Annihilation (Alex Garland, 2018)

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Luke M
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Re: Annihilation (Alex Garland, 2018)

#26 Post by Luke M » Sat Mar 10, 2018 3:19 pm

I’m convinced that the only people that now use the word refracted are because they saw this movie.

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mfunk9786
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Re: Annihilation (Alex Garland, 2018)

#27 Post by mfunk9786 » Sat Mar 10, 2018 4:25 pm

badass chicks shooting mutant gators in the face
Maaaan. I know this comes off terribly snooty, but I can tell this is going to be a difficult movie to love & defend if this is the sort of conversation going on around it.

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Brian C
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Re: Annihilation (Alex Garland, 2018)

#28 Post by Brian C » Sat Mar 10, 2018 4:56 pm

I agree, watching the gator get shot was my least favorite part!!

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Satori
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Re: Annihilation (Alex Garland, 2018)

#29 Post by Satori » Sun Mar 11, 2018 7:14 am

Eh, “badass chicks shooting mutant gators in the face” would have been more than enough to get me to the theater in this new Moviepass world.

My take is somewhere in between thinking this is just a fun genre movie and wanting to apply continental philosophy to it (although I feel happy for the above poster’s Deleuzian friend—this is probably a really fun movie to see under the influence of D&G for the first time). I think this is just a really good sci-fi movie that has some interesting ideas and lots of arresting visuals. While this might be a rare enough combination that Paramount had difficulty figuring out what to do with it, it seems to me that there is a pretty clear subgenre of similar films like Upstream Color and Moon.

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Re: Annihilation (Alex Garland, 2018)

#30 Post by Lost Highway » Tue Mar 13, 2018 5:46 am

Watching acclaimed films in the social media age has so much to do with managing expectations. I find critics overreact to something which is ambitious even if the film fails to live up to those ambitions. Annihilation should have been right in my wheelhouse, but I thought it was an intriguing concept and some lovely visuals in the service of a Heap of Dumb, cloaked by a type of ambiguity which doesn't fool anybody who is familiar with sci-fi of the mind bending sort.

The Brownie points this aims for by featuring an all female team have to be immediately deducted for having them act Alien Covenant-levels of stupid throughout. The only known survivor returning from The Shimmer with all the signs of an infection, but lets send a team of scientists in there without hazmat suits anyway ! I'm delighted by the recent career resurgence of Jennifer Jason Leigh, but she may just play the worst, most irresponsible team leader ever. The end goes for
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a familiar doppelganger/body snatcher ending and while the substitutes may not actually be evil, there isn't much to ponder about.
With its conventional flashback structure, the film also isn't stylistically distinctive in the way a superior genre mind bender like Under the Skin or Upstream Color were. Rather than Stalker, the film this reminds me the most of is Gareth Edward's Monsters, which also has characters head into a forbidden zone overrun with alien/mutating flora and fauna, but that film was unusual in the way it treated its sci-fi/horror premise along along the lines of a Linklater-style walking-and-talking romance. I didn't hate the film and may give it another watch with lowered exectations but it confirms my suspicion that Alex Garland maybe isn't all that. The two films he wrote for Danny Boyle in particular have serious last act problems.

I thought both The Ritual and Ravenous are better direct-to-Netflix genre movies than this is. Neither has the pretensions of Annihilation, Ravenous essentially being a bog standard zombie movie at heart, but as a piece of film making I found it superior to this.

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Persona
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Re: Annihilation (Alex Garland, 2018)

#31 Post by Persona » Tue Mar 13, 2018 1:40 pm

Funny because I was watching The Ritual last night and had the exact opposite thought. Though I will give massive props to that creature design in The Ritual.

Sorry you didn't get that much out of Annihilation, I think there is quite a bit of thematic depth to the movie but that's largely dependent on how much you're willing (or how much the film makes you willing) to engage with it. I can only recommend again the reviews on Film Freak Central and New Republic and the piece on Vulture by Angelica Bastien about the film's depiction of the linkage between depression and self-destruction. And some of those themes go part of the way to explaining some of the characters' "stupidity," as you call it.

