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.
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.