Long before the world premiere of “Annihilation,” Paramount made an unusual advertisement for the film willy-nilly. They called the film “too smart for the mass audience” and decided to release it only in the U.S., Canada, and China and to sell it to Netflix online cinema in the rest of the world.
After such announcements, “Annihilation” is sure to be watched by anyone who considers themselves a fan of intellectual cinema. After all, in the opinion of studio bosses lies a kind of challenge. “How dare you decide for me whether or not I understand this movie?”
On the commercial side, Paramount was right: rave reviews did not help “Annihilation” make a splash at the U.S. box office. The $40 million sci-fi thriller failed to gross the equivalent of its budget in two weeks, let alone break even. It disappeared almost immediately in the long shadow of “Black Panther.”
In Russia, “Annihilation” has officially been released on Netflix so that starting March 12, local viewers can legally assess the picture in all its glory.
We’re in luck. Garland’s film is best seen at home — it’s atmospheric, meditative, and devilishly clever. The only thing to worry about is the size of the screen – the picture is too beautiful. Otherwise, it’s a joy to watch a movie like this on release day without the accompaniment of popcorn crunching and smartphone noises.
Garland’s picture is a cross between “Mom!” and “Arrival” and Tarkovsky’s “Stalker. A multi-layered parable with symbolism everywhere.
In the case of “Annihilation,” it is a thankless task to write and read the usual reviews. The whole film is an amazing adventure worth experiencing for everyone, and there is no point in discussing it without spoilers. So for those who don’t want to know even the plot, it’s best to stop reading at this point and come back later.
What movie “Annihilation” about
“Annihilation” is an adaptation of the novel of the same name by writer Jeff Vandermeer. The book is part of a trilogy, «Southern Reach,» but the film will not have a sequel. The director and screenwriter Alex Garland changed the plot to add new meanings and, at the same time to make the story complete. Therefore, the picture can be talked about as a separate work.
The action of “Annihilation” begins with the fall of a celestial body that crashes into the base of a lighthouse located on the U.S. coast.
The unknown object immediately begins to change everything around it. The anomalous zone near the crash site grows slowly but inexorably. It looks like a giant bubble, shimmering with all the colors of the rainbow, so people call it “The Shimmer.”
The U.S. government cordons off and evacuates all local inhabitants, but there is no way to stop the expansion of the anomaly. Armed military units are sent into the zone, but no one comes back.
In one of these expeditions goes the husband of the main character – Cain (Oscar Isaac). His wife, Lena (Natalie Portman), a biologist with military training, does not know where her husband disappeared and continues to wait for his return, refusing to admit that he is dead.
About a year after his leaving, Kane suddenly shows up at Lina’s house, but it’s as if he doesn’t recognize her. He has no memory of where he has been or what has happened to him, and then almost all of his internal organs fail at once.
While Lena is taking her husband to the hospital, she is intercepted by a convoy of black government jeeps. When she regains her senses, she is told about the anomaly and that Kane is the only one who somehow managed to get out of the dome.
To understand what happened to her beloved, Lena decides to enter the zone with another squad. This time a group of women scientists is sent in instead of the failed military.
Under the Dome
If you observe the movie twice in a row, it becomes clear almost immediately that there is not one superfluous scene in the film. From the very beginning, the audience is prepared for what they will see next.
In its first episode, Portman’s character tells students about cancer cells, and the theme of self-destruction – including cellular destruction – ends up being the central metaphor of the film. The dome into which Lena goes is a giant tumor capable of swallowing up the entire Earth.
After entering the anomaly, the scientists encounter many strange plants and animals. Soon the members of the expedition come up with a theory that explains everything that is going on. In the center of the bubble, there is a prism, which refracts not only light and radio waves but also genetic information. Hence, the closer the lighthouse gets, the more unusual the surroundings become.
Like the recent “Arrival,” “Annihilation” realistically shows an encounter with aliens. Many people think of aliens as just another humanoid, a carbon-based race whose way of thinking and behavior is only slightly different from human beings. “Annihilation,” on the other hand, shows a more complex and plausible invasion scenario.
The creature arriving on Earth has no motives, desires, or language.
If the authors of “Arrival” fixate on questions of communication, then in “Annihilation,” there is no one to communicate with. Something has arrived on Earth that man can only describe as a phenomenon – a force of nature.
And Then There Were None
Alex Garland has proven more than once that he can combine the sublime with simple genre elements. So most of the time, “Annihilation” comes across as a quality sci-fi thriller – terrifying in places.
The protagonists go deeper and deeper into the anomaly, find ever more disturbing traces from previous expeditions, and encounter stranger creatures ever.
The idea of the “genetic prism” is fully revealed here. Cancer is a hidden mechanism of the body that may never manifest itself unless provoked. And more often than not, its appearance is directly related to a person’s lifestyle.
The anomaly in “Annihilation” works in a similar way. Each member of the expedition is broken by life in a different way, and therefore their bodies behave differently under the dome. And so, cancer is different for everyone.
For instance, a woman who has lost a child still gets an opportunity to leave her heritage to the world, but in the most terrible way – the monster that killed her receives the ability to reproduce the dead woman’s death cries due to the effect of the genetic prism. However, another metaphor here is the fear of leaving her loved ones, only the memory of her terrible agony.
The same is true of others. The paranoid person who refuses to believe in the obvious becomes a victim of his paranoia. The physicist, who cuts her hands to feel alive, as if to emphasize her indifference to worldly problems, becomes ingrown in her surroundings – she doesn’t want to fight or see the end of the road.