At first I also thought the Stalker comparison was a superficial one based on some premise and location shooting similarities, but Chaw's review for Film Freak made me question my initial reaction. Yes, they are utterly different movies, Annihilation is very much more a genre flick than an art film, but there is more thematic overlap than I was giving credit for. Also found the connections that Chaw and the New Republic piece drew to Virginia Woolf to be fascinating.

I thought the filmmaking was, in general, top-notch--particularly the work from the art and sound design, camera, and editing teams--and it really shone as a work of craft on the big screen, but maybe my opinion will diminish slightly on that front on home viewing.

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Lost Highway
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Re: Annihilation (Alex Garland, 2018)

#32 Post by Lost Highway » Tue Mar 13, 2018 3:33 pm

Persona wrote:Funny because I was watching The Ritual last night and had the exact opposite thought. Though I will give massive props to that creature design in The Ritual.

Sorry you didn't get that much out of Annihilation, I think there is quite a bit of thematic depth to the movie but that's largely dependent on how much you're willing (or how much the film makes you willing) to engage with it. I can only recommend again the reviews on Film Freak Central and New Republic and the piece on Vulture by Angelica Bastien about the film's depiction of the linkage between depression and self-destruction. And some of those themes go part of the way to explaining some of the characters' "stupidity," as you call it.

At first I also thought the Stalker comparison was a superficial one based on some premise and location shooting similarities, but Chaw's review for Film Freak made me question my initial reaction. Yes, they are utterly different movies, Annihilation is very much more a genre flick than an art film, but there is more thematic overlap than I was giving credit for. Also found the connections that Chaw and the New Republic piece drew to Virginia Woolf to be fascinating.

I thought the filmmaking was, in general, top-notch--particularly the work from the art and sound design, camera, and editing teams--and it really shone as a work of craft on the big screen, but maybe my opinion will diminish slightly on that front on home viewing.
Thanks for recommending those reviews. I read the Film Freak Central and they New Repulic ones. They made for interesting reading and they did make more sense of the film for me. I didn’t want to read much about the film before I saw it and haven’t had time to do so afterwards. The review by Walter Chaw in particular was moving and deeply personal. That said, as someone who doesn’t suffer depression (anxiety and panic attacks are my thing) and because that’s a state which can be hard to relate too for someone whom this is alien too, that’s probably why I didn’t connect with it.

I still think the film could have worked on two levels, it still doesn’t quite make sense to me that these scientist set out on a suicide mission from the start. Wasn’t saving the world the initial plan ? Once they are inside it makes more sense that they start to fall apart. I will revisit the film and read a little more about it as I enjoyed those review, maybe my opinion on it will change.

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Persona
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Re: Annihilation (Alex Garland, 2018)

#33 Post by Persona » Tue Mar 13, 2018 4:39 pm

Great, I'm glad those reading suggestions were worthwhile for you.

And I don't disagree with some of your points, either. I guess just for me, personally, I get why the movie was doing things the way it was doing them, and having read the trilogy I knew beforehand that this would be far from an air-tight screenplay, so I appreciated Garland being intentional about that and making sure he established this as an "unreliable narrator" story along with some of the dream atmosphere/logic he applied.

When he wrote the script he said he intentionally didn't re-read the book, because it felt like a dream to him and he wanted to do his script as a sort of "dream response" to the story. And for better or worse, that comes through in the movie. (For better, in my case).

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Persona
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Re: Annihilation (Alex Garland, 2018)

#34 Post by Persona » Thu Mar 15, 2018 10:32 am

Caught it for a second time late last night, once again in a practically empty theater.

