Yoonjoo and I just got home from our second time watching my long anticipated wait for the scifi thriller Annihilation. Although I had been looking forward to seeing this film, I do admit that my expectations were a little low due to the timing of this movie’s release (I don’t recall seeing high quality movies ever in February). But I did end up giving it a 9/10 on IMDB.
Before I get into my analysis of story, I would like to comment on some of the other attributes that made this film unique. The first point that I would like to point out is the quality of production. Alex Garland may not have many movies under his belt, but his previous film Ex Machina was one of the best aesthetically put together sets that I have seen. Garland does not cease to amaze as he puts his efforts into a new medium of eye candy: physics. The effects of light and DNA refraction are painted all throughout the shimmer and bring awe and horror to every aspect of this new world. The beauty is clearly seen in the field of the shimmer as the team of scientists walk in, but is continued to be seen in many of the flowers, animals (the deer), and even the human replicated trees. The beauty is also seen in the horror of the mutations, such as the demented animals, cancerous growths, and alienesque trees that surround the light house. Once again, Garland accomplishes this glammer through manipulation the light and DNA refraction of the contents of the shimmer.
The soundtrack is equally beautiful and haunting. The loud and twisted sounds of the horns remind me of the music played in Arrival when the aliens first are make their presence, though the sound is slightly altered in this movie, almost reminding me of a mutated version of a normally humane sound. I often think of this film-score as being a perfect soundtrack for an outer body experience while tripping on some serious acid.
On to the story.
We first see Lena being questioned by a team of scientist in dressed contamination suits in the lab. Lena does not seem to have any real perception of time, experience or even self. The tattoo she occasionally touches on her forearm is in the shape of an 8. Or is it really the ∞ symbol? Perhaps, but more on that to come.
Fast forward to Lena’s experience at Hopkins as a medical school professor. She teaches her class of medical students of the fundamental nature of human cells, the division and replication to preserve life. Later, she continues to explain to her husband death is also pre-programmed into the genes, both attributes giving us the primary features of being human. Although it is referenced in the movie by Lena as God’s mistake, I think it is better to think of it as a balance between two — the balance between replication for preservation of life vs self destruction for the fight against mutation — making our unique existence in this particular life form beautiful.
The varying balances of the two manifest themselves at the higher level in each individual person, and can be easily seen in each of team members Lena’s expedition. As stated in the movie by Josie prior to her submission to the Alien, Dr. Ventress entered the shimmer looking to face it, and Lena entered the shimmer ready to fight it. The others had their own states of mind that also represented their perspectives on light, Sheppard being consumed by the bear just like her daughter was consumed by leukemia, and Anya heroically dying while fighting the bear to preserve the life of her comrades, just as she did in her previous life as a paramedic.
Now onto the nature of alien. The life form of the alien does share one aspect with human nature: cell division for preservation of life. However, unlike human life, the alien embraces mutations as a form of genetic diversity and does not contain pre-programmed cell death gene. Instead, the alien exhibits a redistribution of DNA among all of the the organisms within the shimmer, creating a master organism operating at a higher level. As stated by Josie, the Shimmer acts a prism, separating wavelengths of light into their fundamental waves to create order and uniformity from the chaos. Not only is this prism effect seen in the visible light spectrum, but also the higher order manifestation of DNA. Just like wavelengths of light being refracted, DNA is refracted and separated into its fundamental gene components (think symbolically here, quantum effects don’t exhibit themselves this drastically at higher levels), then redistributed in a spectrum for all the life forms affected by the shimmer to share. This is important, as all life forms within the shimmer beginning swapping and sharing DNA, eventually becoming one with overall being. We see this in variety of ways — the alligator containing shark characteristics, the mutated bear bear a human skull-like face, previous military turning into cancerous growths, other individuals becoming plants — but this doesn’t really explain the weirdness that we see in the last scene of the film.
Once Lena reaches the light house, we can tell that the sources of the alien’s functioning power originates here. The hole that extends into the dark abyss can only be assumed an effect from the meteorite that fell through, and the branches coming out almost represent a nervous system arising from a cognition center. But things become even more weird when Lena sees the video tape of Kane blowing himself up and an identical twin seems to come from behind the camera after the original’s death. The strange thing is that they are wearing different uniforms (army vs airforce), and have different accents (normal vs southern). We can only assume that at this point, Kane had been in the shimmer long enough to completely lose his self-identity. The surviving twin was equally as different from Kane as the final version of Kane. This horror only motivates Lena to fight the alien even more, and she descends into dark hole.
In the hole, we see Dr. Ventress completely consumed by the alien — as her fate of facing the life form could only have finished. She bursts into a beautiful source of energy that is quite trippy. The heart of this ball of energy begins to extract a droplet of blood from Lena and we see first hand the alien’s self replication. The final product is form that mimics Lena’s every movement. When she runs up the hole, she finds herself facing the form once again. It is eerily mimics every move, and when she tries to run, it fights overtakes her and forces her into submission. The replicate has her “fighting” intention. Lena uses her last strategy of giving the replicate as phosphorous grenade, and the replicate holds it without fighting. This contact causes the replicate to finish its full imitation of Lena and becomes a version visually the same. However, in the process, the alien had unknowingly integrated the human feature of self destruction. Lena runs out while the replicate bursts into flames and continues to burn the entire “cognition center”. The shimmer begins to collapse, and the scene goes back to the interrogation of Lena.
At this point, we realize that Lena is no longer Lena. The individual who has survived the shimmer has been exposed to DNA refraction to the point of complete personality mutation. What she is left with is only a part of Lena. She is brought back to Kane #2, who also recognizes that he is not Kane. The minor portions of the soul that remain their originals remember that they were once together and they embrace awkwardly. We are left at the end of the film as though we ourselves had not really left the shimmer, confused by our own existence. Just as Kane and Lena.
A few other notes that we noticed in the movie. The house that the 5 women take refuge in has the same floor plan has Lena’s house in the real world. At the beginning of the move when Lena painting her room, the shot of the outside house shows a shimmer of light — light refracting in a colorful way. Some how Kane shows up from the shimmer. Is there another way the two worlds are connected? Who knows.
The movie states that no one entered shimmer to commit suicide, only as a result of the self destructive behavior. That is also why no one made it out. Only Kane #2 and Lena #1. But why Lena #1? Because she was the only one who didn’t go in for self-destructive reasons?