TV + FILM

Annihilation: A Refracted View of Human Depravity

Joshua Pease
Writer, Speaker, + Podcast Host

Published 03/15/18

A nnihilation is a gut-punch mindfreak of a movie you feel squirming in your psyche after watching it. It’s an aesthetically breathtaking horror film exploring humanity’s bent toward self-destruction. It’s a movie with body horror scenes I watched while peeking through my fingers.

I can’t wait to see it again.

Annihilation is the story of Lena (a top of her game Natalie Portman), a former soldier turned biologist whose husband (Oscar Isaac) is in a coma after investigating a mysterious phenomenon called “The Shimmer,” a slowly-advancing field of distorted reality. Every team that’s explored The Shimmer has vanished, and when Portman, along with a team of all women (including Jennifer Jason Leigh and Tessa Thompson) volunteer to investigate The Shimmer, things go… poorly.

 

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The spoiler-free summary: The Shimmer is a place of surrealistic, often-horrifying beauty that reminded me of the death tableus from NBC’s Hannibal crossed with the spore-monsters from the video game The Last of Us. The Shimmer distorts time, technology, and the DNA of anything within it, quickly mutating all within its reach, and director Alex Garland’s imaginative approach to this concept - of what it would look like for the physical world to be thrown into an insta-evolution randomizer - is genius. But Annihilation’s power isn’t in its sci-fi imaginings (though that is worth the price of admission), but in what it reveals about us.

Some vague, non-plot specific spoilers follow. Skip the next paragraph if you want to avoid them.

 

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What we see of Lena’s life pre-Shimmer seems perfect - a warm, intimate marriage coupled with a thriving career. But Lena carries a capacity for self-destruction, a need even (especially?) while happy to burn what she loves to the ground. Annihilation believes this self-destruction stems from our biology, that at a cellular level we are always dividing, breaking apart, wearing down, or in the case of cancer consuming ourselves.

Lena hates this fragility, blames herself for it, and her march through The Shimmer is raging against the dying of the light, if you will, but how effective can this be if, at the most core level of our biology, we are flawed? While in bed with her husband Lena suggests that God made a mistake, that if our cellular biology were just a bit different we would evolve, improve, become infinite creatures. And while traditional Christian theology objects to blaming God for this, believing that at a fundamental, cellular level there’s a human corruption that self-sabotages human goodness is profoundly biblical.

Annihilation then is itself a theological Shimmer, refracting the Christian concept of original sin. Annihilation and Garland’s previous film Ex Machina are both unsparing in their critique of humankind as irreparably broken, which is an important counterbalance toward a pop-spiritual unitarian belief in the positive evolution of man. And even if Garland’s ultimate solution is far more cynical than the Christian faith, there’s a value in his refusal to look away from humanity’s depravity.

Annihilation, both spiritually and viscerally, may be uncomfortable, but in a fallen world maybe being made uncomfortable in a theater isn’t a bad thing.

 

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Joshua Pease

Josh is a writer & speaker living in Colorado. His book, The God Who Wasn’t There, is available on Amazon. For more of his writing, or to book him as a speaker, check out his website.

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