Either I was thinking too hard or not hard enough, but either way I came out of Annihilation scratching my head. I’d sat through two hours of squeamish visuals only to find that I had no idea what the movie was about. The basic plot is simple enough–there’s a mysterious ‘shimmer’ slowly expanding in a park and a team goes in to investigate why previous teams haven’t returned. But what was it really about? It seemed to be about embracing your own destruction, or the destruction of your old self, or something like that. I don’t know if the movie was interested in exploring what destroying your old self accomplishes, and whether or not it’s a good thing, just that it happens. It was called Annihilation, after all, and if the ‘shimmer’ taught us anything, it’s that there’s no stopping it. There…I think I got it.
Jokes aside, Natalie Portman does a remarkable job in her role. It’s becoming something of a trope in science fiction films for characters to not react appropriately to unknown things, like touching things without gloves or sticking your face into shady orifices in the name of science. Natalie Portman’s character has a refreshing sense of caution and protocol. Also, she runs away from things at appropriate times. I can get behind this.
Overall, the film is eerie and downright trippy at times. The tone is effective at establishing uncertainty and tension, and the performances were solid. The ending is a bit too murky for my tastes, and I don’t think there are enough philosophical or spiritual questions to help us interpret it. Or, if the questions are there, they flew over my head and I probably wouldn’t consider enduring the nightmarish imagery again to figure it out.
Sometimes sci-fi movies get very lofty in their explorations of humanity. Prometheus, for example, wanted to be deep and ponderous. I remember enjoying the actual experience of watching it, then feeling cheated later when I realized there wasn’t much meat to chew on. Annihilation stuck with me for several days as I remembered various moments and scenes. It took a few days for me to process my feelings about Annihilation, but I’ve come to the conclusion that I really really like it. There. Mind made up.
Maybe Matthew was too visually distracted/disturbed to pay attention to the dialogue, but I found that the movie had a lot of interesting questions that it explored in visually striking ways. Does our biological programming inform our self-destructive tendencies? After experiencing trauma, are you the same person as before or a mutated version? If a thing acts in a hostile way without actual hostile intent, is it villainous or simply following its programming? These are all questions the movie brought to my mind, and I’ve enjoyed recalling the various ways Annihilation addressed them. So, if that strikes your interest, then I encourage you to see it and contact me after to talk about it! Clearly, I’m not getting much from Matthew!
Now having said that, I do not recommend this movie to everyone. There are movies that I believe everyone should see – like Black Panther. Then there’s ones that I’m wary to suggest. If you can’t handle weird – and trust me, it gets real weird – then don’t see it. If Christopher Nolan movies give you a headache, then this isn’t for you. If Alien is too much for you to handle, then don’t see it. If you want a movie that can horrify you, confuse you, intrigue you, or enchant you, then go for it!
P.S. Those of us with living beings moving and growing inside our abdomens had a little extra discomfort with one particular scene. You know what I’m talkin’ about.