Pretty much as effective a viewing as the first watch, and some of the emotional beats hit a bit harder though the visceral impact was slightly lessened just from knowing what was coming. But even with thinking about and discussing the film constantly since I first saw it a couple weeks ago, it's a very detailed work and I still picked up on a lot of things that I didn't notice as much the first time
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like when they show Cass' body and you see the throat ripped out--I could practically hear the bear crying "heeelp me"
Also, going in with knowledge of the character motivations and arcs really enhanced my appreciation of all the performances in the film, but ESPECIALLY Portman's. Her performance isn't always front and center and there is so much going on in the film aesthetically, it's easy to lose sight how much she is doing to bring an emotional depth and context to every scene. But on the second viewing it really shines and you see, too, how the film uses little moments from Portman to really flesh out the subtext of the film.
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on first watch I didn't even notice her reaction when they first go into the abandoned house and you can see her questioning if she's hallucinating or something to that effect because it's so similar to the house she shared with Kane (it was confirmed that the abandoned house was a redress of Lena & Kane's home).

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Re: Annihilation (Alex Garland, 2018)

#35 Post by djproject » Mon Mar 19, 2018 10:15 am

Spoiler-free assessment: beautifully horrifying.
Spoiler thoughts (probably an overreaction, but it's better to d…Show
I never thought that the visceral momentum of something like The Thing or Tremors or, yes, Alien/Aliens could be blended with sensibilities found in Solaris and Stalker. I know the latter is more opaque than how Annihilation deals with its themes and you don't have a lot of poetic moments from Stalker appearing here. But honestly, I really like films that are in the mainstream fare but will build an audience *up* rather than making them complacent in watching mediocre fare. I'd rather have the effort be there than just resorting to the safe fare ... (cough)A Wrinkle in Time(cough)

I do want to revisit this again and find some other people to talk through what happened and what the implications are. And if more these films are found in the Big Cinemas - meaning well-crafted, well-made, sincere and doesn't assume the audience is a bunch of drooling idiots - then I think audience attendance wouldn't be an issue.

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Re: Annihilation (Alex Garland, 2018)

#36 Post by mfunk9786 » Thu Apr 26, 2018 11:32 am


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Re: Annihilation (Alex Garland, 2018)

#37 Post by Ribs » Thu Apr 26, 2018 11:35 am

I find this news actually perplexing, considering A) Paramount have become the studio with the most UHD output by a large margin and B) the movie actually, all things considered, overperformed its expectations. I'm guessing it's a limited time exclusive considering I really can't imagine they actually think this wouldn't sell considerably better than their just-released UHD of Downsizing?

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Re: Annihilation (Alex Garland, 2018)

#38 Post by mfunk9786 » Thu Apr 26, 2018 11:48 am

Paramount has shown no limits in their capacity to be spiteful toward this film, so I'm just glad they're releasing it in UHD at all

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Re: Annihilation (Alex Garland, 2018)

#39 Post by onedimension » Sat Apr 28, 2018 5:57 am

Still digesting this one, might need a second viewing. The film is itself a kind of hybrid, like its “monsters”, half naturalist sci fi action like The Thing and other genre landmarks, and half art film - or like the bear of genre movies ate an art film and now roars in cerebral, surreal psychedelia. The lighthouse scenes seemed to be “saying something”, and I don’t know yet if the confusion is mine or Garland’s.

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Re: Annihilation (Alex Garland, 2018)

#40 Post by Slaphappy » Sat Apr 28, 2018 1:27 pm

Persona wrote:When he wrote the script he said he intentionally didn't re-read the book, because it felt like a dream to him and he wanted to do his script as a sort of "dream response" to the story. And for better or worse, that comes through in the movie. (For better, in my case).
I found out this only after watching the movie and it makes a lot sense to me. First half of Annihilation felt frustratingly incoherent before I managed to adjust my expectations. I’m happy, that Garland got this picture done. It was clear watching Ex-Machina, that instead a straight forward scifi thriller he might have ambitions for stuff like Under the Skin or Beyond the Black Rainbow.

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Re: Annihilation (Alex Garland, 2018)

#41 Post by barryconvex » Tue May 22, 2018 3:08 am

I can't believe there are some dissenting voices out there-this was staggering. I'm still so shaken by it 24 hours later, i'm having trouble typing and i still can't organize my thoughts into a coherent summation. So, i'll just say Garland needs to be recognized as a major talent. As great as Ex Machina was, this is a leap forward on every possible front. The jeers about rip-offs of Alien, The Thing and whatever other sci-fi movies of the past are superficial at best. This is the most intelligent film i've seen all year.

