[Review] Annihilation: when destruction leads to reflection

Alex Garland, director of the inspired Ex-Machina and talented screenwriter for Danny Boyle (28 days later, Sunshine), signs his second feature film here. Based on Jeff VanderMeer’s excellent bestselling novel first published in 2014, Annihilation is out on Netflix today after being scheduled for theatrical release this year. But outside of its stormy post-production twists and turns, what is this mysterious sci-fi thriller really worth? Is he the confirmation of a solid and ambitious filmmaker or the bitter and cruel disappointment of a wasted talent? The answer obviously lies in these lines.

During the test screenings, Annihilation was qualified as “too complicated” and “too intellectual” . Producer David Ellison would have liked to change the end of the film and change the character played by Natalie Portman. However, director Alex Garland, helped by Scott Rudin, also a producer, decides to stay where he was. It is thanks to an agreement that the footage subsequently becomes a partial exclusivity on Netflix. Leaving the montage of Annihilationintact, it only benefits from limited theatrical exploitation in the United States, Canada and China. The film is broadcast on the American streaming platform in the rest of the world, to the chagrin of its filmmaker.

That Annihilation scares the studios as to its economic potential, it seems quite understandable to the vision of the footage. It all begins with a first act and a narration that does not really take the hand of the spectator to make him enter the universe of the film. Asked by a man in coveralls about the mission she just completed, Lena (Natalie Portman) appears to be a stranger to herself and others. She doesn’t seem to know anything specific, except that her teammates are dead or missing. A few moments later, a meteor crosses space to crash into earth, more precisely on an isolated lighthouse on the edge of a vast beach.

We then find Lena, at a time before her future mission where she teaches biology at the university. We then learn, without knowing more, that her husband (Oscar Isaac) disappeared a year ago. But the latter mysteriously reappears without warning. Something unspeakable seems to have changed in him. Lena will then come to understand that he was, during her absence, inside Zone X, or “Shimmer” (translated by “Miroitement” in French), a place where a strange unexplained and inexplicable phenomenon contaminates the people. premises. Built on the basis of flashbacks and narrative manipulations, Annihilation therefore reveals itself by asking its audience for a certain intellectual requirement as well as a letting go of what they will see and feel.

Being and Nothingness
A mysterious and unsettling work in the progressive unveiling of its purpose, one of the primary strengths of Annihilation is to offer different levels of reading to its viewer. The bias, rare enough to underline it in such a production, consequently allows the latter to literally participate in the elaboration of the film’s meaning (s) at the same time as it voluntarily and paradoxically tries to keep it away. For Alex Garland’s goal here is not so much to deliver an analytical creation closed in on itself as an open story capable of reasoning at various levels of understanding for whoever wants to experience it.

Fascinating, the Zone where the strange phenomena are exercised where the intrigue takes place seems at first glance to escape all understanding and human logic. However, it is in what it symbolizes, first of all on the scale of our world and the universe, that the deep and global meaning of the film can emerge. Extraterrestrial in nature, the latter inevitably refers to the mythology established by the literature of Lovecraft and his “Old Ones”. Likewise, it mirrors our lonely conditions, governed by the same great mysteries and unanswered questions: Who are we, where are we, where are we going? is also completed here about the form of life displayed by the Shimmer by: Who is she, where does she come from and where does she go? In short, a double of ourselves (at least up to a point),

“ It doesn’t destroy. This line of dialogue sums up pretty well what the Contaminated Zone basically is, and beyond that, the meaning of Annihilation . Thus, the place is nothing other than an incarnation of “chaos” to be taken in the metaphysical sense of the term, which embodies for the earth and the characters a kind of God / universe / entity with different logics from those of the human world. The “Shimmer” is a “Old One” in itself. A force prior to humanity beside which we are nothing. Where our beings are finally summed up in simple molecules in the eyes of ancient powers impossible to apprehend in their entirety.

On a smaller scale, that of the characters and their inner conflict in this case, the film also narrates the fight of a woman against her own psyche. The traumas of the various women making up the expedition inside Zone X then echoing what is happening on the screen. We learn in fact in the course of the film that each of them has a difficult past, a vector of universal torments (guilt, difficult management of bereavement, alcoholism, attempted suicide).

By scientifically asserting that the human is at a genetic level a vector of self-destruction, the female characters and their respective existential problems can be understood in a purely metaphorical way. Indeed, in this sense of reading, the Shimmering materializes the fight led by each member of the expedition. The strongest residing in the fact that this sub-text constantly works in tandem with the nature of the Contaminated Zone, itself also characterized by a powerful desire for destruction (or annihilation).