To Rid The Disease
Annihilation is directed by Alex Garland and is based on the novel of the same name by Jeff VanderMeer. The film stars Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny, and Oscar Isaac.
It may not seem like it, but over the past several years, there has been an on-going series of what I like to call, "head-tripping, really make you think" sci-fi movies that should be definitive proof that the sci-fi genre has not completely descended into an endless parade of overblown Independence Day or Transformers-like blockbusters that require no brain power and will make you a little bit dumber by the time the end credits start. And while these head-tripping, make-you-think sci-fi movies have never been tearing it up at the box office (which would explain why a bunch of them fly under people's radars), they almost always have been getting rave reviews and at least some Oscar attention, the most recent examples being 2014's Under the Skin, 2015's Ex Machina (also directed by Garland), and 2016's Arrival. I suppose both War for The Planet of the Apes and Blade Runner 2049 could be considered entries in this series, but both of those films were sequels and didn't quite have as much dense, "make your head hurt", thought provocation that those other said films have.
When it comes to 2018's Annihilation, there is no question that it is the next entry in the smart, head-trip sci-fi film series, doing so by appearing as an action-fueled sci-fi adventure but in reality serving as a visually remarkable film that is obsessed with ideas, offering no easy answers when all is said and done. Admittedly, the trailers didn't succeed in convincing me to be there front row on opening day, but I should mostly blame that on the fact that most movie trailers suck nowadays and have become little more than white noise to me.
Anyway, the plot of Annihilation centers on biologist and former U.S. Army soldier Lena (Natalie Portman). As the movie begins, Lena is being debriefed by a scientist named Lomax (Benedict Wong), who is asking her a series of questions about an expedition that Lena had been on for months, even though Lena claims that the expedition took a much shorter time.
We then flashback to Lena's husband, Kane (Oscar Isaac), returning home to her one night after he was reported to have gone missing during a military mission for nearly a year. Kane remembers nothing from the mission, not even remembering how he got back home. Kane then suddenly becomes seriously ill. While on the way to the hospital, Lena and Kane are intercepted and taken into custody by a government security team. Lena awakes in a compound and meets psychologist Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Dr. Ventress explains that Lena's husband has fallen into a coma, and that the two have been brought to a place called "Area X." Area X contains a zone that is called, "The Shimmer", and Dr. Ventress explains that many research teams have been sent into The Shimmer, and only one person has come out of The Shimmer alive: Kane. Dr. Ventress tells Lena that she is leading another research team into The Shimmer to collect data and find out exactly what it is. Hoping to find a way to heal Kane, Lena decides to join the team and venture into The Shimmer with them.
- A lot of Annihilation's themes and ideas revolve around the nature of disease, primarily that of cancer, and it's pretty powerful stuff. The creatures that Lena and the rest of the team encounter in The Shimmer are those that embody what cancer does: reproduce and reproduce without any frame of mind. In fact, The Shimmer itself is like a cancer. It does not think and does not have a mind of its own. It's a tumor that is placed on Earth, and one that will grow with no thought process. Annihilation is not simply trying to tell us how devastating that cancer is. More so, it's trying to tell us the power of the kind of malevolence that is inherent in cancer, how it's a disease that grows and grows, and yet, cancer never knows what exactly it's hurting and how dangerous it can become. It destroys, and yet it does not know what destruction is.
The way Annihilation addresses these types of themes also make it the kind of film that will have you feeling depressed and hopeless, especially with the way that the film ends. It does not hesitate for a second to give you the brutal truth behind its themes and what it's trying to tell you in the long run.
- When Lena and the team enter The Shimmer, the movie becomes a gorgeous display of visual effects and cinematography. The Shimmer shows a neat combination of post-apocalyptic looking neighborhoods and lush, green woods filled with beautiful life. The Shimmer is implying wonder and despair at the exact same time, just as someone who may be struggling with the despair of cancer finally has the chance to fully appreciate the wonder of life. On paper, these are a pair of visual elements that should be like oil and water, but in the context of what Annihilation is all about, it's a match made in heaven.
- The only place that Annihilation goes wrong is in its pacing, because this movie is quite the slow burn, with the major plot sequences trudging along with no desire to reach the finish line. This is especially true with the film's final 15-20 minutes, which go all in for being as impact-ful and as mentally draining as possible. As a result, the film feels about 20 some minutes longer than it actually is, quite surprising because you've got to be paying close attention throughout if you intend to get the full effect of this film.
Being the most recent installment in the series of smart, thought-provoking sci-fi movies, Annihilation is 2018's proof that the sci-fi genre is still alive and strong, and that Alex Garland's success with Ex Machina was no fluke. The last thing that the film will do is put you in a good mood, but when it comes to presenting some of life's harshest realities, such as the agony of cancer, how can you be happy and inspired? Annihilation is a head-trip that will hit you right at your core and leave you ringing well after the credits roll.
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