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Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Film Column: ‘Annihilation’ serves up science fiction ‘shimmer’


Science fiction movies are easily my favorite kinds of films. I love the way the genre explores human issues and problems through the vein of a high concept idea or story. “Annihilation,” a 2018 film by writer/director Alex Garland, masks itself as a very high concept sci-fi film about the possible end of the world. 

The film stars Natalie Portman as Lena, a biology professor tasked with investigating a phenomenon known as the “Shimmer” after her husband Kane, played by Oscar Isaac, mysteriously appears in their home after a year of being missing. However, something is different with Kane; he’s acting like a completely different person. Once Lena gets to the Shimmer, she teams up with a group of scientists to explore the phenomenon and find the root cause of the Shimmer. 

The supporting cast is rounded out with Jennifer Jason  Leigh as Dr. Ventress, Tessa Thompson as Josie, Benedict Wong as Lomax and Gina Rodriguez as Anya. Does this film chart new territory for the science fiction genre, or does an interesting idea fall into the trap of generic science fiction? 

Alex Garland is one of the most prolific new directors working in Hollywood. His first film was 2014’s “Ex Machina,” an insanely good sci-fi movie about artificial intelligence, so needless to say I was very excited to watch his second effort, “Annihilation.” Garland unfortunately does not surpass his first film with “Annihilation.” However he’s taking the proper steps needed to prove that he’s not just a one trick pony. This film and “Ex Machina” are in no ways similar, besides the science fiction elements woven throughout the film. 

“Ex Machina” leans more into the technical side of sci-fi where “Annihilation” is more about exploring humans through the lens of something more alien. This film is really tough to talk about. It’s more of a thinker than anything else. However that doesn’t mean it’s lacking in intense action or thrills. 

There’s a scene in the film involving a mutated bear that’s genuinely one of the most terrifying scenes in my recent memory. That scene and an insanely psychedelic and mind-boggling ending are the main reasons to seek out this film. 

I really enjoyed Natalie Portman’s performance in this film. She sells the right amount of confusion and discovery properly, while never feeling like any decision she makes breaks characters. Oscar Isaac is one of my favorite new actors in Hollywood, so I was disappointed to see his role cut down. However this film isn’t about him, so that’s understandable. 

Tessa Thompson as Josie was the standout in this film. One scene in particular involving a field of tree people (literally) was particularly moving.Thompson is doing seemingly everything correctly when it comes to choosing her roles. She’s now landed three back-to-back hits, and I can’t wait to see where her career goes. 

I’m going to do something in this review I normally don’t do, and that’s talk about the ending of the film. I’m of the mindset that you should see this film without knowing much – the experience will be one you will not forget. “Annihilation” is an amazing sci-fi film that has great direction, good performances and stellar scenes ranging from the terrifying to fascinating. I highly recommend anyone with even the slightest interest in science fiction give this a watch. Without further ado, it’s time to get into spoilers. 

The following contains spoilers.

This film is all about the ideas of changing and self destruction. Every character has some sort of self-destructive personality, each in different forms. One characters cheats, one character cuts herself and one character has cancer. The Shimmer, or the area surrounding where a meteor landed, refracts everything that comes through it: lights, radio signals, even DNA. This film suggests that when a person goes into the Shimmer, they are no longer the same person – they’ve changed. 

If you read into this idea more, I believe the director is trying to suggest that in relationships, sometimes you mentally become a different person, and that relationship will fundamentally not work anymore because of that. The overarching subplot of the whole film involves the relationship between Lena and her husband and their different self-destructive natures that slowly ruin their relationship.  

That’s what I believe the best interpretation of the ending is, when Lena faces off with the alien that mirrors her movements. By defeating that alien, she is officially accepting the fact that she has become a different person, and there’s no reason for the alien to take over. She, unlike her husband, recognizes that to stop self-destruction, one must change. That’s ultimately the feeling and metaphors I kept coming back to after finishing this film. 

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