Well, the leader of the group enters the zone because she has cancer, and something arriving on Earth inevitably finds itself inside her. Dr. Ventress, who selects people for expeditions, is much like an oncologist – she watches people go into the cancer zone and not come back, and even knowing the nature of the disease does not save her.
In the case of Natalie Portman’s character, it is more complicated. At the beginning of the story, we see a concerned wife who is willing to sacrifice everything – even her own life – to save her husband. But gradually, through little flashbacks, we find out that she has been cheating on Kane, and she is driven by guilt, among other things.
And then there is another metaphor for cancer – the gratuitous urge for self-destruction that forces Lena to put her happy marriage at risk. We know that she loved her husband, but she still slept with a colleague for some reason.
The expedition is made up entirely of women, but this is not a tribute to Hollywood trends. The plot is explained by the fact that the male journeys did not work out, and, therefore, it was necessary to change conditions. In addition, breast cancer, one of its most popular forms, is a hundred times more common in women.
Once the protagonists enter the dome, it turns out that what awaits them inside is not hell but an unusual form of paradise. There are no people, and plants not only do not disappear but, on the contrary, bloom more lushly than usual, entering into a strange form of symbiosis with the local animals. The anomaly creates diversity, life itself.
Once in the dome, none of the main characters eat. And the animals, though they kill each other and humans, do not touch the flesh. There is no sense of hunger in paradise.
It is a reminder that cancer is not so much a villain as it is a force devoid of motivation. It builds new things, and its destructive effect on organisms is a side effect that matters only to the individual but is irrelevant on a planetary scale.
Upon reaching the lighthouse and watching the video from the camera, Lena learns that her husband also got to the center of the zone but killed himself with a phosphorus grenade. And an anomaly created an exact copy of him has taken Kane’s place – it’s the one who has returned home to her wife. We don’t know which duplicate it is: Kane may have copied himself several times, and it is his bones that lie in front of the lighthouse.
Lena sneaks into the hole created by the fallen object and comes face to face with the creature that spawned the zone. It appears from the explosion that tore apart the body of the head of the expedition, Dr. Ventress. Before she dies, she declares that the alien has no motive at all – it simply exists and changes everything around it.
In the immediate vicinity of the prism, the power of the anomaly becomes maximum. From a single drop of blood, it creates a twin of Portman’s character – the same one it made for her husband.
It is both an act of divine creation–the emergence of Eve following Adam–and another look at the subject of cancer.
Lena’s confrontation with her double is one of the film’s scariest scenes. At first, it seems as if the strange creature has some motive, but it doesn’t. He, like a cancer cell, simply “mirrors” the behavior of the main character with mistakes and thereby harms her.
Lena manages to win only when she accepts the rules of the game and “does chemotherapy” with a phosphorus bomb grenade.
“Annihilation” ending explained
Before selling the film to Netflix, the studio demanded that the ending be more positive and that Portman’s character be “a nicer person.” Fortunately, we got the picture in its original form.
At first, it seems that Lena kills her double and, at the same time, destroys all the anomalies – the operation to remove the tumor is a success, and the girl comes back unharmed.
However, after the protagonist meets the copy of her husband again, the audience is shown that the eyes of both of them “shimmer”: the anomaly has not disappeared anywhere; it has just taken a new form.
What happens next in the universe of the film can only be speculated. If we continue to develop the cancer theme, the renewed Lena and Kane are the very cells that will become the basis for the recurrence of the disease. The movie repeatedly suggests that cancer “is in all of us,” and it doesn’t go anywhere even after successful treatment.
That said, the protagonist has not become the villain. The entire plot of the movie points to the fact that the abnormality has no motive whatsoever. So if Lena and Kane are going to have any adverse effect on Earth and other people, it won’t be according to some cunning plan, but simply because they’re already different – warped.
There is some doubt
After the ending, it is difficult to say one more thing with certainty – whether Lena and her husband’s doubles are equivalent to biological organisms. After all, he is a copy of a human being, and she is a human being whose genes have been altered.
But Alex Garland gives the audience a clue. At the very beginning of the picture, the director hints that the connection between the main character and her husband are distorted — he shoots their hands through a glass of water, refracting the light.
In the finale, we are shown Portman’s character’s hand in exactly the same way. Moreover, when she takes a sip, the liquid on the glass wall begins to behave strangely – perhaps a reference to the fact that her very body already generates a prism effect and impacts the objects around her. Some viewers think that there is nothing wrong with the water in the frame, so this particular part can be considered a hoax. There is also a more straightforward explanation: with the help of the glass, on the contrary, they show that there is nothing wrong with Lina – there is no blood like her husband’s.
Garland doesn’t help here but adds to the mystery. After the scene with the glass, there are doubts that Lena herself, and not her double, has returned to the base.
Immediately after entering the zone, at the beginning of the film, all the members of the expedition completely forget their few days inside the anomaly. This means that sometimes the characters can skip large stretches of time without noticing it – because they don’t even have to eat.
During the battle with the doppelganger in the lighthouse, Lena loses consciousness for a while, and we don’t know how long she’s been like that. We also need to find out if she wakes up in the next scene.
In the episode where one Lena kills the other, there are no external differences between them – the blood on her face is exactly the same. And even the shot in which the second Lena burns and reappears as a genetic double offers no guarantees since we don’t know how the bodies of the two copies have changed over time.
That’s the beauty of the “Annihilation” finale. We don’t know which of the two versions came back, but it only matters a little. What we do know is that after her battle with cancer, Lena changed forever, just as her marriage changed after the betrayal.
There is no villain. There is a force of nature. There is an irresistible urge for self-destruction – mental, cellular, whatever.