Annihilation [film, 2018]

“It’s destroying everything.”

“It’s not destroying everything. It’s making something new.”

Thanks to those who came to the SOPHFIFEST watchparty in November! This is the film we watched 🙂 Massive spoilers below, but I promise you that you will thank me…

It’s quite hard to describe this film but if I had to, I would probably say it started like a phenomenon-adventure film and ended like a beautiful, strange Lady Gaga music video.

The first thing that struck me, having read the book, was how unlike the book the film was. Having read into some of the background, I can now see why. The film was the lovechild of Alex Garland, writer and director of such films as Ex Machina. Apparently his vision for the film was to make a loose adaptation of the book. The main characters and themes and some of the ideas that came out of the book are there in the film, but much like the prism landscape in Area X they went into Garland’s mind, were changed irrevocably, and came out different… and I can’t say it was for the better…

There were some things which really bothered me (we won’t even go into detail about the noiseless love-making scene which creeped me out)…

With the exception of one scene at the top of the movie, it felt like Lena’s driving force only related to her husband and finding out the truth for him. The book, however, reveals that her and her husband are quite estranged and that her reasoning for wanting to go into The Shimmer was much more complicated than that, so the film missed the mark on that.

It bothered me that it felt like I didn’t know any of the supporting cast members that well, i.e. Lena’s colleagues who also went into Area X except what I was told… that they were women with little to no ties to the earth outside of Area X (due to cancer/loss of children) and one of them was probably gay. I felt like the director interpreted the book to suggest that the peripheral characters did not deserve to be afforded any nuance and at times the agency to tell their own story themselves, which was offputting to say the least. In the book, they were travelling for days, and whilst the spotlight was on Lena it didn’t mean I didn’t get to know the other scientists. I wondered how different the film would have been if the script had been written by a woman. It felt like a lot of time was spent trying to convince me this was a Feminist film (with a big F) but then fell totally short.

There was also a bit where Lena shoots something and a colleague asks her where she learned to shoot like that, to which she explained she had been in the military. It made me wonder, would we the audience ever question a hypermasculine man’s ability to shoot a gun if we saw him save lives? In doing so, it felt like the audience was seeking Natalie Portman’s authority to be able to shoot a gun successfully, instead of just accepting she could do it. Imagine one of the characters in Aliens asking Vasquez where she learned to shoot in the same way, or The Terminator or any other character really. We know Lena is qualified and capable and powerful already because she shot the thing to death…

And then there’s a part where the medical character sees a man with a thing squirming inside him and she denies its existence. It just undermines women because she’s meant to be a qualified, educated person and is painted in this truly ignorant way… I read around to see if anyone else experienced this film in a similar way, and I think this blog really sums it up. I have to agree, I found the film pretty insulting.

The cinematography/CGI was strikingly beautiful. Not just the shimmer itself but the flower-people were really well done.

I also really enjoyed Jennifer Jason Leigh’s depiction of the Psychologist. The ethereal way she talked in the movie made me question whether she was real, whether any of it was real.

The pinnacle of the whole film ended up what seemed like a dance battle with someone in a metallic full bodysuit which seemed quite pointless…

In conclusion, I think this film was a beautiful waste of time, but I really didn’t like how the characters were portrayed in such a flat way. I think it had great potential. The book itself was so compelling and I really wanted to know more… but it felt like the director missed the point both in the Feminist message he tried to put out and also in the plot. I would say don’t waste your time. Read the book instead.

UPDATE 20/11/2020 – That said I know lots of people really LOVE LOVE LOVED this film. Far be it from me to write off an entire film. I would say take this film with a big old pinch of salt. It’s well casted, looks amazing but it is pretty flawed. You have been warned.

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