We all knew I was going to write about Alex Garland’s Annihilation, right? How could I not? I saw it twice within a three-day span.
I have a lot to say about this movie. I left the theater feeling so exhilarated each time, and I know I’m going to get too excited while typing this, so please, bear with me and hopefully you can enjoy my very emotional perception of this story. Also, I could be completely incorrect with all of this so… hope it’s alright to read and easy to follow.
I’m not a very cerebral thinker. The second time I saw this movie, I brought my boyfriend and I explained to him afterwards what I thought it meant, and once I was done with my very long-winded explanation, he simply said, “That’s really impressive. I wasn’t even thinking about it like that, but I think you’re right.” And that made me feel great because he’s a very cerebral thinker.
Let’s start here: Annihilation is the process of self-discovery, down to the cell. It’s depression and anxiety. It’s the in-between. It’s post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s your body’s impulses trying to hurt you, or worse, kill you. How do you overcome your own body when it turns on you with the birth of a life-altering disease?
Annihilation is the metaphorical and philosophical Other. Think Coraline and her Other home, think crawling through that horrible pink and pulsating tunnel (I wonder what that’s symbolic of – if you don’t know, I’ll tell you – the vagina), and think of her Other parents with black buttons for eyes. (Cue the void. Sound familiar?)
Annihilation is having the courage to take a really deep and introspective journey inside yourself to be able to face the void that is probably all of our inner souls. It’s the Ouroboros (you know, their tattoos), having the knowledge that you’re swallowing your own tail, but remembering you’re a dragon (or a snake, whichever you prefer. Annihilation used a snake; Altered Carbon used a dragon. Both are portrayed in mythos.) The point being, you’re still full of strength even if you’re battling yourself and re-birthing yourself by killing some part of you that you don’t want anymore, or to be something else completely; something new, something better, and maybe something infinite; something that’s forever changed within you.
It’s creation through destruction, and unfortunately, that’s pretty human. A psychic once told me that I’ve reconfigured my entire brain to survive. I had this psychic reading OVER THE PHONE. I still wonder how he knew about my brain, but to be honest, I have reconfigured a lot of the way I think and process because I had no other choice. I was probably going to die if I didn’t change something. (Can you tell I significantly identified with this movie?)
Anyway, Lena embarks into The Shimmer with Dr. Ventress, Josie, Anya and Sheppard, but she’s also confronted with Kane and a few others from the last mission as well, and I don’t mean an encounter by physically seeing them, but seeing as in feeling; seeing as “into the looking glass.” Seeing as in fucking cutting someone else open and taking a look at their moving and unsettled insides. Haven’t you ever felt like that, like you were crawling in your own skin? We all have. That’s why Kane was in stupefied wonder when he’s looking at his friend’s intestines: It’s confirmation that feeling exists.
If you don’t look death in the face, how can you conquer it? If you’re too afraid to face all of your fears (even if your only fear is yourself) then what’s left of you? What makes you, you if not your fear… or your love? Or your willingness to forgive? Or to change? Or your willingness to let go? Your willingness to try?
Think of the scene where Sheppard is talking to Lena after they killed the hybrid-alligator. Lena asks, “She’s tried to kill herself?” She, in reference to Josie and the cuts on her arms, and Sheppard responds, “No, I think the opposite, actually. She was trying to feel alive.” There’s nothing wrong with trying to escape the pain, and there’s nothing wrong with trying to embrace it. That’s why Josie is such a beautiful character. She becomes floral fascination. She’s recreated herself into a new structural form of beauty because what are you, if you’re not trying to feel alive, beautiful and a part of something bigger than you?
None of these people died in my eyes. They all became something new. Destroying a physical body doesn’t mean you won’t or can’t change into something else, even if that means your consciousness isn’t earthly. Who knows, it could be almost alien. (See what I did there?) I think alien in this sense meant a completely different form of being alive, the unlocking of a higher level of consciousness, not literal extraterrestrial phenomenon.
Annihilation is the battlefield. Lena and Kane are soldiers in the military and that’s how they met, but that could be interpreted as not only war soldiers, but soldiers in their relationship. They’re fighters. They’re both fighting on the same side, on the same team, but that doesn’t mean they can’t hurt each other. It’s almost inevitable. Like in all relationships, you can’t help but hurt one another even if you love one another. We all make mistakes, and we all make bad choices sometimes.
Annihilation is about death and succumbing to death, specifically diseases we have no control over that warp our cells and our blood and slowly disintegrate our body and minds until we’re nothing but fragments of what we once were. Think I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid. I’m pretty sure Dr. Ventress expresses this sentiment exactly to Lena when they’re both in the vaginal-like black void inside the lighthouse. Before they make it there, she states to Lena that she’s going to the lighthouse because that’s her choice. She further explains that she’s not going to let this place consume her, she’s going to consume it. It being her Cancer, and the lighthouse being death. She chooses to die out of her own volition instead of being consumed by something that doesn’t even need or want – it just is.