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Re: Annihilation (Alex Garland, 2018)

#42 Post by colinr0380 » Tue May 22, 2018 12:38 pm

barryconvex wrote:
Tue May 22, 2018 3:08 am
So, i'll just say Garland needs to be recognized as a major talent.
I would agree with this despite not having yet gotten to Ex Machina and Annihilation! I would highly recommend reading Garland's novel of The Beach (I like the film but the novel is even better) and especially The Tesseract, which is kind of what you would get if you mashed up multi-strand, multi-language dramas like Traffic and Amores Perros together (before it became a trend with films like Crash and Babel), with a novel Manila setting. It got a rather lacklustre film adaptation directed by Oxide Pang (of Bangkok Dangerous fame, who pushed it more into the abstract action sequences characteristic of his films rather than juggling multiple plot strands simultaneously, which is really what that adaptation needed), but the book is excellent.

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Re: Annihilation (Alex Garland, 2018)

#43 Post by barryconvex » Fri May 25, 2018 10:07 am

Thanks for the tip. Will definitely check those out...

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Re: Annihilation (Alex Garland, 2018)

#44 Post by domino harvey » Thu Sep 20, 2018 11:15 pm

This was another dud from Garland for me. It's interesting what people here are willing to overlook in their desire to praise this movie. I thought the dialogue was consistently horrid and on-the-nose, I share Lost Highway's gripes about the unlikeliness of the mission itself, and my immediate and constant thought in the last twenty minutes was that I can't remember ever seeing a movie so fruitlessly grasp at being 2001 in its errant grabs at art-housey crypticism. To answer the earlier up-thread question about why people are treating this like an art house movie, it's because it has the obvious and clear pretensions of one. I was glad for the last act, because it was more interesting than what came before it, but I was mostly just reminded of the music video for "Shape" by Glasser, which has more wonder and apocalyptic CGI weirdness than this expensive movie (and it didn't help that one of the explorers looks like Cameron Mesirow). I think arguments defending the unknowability of what the fuck even happens in the last twenty minutes are little more than a defense of poor storytelling. Sure, were this to happen, characters wouldn't know what is happening. But I'm not a character, I'm an audience member, and I expect to be let in or given evidence that digging deeper will illuminate the missing pieces, otherwise I start to suspect the creators don't know either. Even the final shot is meaningless-- the Lady or the Tiger doesn't work if either option has the same dramatic heft.

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Re: Annihilation (Alex Garland, 2018)

#45 Post by Big Ben » Fri Sep 21, 2018 4:26 am

I really didn't have any issue understanding what was going on at the end but I understand the hesitation to declare it's ambiguity as meaningful.
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It was apparent to me at least that whatever was inside this Shimmer at the end had indeed died but certain bits of it, or rather it's influence had most certainly leaked out. The version of Isaac's character that was outside was clearly a copy and those lost in whatever was going on are probably gone for good. The only real question I have is whether Portman's character is the original or a copy. She's knocked out and given the unreliability of everything that happens inside The Shimmer given that the water glass is moving at the end I tend to lean towards the idea that it probably isn't the original and if it is her physiology has changed dramatically. The question raised I suppose is that if it is indeed an exact copy made in this Shimmer what does that mean in a thematic context? If it's an exact copy it's technically her, just a literal paste job.

Interestingly enough certain changes are not visible at a glance but certain characters develop tattoos that they didn't have before and so forth. I imagine there's more minute details I missed so I'll certainly need to rewatch this.
Garland has stated that this film really isn't a direct interpretation of the novel and is more about his memory/dream (???) of it. It's a contained experience because of that and mileage certainly varies from person to person.

