Is Lena stuck in a self destructive cycle battling for change? Or is she a hyper selfish obsessive who refuses change and stumbles ass first into some sort of redemption? What action or motivation does Lena display through the entire film that even hints at she’s looking for change, let alone fighting for it?

    1. I think both your descriptions are accurate. My take on her character is she starts out as someone wanting to control the variables of change, to guide it through to completion on her own terms. She needs some kind of closure with her husband but instead of facing her depression and guilt emotively, she decides to confront it with a gun and science.
      At this point she ‘stumbles ass first’ into the beginning of her process. I think this is an interesting choice storywise as it reflects the kind of auspicious luck that sometime pops up in life, opportunities that can be seized or ignored. Like starting a training on a recommendation, the training turns out to be super shitty but you meet someone that helps you get to the point of why you were there in the first place.
      I think that’s what happens to Lena in the shimmer. It immediately confronts her with the actions she took and the memories she holds that are part of the root of her suffering. At first, science and guns get her where she wants to go but soon, she’s in over her head and those two tools become signs of her undoing: science proves to her what is happening to her cellularly and guns are wielded against her by someone who is refusing change. The idea that she can control anything is an illusion.
      I feel that somewhere around this point in the story, maybe even before when she argues for going to the coast, she starts to realize how big this journey really is, and that it will have effects beyond her control which is terrifying and she hates (which is maybe a pattern with her? shown by how she handles the complex mix of emotions she is experiencing through her affair with Daniel).
      Also, that scene at the beach. Before turning to the lighthouse, she’s staring at the water. So far, the coast was discussed as the way back, the way out of the shimmer. She can turn left and escape, or right and discover the truth of the lighthouse.

  3. Garland’s film spoke to me on an ideological level. I was raised in a very isolationist, far-right, fundamentalist-baptist Christian community. Over time my views shifted in a way that was deemed incompatible by my peers, and it did feel like a part of me was dying, or at least I felt as though I had died in the eyes of others. I wouldn’t go back to who I was, not for the world, but it would be disingenuous to say I felt no loss. I do mourn the friends I’ve lost. I do mourn the aspects of my old self. At the same time, as I interpret my world day-to-day, it’s not always as easy as flipping a switch and simply being new me. I feel as though I am constantly reconciling the selves within me, past and present.

    Thank you for your analysis. It’s helped me put my own thoughts into perspective.

  4. Wow, I love this so much. I was so deeply moved/shaken by this film, I can’t stop thinking about it, and I love how you tapped in to a lot of the feelings I had after sitting with this film for a while.

    Another larger metaphor I saw in this film, which you touched on but that stuck out a little more to me, was the trauma we experience when we are shipped off to war. Oscar Isaacs is shipped of to a war he does not understand, and comes back a completely different person incapable of even relating to Lena on the most basic levels. Lena then goes off to fight the same metaphorical war, and only after she experiences the same deep trauma of violence and terror is she able to relate to and move towards her husband again. Neither one of them understand their experience fully, but that shared experience allows them to experience a moment of closeness at the end of the film.

    I also love the emphasis you put on the necessary ambiguity of the film’s ending. I really loved that there is the question of whether or not the Lena we see at the end of the film is the “real” Lena or not, because it really drives home that theme of change through trauma. Whether it is the trauma of going to war, or losing a child, or battling cancer, there is that question of “am i even the same human being I was before?” Sometimes trauma doesn’t just change us or sober us or force us to grow, it literally changes who we fundamentally are as people. Lena experienced deep trauma, and it may have left her a significantly changed person, or it may have gone so far as to change who she was entirely.

    Such a beautiful and haunting film. I’m glad you loved it as much as I did.

  5. “it mimics her movements, except when she tries to leave and flee. Then it suffocates her against a door, anxiety rampant”

    It looked to me like that was still part of the mimicry. The doppleganger was still copying her movements, so the harder she pushed, the harder she got crushed by its mirrored pushing.
    [Insert further intelligent analysis about trying to simply run away from your fears]

  6. Great piece Hulk.
    Random thought: The circle of anonymous watchers led by Lomax made me think of the ‘thoughts and prayers’ phenomenon. Lena survives her trauma is immediately confronted by the mob, who seem more interested in her as a source of information or a fascinating curio, than an actual human being worthy of empathy (their hazmat suits though… her change might be contagious! Let’s resist it! ). The only time Lomax shows any real enthusiasm is when he can get something out of Lena he is interested in (he stone faces her through the whole interview parts covering her own life and experience, but gets really happy when the lighthouse comes up).
    I’m not sure I’m putting my finger on it exactly but something about those interview scenes made them as horrifying as spooky bear.