Let’s talk about Lena and Kane and how Lena fucked up her marriage by fucking her colleague, David. Remember the scene where Lena goes out to alleviate Dr. Ventress from her post, right before Sheppard gets taken by that bear-dog-scream-stealing hybrid? Lena asks Ventress, as a psychologist, why her husband signed up for a suicide mission. Ventress says to her, “Is that what you think we’re doing? You’re a biologist, you know about our cells. Isn’t it coded into us to self-destruct in some way? We drink, we smoke, we destabilize the good job… the happy marriage…” I bet you thought she was talking about Kane, but she was actually talking about Lena.
Kane has “theoretically” disappeared for a year and he’s not himself when he returns. He’s come back from the mission different and detached and solemn and missing. It’s like he’s died, right? He says to her, “I came back because I saw you, and I recognized you.” Kane is seeing something Lena can’t understand. (Until she enters The Shimmer…)
In fact, Kane is basically dying here on earth. His organs are failing (here’s a heart reference if I ever knew one), and Lena says that she owes it to him to go on this mission because she knows why he went, and we do too, and it’s because she forced him to with her fuckedupness. That’s why she touches his heart before she goes on the mission. She knows she fucking broke it, and the only thing left to do is pick up the pieces and save him.
Remember when Anya goes crazy and relapses and ties up Lena, Ventress and Josie? She calls Lena a liar, mentions the word husband a lot, and then asks all the others if they knew, and then she goes over the theories of why no one ever comes back from The Shimmer; because they got killed by something or went crazy and killed each other.
This is exactly why they’re all there, especially Lena.
They’re either getting killed by something (Cancer, suicidal thoughts, relapsing, death of a loved one) or they went crazy and killed each other (betrayal, anger, all forms of self-destruction, infidelity, depression, doubt, paranoia, lack of trust, lies, etc.).
I say especially Lena because she’s getting killed by something (*She says to Josie, “I checked my blood last night, it’s in me.” IT could be anything… I have a theory that Lena was also sick, and she’s obviously full of guilt), and she also went crazy and killed someone else (her husband).
Lena is faced with the realization that she’s killed Kane when she watches the video on the camcorder in the lighthouse. He held that phosphorous bomb right over his heart, by the way. And then she beats and bloodies herself in the end to make it back home to this Other Kane by facing herself and her suffocation, and by facing her husband’s extremely serious pain by willing herself to understand it.
But, is this duplicate Kane really a copy? Kane left Lena for Area X a day early with his hair slicked back, wearing the same black shirt and black pants that he came back home in. To me, that’s not a copy of Kane, that’s just the Kane left over after Lena implodes their marriage with a metaphorical bomb.
The end is great, too because it mirrors the beginning. Lena and Kane in the end are literally a refraction of what they once were in the beginning, AKA light (all the flashbacks we see as viewers). They move through their old selves. They’re no longer what they once were because that relationship is dead, but the structure is still there. Instead, they’ve grown and shaped and shifted into this new form with one another, with new parts of themselves still recognizing the old, but embracing the newly changed. That’s why their eyes are different in the end; they’re seeing things differently now.
They’re molecularly different, but the same with one another because that’s what love is. They’re the two sides of the infinity symbol. They represent wholeness (there’s that Ouroboros again). They’re both seeing each other almost for the first time. In the beginning, Kane couldn’t see Lena. He recognized her, but he didn’t know her name when he came home. In the end, he knows her by name, and she, who thought it was Kane in the beginning, knows he’s not the same Kane in the end. That’s also why Kane heals when she returns, because without Lena, he’d die. They need each other to survive, and that’s why Lena embarked into The Shimmer in the first place; she wouldn’t have survived otherwise. She was barely living to begin with. She had to find a way to fix what was broken, in both of them.
That’s how I see it all, anyway. And honestly, this is why it will definitely be in my top 5 this year. I loved this movie. I related to it, it made me feel something, and for a science-fiction movie, it portrayed real people in such a complicated, layered and raw way. I recognized myself in Kane mostly, and I saw parts of myself in Lena, too. I think that’s a beautiful thing. I LOVED IT, PEOPLE.
As always – until next time – and thanks for reading!
P.S. – I started a new job (that is eh at best…) and I’ve had no time to myself to write, and this felt great. It has felt like something has been missing, and I’ve come to the realization that I always have to be writing to be happy and I always have to and need to write to stay sane, thus I am happy and sane. Now, go see Annihilation (at least twice)!