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Re: Annihilation (Alex Garland, 2018)

#46 Post by Mr Sausage » Fri Sep 21, 2018 6:39 am

domino wrote: Even the final shot is meaningless-- the Lady or the Tiger doesn't work if either option has the same dramatic heft.
All your criticisms are fair, but I assumed the point at the end was precisely that it didn't matter which was the case. It's the conclusion to the idea raised in Area X that identity is incoherent if borders are porous: the characters have abandoned the idea that authenticity requires a purity of identity. The movie seems to be siding with the idea that authentic emotional experience is still possible within what are considered inauthentic worlds, ie. simulations. If it doesn't matter to Portman's character that her husband's a simulation, we can assume it doesn't matter to her if she is one as well. So the meaning is contained in the gesture rather than the ambiguity itself. The ambiguity is more like context.

Not that any of this ought to make you like the movie better. It's just how I understood it leaving the theatre.

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Re: Annihilation (Alex Garland, 2018)

#47 Post by Persona » Fri Sep 21, 2018 9:27 am

Mr Sausage wrote:
Fri Sep 21, 2018 6:39 am
domino wrote: Even the final shot is meaningless-- the Lady or the Tiger doesn't work if either option has the same dramatic heft.
All your criticisms are fair, but I assumed the point at the end was precisely that it didn't matter which was the case. It's the conclusion to the idea raised in Area X that identity is incoherent if borders are porous: the characters have abandoned the idea that authenticity requires a purity of identity. The movie seems to be siding with the idea that authentic emotional experience is still possible within what are considered inauthentic worlds, ie. simulations. If it doesn't matter to Portman's character that her husband's a simulation, we can assume it doesn't matter to her if she is one as well. So the meaning is contained in the gesture rather than the ambiguity itself. The ambiguity is more like context.

Not that any of this ought to make you like the movie better. It's just how I understood it leaving the theatre.
Yeah, this was my take, as well, on the ending.

I'd certainly agree that the dialogue is not great (pretty much par for the course for Garland and for most genre flicks like this) and on rewatches the part of the film leading up to the Shimmer is not my favorite--it's very much a chunk of set-up and it has a few moments that work but ultimately this is not a movie that soars with its dramatic elements. Once they enter the Shimmer, though, I still really enjoy how the film works as a fantastically designed genre mash-up. And though the characters are more sketches than anything, I enjoy the cast and the all-female dynamic of the team.

Perhaps it's damning with faint praise but we don't get too many current A-lister movies that feel like they're exploring some fresh sci-fi concepts tied into any sort of distinct and resonant theme that hasn't been done a million times before in the genre (and that's where I had my biggest problem with Ex Machina). I think Arrival and Annihilation are both successes in that regard, and I can't wait to see what Claire Denis does on that front with High Life.

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Re: Annihilation (Alex Garland, 2018)

#48 Post by domino harvey » Fri Sep 21, 2018 11:48 am

Persona, I thought Arrival was infinitely more interesting than this film, and how it used filmic language against the audience was a great example of intelligent construction and respect for the viewer while still bamboozling us with twists!
Mr Sausage wrote:
Fri Sep 21, 2018 6:39 am
domino wrote: Even the final shot is meaningless-- the Lady or the Tiger doesn't work if either option has the same dramatic heft.
All your criticisms are fair, but I assumed the point at the end was precisely that it didn't matter which was the case. It's the conclusion to the idea raised in Area X that identity is incoherent if borders are porous: the characters have abandoned the idea that authenticity requires a purity of identity. The movie seems to be siding with the idea that authentic emotional experience is still possible within what are considered inauthentic worlds, ie. simulations.
Perhaps this is one of the reasons I didn’t get much out of this film, as treating identity as an amorphous and irrelevant status may be true in a cold biological perspective, but it’s forgoing the very thing that makes us and our shared human experience interesting and worth study. I can see how the film would encourage this reading, but I think there are a lot of missed opportunities here to either delve deeper into the fluidity of identity via the mutations or go harder into the look at the unfeeling forces of nature— I could see a version of this film working from a Microcosmos perspective, but once we’re given humans to follow, even archetypes, that becomes harder because we’re trained as an audience to identify with and/or recognize characters and we will attach meaning to what we see regardless of what nature provides.

