“It’s not easy to move on.”
Sometimes you just have to let the dust of things settle. To resonate, to form scar tissue, to further rationalize with the wisdom and the guidance of time. Unlike most modern American movies, Annihilation is the kind of rare cinematic experience that desperately needs – through artful ambiguity interbred with a strong-willed determination – to quite literally be pondered. It’s a conversation piece; the perfect coffee table book, some might say. What I most loved about this intimate sci-fi epic was its atmospheric attitude and its willingness to depend on the intelligence of the moviegoer, and even more so, to allow its interpretation to only feel complete after we add our own human component into the distinctly carved crevice that it begs us to inhabit. Annihilation and all of its contemplative patience is a lesson in biology and belief by way of art.
Annihilation, in all of the obscure blessings that it provides, openly challenges the way that we see things. Through refracted images and an augmented storyline, stitched together with fast punctures and beautifully woven needle threads, the film doesn’t force a numbing agent on the wound it tasks itself with sowing. Annihilation really looks at the deep cut that’s cultivated and alive and festering at its center as both a source of pain, feeling, and over the course of time, an organic tattoo representative of healing. Great science fiction films – a category this one certainly belongs in – don’t necessarily have to be groundbreaking in their overall approach, but the story does need to break new ground. Annihilation achieves this lofty goal, and it’s a picture I haven’t been able to stop thinking about. The memory it bestows is impactful and long-lasting.
It’s been 12 months since Kane (Oscar Isaac) has been heard from. Lena (Natalie Portman), his wife and a bioligist focused on the study of cancerous cells at John Hopkins University, clings to the hope that her army man is alive and well. Then one day he walks through the door as if he were an ghost, visibly the same yet internally different. His diagnosis is a rare one, investigated under quarantine in a secret government facility. After leading his team into the “The Shimmer” – an inexplicable and expanding growth of wonder and unlimited creation – Kane is the first to ever make it out alive. The plot of Annihilation forces action by asking us to think about how he found an exit, and by the very structure of the film, providing answers to questions we have yet to ask. Alongside Lena and her all-female team of scientists – the perilous Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), the sober addict Anya (Gina Rodriguez), the lonesome Cass (Tuva Novotny), and the pensive Josie (Tessa Thompson) – we head into “The Shimmer” knowing full well of the fate of certain characters; it’s a bold move and it’s indicative of the kind of artistic choice that only a brave, confident film could ever follow through on. That the film is as gripping as it is a phenomenon unto itself.
Following the brilliance of his 2015 film Ex Machina, director Alex Garland’s unique take on Jeff VanderMeer’s novel offers up many interpretations, some concerning the full-blown metaphors of cancer introduced time and time again, others hinting at the flawed adaptations of humanity, but what stuck with me most wasn’t the science behind cancer or the logistics of our race’s irrefutable ability to make a mess of things that are inherently tidy. This is a high-brow film about human nature, a gigantic metaphor that depicts how our desire to know and to understand more fully often feed the very source of our pain. It is, in that regard, literally cancerous; by us, in us, and constantly mutating based on the decisions that we make along the way. The beauty of Annihilation reminds me of 2016’s Arrival, except rather than being a story which encourages open-minded discourse, it’s an incredibly intelligent film wholly concerned with the self-destructive nature of human beings at a primitive, cellular level. Like the movie, we are so much more than the divided sum of our parts.
With an award’s worthy musical score, its groundbreaking greenhouse set design, and the eyeful cinematography necessary for a story as visual as this one, sci-fi’s newest grand-master Alex Garland deftly blends the themes of Annihilation into a portrait of science and religion. I loved this film, from the perplexing start until the ambiguous second that it ended, and it’s the first time in 2018 that a motion picture has packed the dramatic heft and the emotional weight needed to move my critical mind to genuine tears. So much of this movie – from its themes, its blatant obscurity, its genuine interest in further discovering the frightful beauty of our world – left me in a shell-shocked awe. Annihilation will leave you breathless, reckoning with your senses and arguing about its meaning for days and weeks to come, and it convinces us that sometimes it’s more important to live an experience than it is to completely understand it. That we can in fact believe without seeing.
“The silence around it is louder than usual.”
Rating: 5 out of 5