  7. I had to think about your review for a bit before saying anything, though my first reaction was to want to yell at you that you’re amazing. I’ve long loved your reviews, and your views about movies not being puzzles is a big reason why, and I think we value movies and stories in general in the same way. I also cried on the way home from this movie, though I wasn’t even close to sure why that was at that point. I got close, in my mind, and then decided it was time to find your review, which made me sob. The embarrassing loud kind. As usual, you’ve put the way I felt about a film more eloquently than I ever could. I also have some things to think about and talk to my therapist about. So before I get any more over-sharey and earnest, I just hope that on hard days, you can remember how much what you do is also art, and can matter to other people. Thanks for making my life better.

  8. Excellent, thoughtful critique. Howmyou speak of it kept reminding me of a film I saw by Catherine Breillat called “Anatomy of Hell”, which left me with similar feelings. Have you seen it?

  9. Your ideas about this movie are all so cerebral, & I am quite impressed. I am not into deeply analyzing movies, that is more my husband’s department. He is a huge sci fi fan, which is largely why we chose to see this movie. I was rooting to see Peter Rabbit myself, LOL! BUT, Annihilation was for me both very interesting & repulsive, which, given your insights into it now makes total sense. I’m surprised though, that no one seems to have noticed one fundamental thing that I found to be utterly ridiculous. As a scientist, aware that several teams soldiers had previously gone into the “Shimmer” & not returned, except one guy who soon began convulsing, puking blood & dying, I certainly would NOT sent ANOTHER team into that environment without environmental suits, & probably other protective gear. Even if I thought these would not help, I would still want to give the team their best possible chance of survival. For me, not being an habitual film critic, but just watching this movie from what I consider to be a common sensible perspective, the absence of such precautions really put a stain on the entire movie for me. I just wanted to throw this thought out there for your consideration. Thanks in advance for your (hopefully) kind response.

  10. So, how much we’re you paid to advertise a current release movie? It would be different if you we’re ‘waxing philosophical’ about a movie that is NOT currently a major studio release with an active marketing campaign.
    Why does our modern life have to be one perpetual advertisement? geez, the marketing never ends!

      1. It’s called viral marketing, there are multiple ‘deep’ reviews like this. I’m just getting tired of the fakeness of it all. It’s a big studio move, they do this stuff, plug that “personal angel not the marketing campaign.
        If you are not being paid, you have been duped to market for them for free, part of the point of viral marketing, it spread like this.
        Just this marketing centric culture of ours is getting tiresome.
        Flim critics are just sales people for the entertainment industry.
        Most movies are big corporate products crafted to appeal to the public. Not art. Just product.
        That’s what the fuck I’m talking about.

    1. So no one is allowed to write an analysis of a movie if it’s a current release? Otherwise it’s just marketing? That’s the dumbest fucking thing I’ve ever.

      Hulk writes this stuff because he’s had an emotional reaction to something he just watched and wants to dive into those feelings and clarify his thoughts in regards to the filmmaking. These are the kinds of conversations we SHOULD be having with each other when big movies get released. I see a movie opening weekend, and if I like it, I want to read about it, and talk about it. That’s not advertising.

    2. Sorry Pete but uh…they didn’t spend any money on advertising. They def didn’t pay off Hulk to write this. Also after his long track record, it’s beyond absurd someone would argue he’s being paid off. He would have so much more money if he gave in to that but alas he keeps it 100.

    1. And I write that as a man who lost a beloved wife to cancer and have a stepson she left behind with schizophrenia who I take care of.

      1. Sorry, your explanation didn’t help. Actually, I don’t think you’ve given any explanation.

        Let’s try again. it was “supercilious, superficial pap” _because_ what?

  11. I love how you think about movies. I have not watched this but will now. I also think your reflection in my opinion, is equal to the movie, because you offer insight and depth. I believe that those who watch movies, are also involved in the movie, because we are the experience. We are the result of that person’s vision. Wow to you!

  12. I think a lot of the people for whom this film didn’t resonate just lack the firsthand knowledge of the drive toward self-destruction that Alex Garland has tapped into here. The fact that anyone could describe the film as ‘cold’ is utterly astonishing to me. It is desperate, and lonely, and afraid, and anxious, and overwhelmed, and ashamed, and self-abnegating–the fact that someone can read all those things as ‘cold’ might as well serve as its own metaphor for the way so many people are blind to the struggles with mental illness and suicidality of people they see every single day.

  13. I think a lot of the people for whom this film didn’t resonate just lack the firsthand knowledge of the drive toward self-destruction that Alex Garland has tapped into here. The fact that anyone could describe the film as ‘cold’ is utterly astonishing to me. It is desperate, and lonely, and afraid, and anxious, and overwhelmed, and ashamed, and self-abnegating–the fact that someone can read all those things as ‘cold’ might as well serve as its own metaphor for the way so many people are blind to the struggles with mental illness and suicidality of people they see every single day.

  14. Three grammatical and spelling errors in the first paragraph…
    which hurt so much that I could not continue reading.
    If you put any effort at all into writing an essay, why not spend the little time it takes to proof-read it?
    As a courtesy to your would-be reader?