As far as emotion, I find this argument far less convincing. I think the film has a hostile treatment of emotion, perhaps in order to make the eventual point you suggest, but all emotional responses in the film seem like sterile imitations of actual emotion: Portman is defined by grief, but this only manifests in being outwardly aloof and distant and we know nothing about her other than her job and some poor pillow talk; the members of the crew are all self-destructive due to preexistent circumstances, but there’s no real differentiation in their actions that is informed by this (a suicidal character’s willful act of giving up is hardly insight, especially since the entire crew shares her basic defeatism). The mother who lost a daughter is the most friendly (ie matronly) to Portman, which I’d invest more in reading as a larger statement about how the film treats emotions if I weren’t convinced this was only done because the film
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intends to kill her off first— show of hands, who didn’t know immediately once she started talking in the rowboat that she’d be the first to bite it, since she’s the only one setting up conventional (knowable) character beats? I like audience manipulation as much as anyone when it’s done well. This was too transparent.
In the end, I don’t think Portman has anything resembling an emotional response to her husband, interrogators, or alien-self. A better film could exploit this, but based on the two films he’s directed, I’m not convinced Garland is interested in humanity as any kind of tangible theme or perspective, instead treating it as an abstract notion (not unlike how the Portman double undoubtedly would). That’s a lot more interesting in theory than it winds up being in practice here and in Ex Machina, though.

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Re: Annihilation (Alex Garland, 2018)

#49 Post by Mr Sausage » Sat Sep 22, 2018 6:59 am

domino wrote:Perhaps this is one of the reasons I didn’t get much out of this film, as treating identity as an amorphous and irrelevant status may be true in a cold biological perspective, but it’s forgoing the very thing that makes us and our shared human experience interesting and worth study. I can see how the film would encourage this reading, but I think there are a lot of missed opportunities here to either delve deeper into the fluidity of identity via the mutations or go harder into the look at the unfeeling forces of nature— I could see a version of this film working from a Microcosmos perspective, but once we’re given humans to follow, even archetypes, that becomes harder because we’re trained as an audience to identify with and/or recognize characters and we will attach meaning to what we see regardless of what nature provides.
I'm not sure it's treating identity as irrelevant in the way you say. I think it's more about what remains relevant when our existing categories of identity cease to structure our cognitive world in any meaningful way. Ex Machina was dealing with the same thing: what does it mean to be human if non-human products have all our distinguishing features. Annihilation takes that a step further and not only provides simulated people replacing real people, but has characters absorb bits of each other's identities. This breakdown of our mental categories can go two ways: towards apocalypse ala Werkmeister Harmonies, or in Annihilation's case towards acceptance (also the name of the final book in the series). There are characters who resist refraction and duplication and kill themselves, but the film seems more on the side of those who embrace their change in identity, including Portman, who does burn down Area X, but in the end also seems accepting of its products, of which she may be one. Her interrogation and her actions the very end of the film do suggest something has been reframed for her. But I don't get the sense the film is hostile to identity. I think it's taking a view of it commonly held by transhumanists and those who believe in the coming singularity: that we're going to have to reframe our categories of identity and their potential for meaningful action once advances in technology or understanding make it unavoidably the case that our categories are outdated folk taxonomies. This is not hostility, just an understanding that our categories were established when we knew only so much. Annihilation is poking its head into these themes, but through the lense of alien intervention rather than human technological breakthrough ala Ex Machina.

