Thursday, March 1, 2018

Unpacking Alex Garland's 'Annihilation'

Thoughts on Alex Garland's brilliant take on Jeff Vandermeer's elusive novel.

You know what? I could’ve done without the alligator. But I rather love that freaky-ass acid trip of an ending.

These are two of the many differences between the novel by Jeff VanderMeer, and Alex Garland’s admittedly loose adaptation. I love the book. But I’m good with an inspired directorial vision. The problem is...the feeling, the vibe, I got from the source material is just not the same. Likewise, the mythology of the lighthouse, its history, the rabbit holes of the Biologist’s psyche (here a woman named Lena played by Natalie Portman) are not fully explored.

And I spent some time disappointed. I think Garland and I, truth be told, like the novel for different reasons.

But mostly I was awestruck by Garland’s bold choices in, well, finding his own vibe and putting his own flavor (lots of “Ex Machina” ideas in here) on the bones of VanderMeer’s actually scant, not very filmable mood piece/page-turner hybrid. Visually the film surpasses anything my imagination produced while reading. The attention to color and the distorted perceptions, the quietness of the dialogue, the paranoia, all captured in Garland’s camera.

I admire this movie too because, like Paramount’s last massivley-released art house film, Darren Aronofsky’s “mother!,” it has somehow gotten away with being exactly what it wants to be unapologetically. And it got a nice budget and a lot of screens, even if the whole international release got bungled up in some Suit’s greed. So glad to see this on a huge screen.

Garland’s themes end up taking over, making this story about an invasion of a terrifying and beautiful cancer (read a great piece on that take earlier today) into an environment and really exploring that. The desire of intelligent life to escape its harnesses, to be free to continue. It exhibits the takeover of one species into another the same way we take each other over in love. which is why the use of Crosby, Stills, and Nash's "Helplessly Hoping" is so brilliant. A song about a heartbroken man searching for something will never come back exactly the same.

Garland ended up taking us into the heart of a lighthouse on a beach I feel just as happy to have visited than the one of Vandermeer's creation, and for much different reasons.

As for the alligator, it was cool and all. But give us time to stop and smell the flowers. The screaming bear was all we needed.

7 comments:

  1. I really loved the film, and I was planning on reading the books but now I'm not sure if I want to since they're apparently so different. I don't want to resent the film after liking it so much

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    1. I honestly think they're different enough that it doesn't matter. I don't resent either. I do enjoy the vibe of the novel a bit more. Both are great works of art.

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  2. I wasn't crazy about Ex Machina (I'm planning on giving it another chance though) but I can't wait to see this. Nice review!

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    1. I LOVE Ex Machina. Like a lot. This is way more out there and well worth a watch. You won't get it at the cinema, I guess?

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    2. No cinema for us :( anyway, I saw it last night on Netflix and I liked it.

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  3. I'm still trying to wrap my head around this film. All I know is that I loved it, & Natalie Portman killed it.

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  4. I enjoyed Annihilation which managed to keep the suspense to the end. Portman did a great job. The fact the group go into the zone without protective gear was odd though. At the lighthouse was my fav scene. I didn't read the novel so went in with no expectations. Good point about the Crosby, Stills, and Nash song.

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