    1. How were so many people willing to overlook the blatant grammatical errors in this piece? Why is grammar no longer an issue for our society?

      1. Because he was perfectly capable of conveying his thoughts despite some grammatical errors. That’s why.

        What’s astounding to me are people who actually want to come to a site like this to read about a movie and can’t get past it.

        Grammar is no longer an “issue” for society because people have come to realize that it’s often just arbitrary and not strongly correlated with argument.

  15. Very insightful and thought-provoking, but incredibly distracting due to an embarrassing lack of proof-reading. Duplicated and omitted words abound… seek a second set of eyes.

  16. Seriously, I’m not a grammer Nazi, but trying to dazzle people with your pretentious vocabulary and deep thoughts loses a lot of weight when your first paragraph is riddled with typos. What with the decline of profitability in journalism, I know that priorities have changed (see what I did there) but I’m sure there’s a well educated poor person somewhere in the world who would proof read the sh!t out of that piece for about a dollar.

    1. I know you’re joking, but morally taking someone to task over grammar and advocating that I take advantage of a poor third world person in that pursuit feels… odd.

  17. It’s very funny to read this review. I am a HUGE fan of the books (I’m not going where you think I’m going). I read the trilogy, then read Annihiliation again. I don’t re-read books as a rule, but the book would pop into my head and haunt my thoughts from the most random of stimuli and I had to go back and figure out why

    In the 3/4 days since I’ve seen the movie, it has started to have the same effect on me. I’m really looking forward to when this streams, and I can smoke a bowl, put it on at 11 PM on Friday after a long work week, and just get weird with it.

    What’s “funny” to me about this review is this : SO MUCH of the theme of self-destruction went past me when watching the movie because I was shoe-horning my thoughts from the book onto it (also a piece of work that very much works on a metaphorical level). The book seems so much more focused on ideas of belief/knowledge/understanding/religion/science and ecological change and I was watching the movie through that lens.

    For instance, the scene when the women are tied up and Gina Rodriguez is questioning, “we didn’t SEE Cass get killed. We’re just taking her word for it???” is the kind of idea the book explored.

    After reading Hulk’s excellent personal piece here, and Bastien’s piece at Vulture, I see just how Garland made it so much more personal. In the book, the characters are essentially named “Psychologist”, “Biologist”, etc.

    Or, perhaps the book was much more personal that I realized and as a person who doesn’t consider himself to struggle with depression/self-destruction, those ideas don’t resonate with me as much. That’s why I love reading such good movie criticism as Hulk provided here.

    Thanks for the essay. A real piece of work that makes me feel empathy.

    Lastly, on just a “movie going level”. . .the sound effects, the acting, the faces, the special effects, the screen-filling composition, the tension. That’s why we go to movies.

    FWIW, Vandermeer put out another excellent book in the past year called Borne. A tragic story of disconnection and connection and love and loss. He’s so damn good.

  18. I come to this blog to read amazing criticism, which I always get from Hulk. But I’m always astounded by how bad the comments sections hottakes are.

  19. Thanks for your thoughts on the film. I sometimes feel I’m not fully ready to take on a film until I’ve read one of our pieces about it. I’m glad you took this on. I’ll be simmering with ANNIHILATION for a while I think and your analysis has added to that immensely. Thank you for sharing such personal pain too. That’s not easy to do but the way it brings out these thoughts is really important and- to those of us who struggle with these things- very healing.

  20. Man, forging ahead on your own amongst the wilderness of the internet is hard, dude.

    This message board got weird and hostile.

    MORE IMPORTANTLY: I can’t stop thinking about this movie. The final scene with Barrow and Salisbury’s score as the being became a hovering mandlebrot was mindblowing, and the constant syrupy dreaminess of the whole film was like one of those nightmares where you try to run but are stuck in slo-mo.

    Garland is becoming the Michael Mann of sci-fi cinema.

  21. The following time I read a blog, I hope that it doesnt disappoint me as much as this one. I imply, I do know it was my option to read, but I actually thought youd have one thing interesting to say. All I hear is a bunch of whining about one thing that you possibly can repair in case you werent too busy in search of attention.

    1. You really don’t realize that saying this about a discussion of mental health makes you a truly horrible person, does it? But it does. Objectively. And now the world can see you exactly for who you are. An ignorant person.

  22. Some really good insights here. Thanks Hulk. I’m glad you brought up the mental health angle. Your description of the annihilation of the self, its death and rebirth, really reminded me of Dabrowski’s “theory of positive disintegration”. Google it, you won’t be disappointed! Dabrowski was a psychologist with a great soul – and he understood the depths of human suffering, and what can come out of it.

  23. Some really good insights here. Thanks Hulk. I’m glad you brought up the mental health angle. Your description of the annihilation of the self, its death and rebirth, really reminded me of Dabrowski’s “theory of positive disintegration”. Google it, you won’t be disappointed! Dabrowski was a psychologist with a great soul – and he understood the depths of human suffering, and what can come out of it.

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