Is Alex Garland’s adaptation of Annihilation About Enlightenment?

27 Apr

null9By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)

Alex Garland’s adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer’s book, Annihilation is a thoughtfully compelling film. The narrative defies the norm for science fiction. It takes elements from survival horror and turns a few ideas I recall from Robert Zemeckis’ Contact around. If I had to deal with meeting aliens in the same way this film suggests, let them have this planet! Part of the story’s DNA may have taken inspiration from John Carpenter’s The Thing. However, this idea goes beyond cloning or regenesis.

In this film, a trip into the light fantastic known as The Shimmer to figure out what’s happening to a small part of Planet Earth is required. Many governments are worried. If this weirdness took place during Jesus Christ’s time, some may call the mission is to approach the Burning Bush. After Moses encountered God to obtain the Ten Commandments, he was positively glowing.

Lena (Natalie Portman) wants to venture in because she wants to find out what happened to her husband. The military wants her skills as a biologist to understand what is transforming the flora and fauna. I am left wondering if what’s happening is a DNA bomb moving in slow motion, ala Einstein’s theory of relatively. The energy is terraforming the land to a higher elemental state for aliens to live in. The material left behind leaves barely a skeleton, but rather a helix of molecules that these entities see. The spiritual explanations offered during this act is soft. This soldier’s encounters with mutated creatures, however, suggest there’s a greater force at work.


Garland is not bringing the book trilogy to film. He received an early treatment of the work to develop from. When this movie went to Netflix instead of the screen, the likelihood of continuing is slim. Hollywood is not paying attention to cerebral works. I can hear Han Solo speaking, “Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid.” Part of this film included some good old fashioned gunfights.

Shades of Buddhism exists in this material and not everyone will pick up on it. Out of nothing comes something, and life is changing within Area X (as described from the book).

When the Shimmer is witnessed, the richness of its colour scheme is reminiscent of the mandalas the monks from Tibet make. As beautiful as it is to behold and pray over, it gets swept away. The grains of sand are tossed into a river and the world receives its blessing. The reason behind destroying this work is to show nothing is permanent. Life is in flux. It’s being changed to a form humanity does not yet understand. This fear of the unknown (in what exists beyond this veil) keeps the story going. Just what happens to Lena, is neither terrifying and nor humble. She’s received enlightenment.


Shades of H. P. Lovecraft is visible in this work. Many viewers have compared this work to The Colour out of Space whereas I sense inspiration from In the Walls of Eryx. In whatever is hiding in the lighthouse, the center of where The Shimmer first appeared, this detail is important to move this film to a climax. This work is quite nebulous in its approach to provide answers. The response, however, to deal with the threat is Draconian–destroy what you do not understand. Lena opted for this direction and the result? This movie is worth watching for the answer.

Perhaps this movie is more about leaving the physical realm behind and connecting with the universe. Those who fear it will seek to annihilate it instead of embracing. When considering the next books speaks about (challenging) Authority and (taking on) Acceptance, the thinking-man in me has a good idea in where the overall direction for the book series is headed than the film.

This cinematic product is completely different and nobody ever got the chance to properly communicate with The Other Side ™. VanderMeer accepts the changes Garland has done to his work, but for new fans deciding to examine the printed material next is jarring. These opposite works do not gel.

4½ Stars out of 5

One Response to “Is Alex Garland’s adaptation of Annihilation About Enlightenment?”


  1. Is Alex Garland’s adaptation of Annihilation About Enlightenment? — Otaku no Culture – neweraofhorror - 2018-04-27

    […] via Is Alex Garland’s adaptation of Annihilation About Enlightenment? — Otaku no Culture […]

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