I agree completely about the missed opportunity to dive more deeply into identity, but then this is a two-hour effects driven blockbuster more than a 3-hour Tarkovsky meditation, and we already have Stalker. So I guess I'm not overly disappointed by its relative shallowness.
domino wrote:As far as emotion, I find this argument far less convincing. I think the film has a hostile treatment of emotion, perhaps in order to make the eventual point you suggest, but all emotional responses in the film seem like sterile imitations of actual emotion: Portman is defined by grief, but this only manifests in being outwardly aloof and distant and we know nothing about her other than her job and some poor pillow talk; the members of the crew are all self-destructive due to preexistent circumstances, but there’s no real differentiation in their actions that is informed by this (a suicidal character’s willful act of giving up is hardly insight, especially since the entire crew shares her basic defeatism). The mother who lost a daughter is the most friendly (ie matronly) to Portman, which I’d invest more in reading as a larger statement about how the film treats emotions if I weren’t convinced this was only done because the film
SpoilerShow
intends to kill her off first— show of hands, who didn’t know immediately once she started talking in the rowboat that she’d be the first to bite it, since she’s the only one setting up conventional (knowable) character beats? I like audience manipulation as much as anyone when it’s done well. This was too transparent.
In the end, I don’t think Portman has anything resembling an emotional response to her husband, interrogators, or alien-self. A better film could exploit this, but based on the two films he’s directed, I’m not convinced Garland is interested in humanity as any kind of tangible theme or perspective, instead treating it as an abstract notion (not unlike how the Portman double undoubtedly would). That’s a lot more interesting in theory than it winds up being in practice here and in Ex Machina, though.
I think we'd agree that the film is more about emotion than containing it. Its tone is distant and frigid, no doubt to create unease as much as anything. But I do think that gesture at the end is an affirmation, in this case of the authenticity of emotional experience as experience, including the experience of beings of dubious authenticity. But I agree: this is handled in the abstract, as an intellectual problem, and not as a dramatic situation. The Domhall Gleason episode of Black Mirror is a far more incisive and moving account of the emotions of being confronted with simulated beings than either Annihilation or Ex Machina. But much as Ex Machina was using the frame of the turing test to suggest the authenticity of the emotional experiences of its robot, the refracted identities in Annihilation do culminate in the only gesture in the film of human need for another, however muted. Whether Oscar Isaac is her husband or her husband, or if she is herself or what, she does make a gesture of wanting and needing him, and I can't help feeling it's an analogy to the troubling but authentic gesture of defiance at the end of Ex Machina. But Annihilation is observing all this rather than feeling it, and doesn't intend us to share the experience (and maybe even wants us to be frightened of it in a small way). And I would agree that overall this concept is not explored with the depth it could've been.

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Re: Annihilation (Alex Garland, 2018)

#50 Post by Persona » Sat Sep 22, 2018 10:01 am

Mr Sausage wrote:
Sat Sep 22, 2018 6:59 am
domino wrote:Perhaps this is one of the reasons I didn’t get much out of this film, as treating identity as an amorphous and irrelevant status may be true in a cold biological perspective, but it’s forgoing the very thing that makes us and our shared human experience interesting and worth study. I can see how the film would encourage this reading, but I think there are a lot of missed opportunities here to either delve deeper into the fluidity of identity via the mutations or go harder into the look at the unfeeling forces of nature— I could see a version of this film working from a Microcosmos perspective, but once we’re given humans to follow, even archetypes, that becomes harder because we’re trained as an audience to identify with and/or recognize characters and we will attach meaning to what we see regardless of what nature provides.
I'm not sure it's treating identity as irrelevant in the way you say. I think it's more about what remains relevant when our existing categories of identity cease to structure our cognitive world in any meaningful way. Ex Machina was dealing with the same thing: what does it mean to be human if non-human products have all our distinguishing features. Annihilation takes that a step further and not only provides simulated people replacing real people, but has characters absorb bits of each other's identities. This breakdown of our mental categories can go two ways: towards apocalypse ala Werkmeister Harmonies, or in Annihilation's case towards acceptance (also the name of the final book in the series). There are characters who resist refraction and duplication and kill themselves, but the film seems more on the side of those who embrace their change in identity, including Portman, who does burn down Area X, but in the end also seems accepting of its products, of which she may be one. Her interrogation and her actions the very end of the film do suggest something has been reframed for her. But I don't get the sense the film is hostile to identity. I think it's taking a view of it commonly held by transhumanists and those who believe in the coming singularity: that we're going to have to reframe our categories of identity and their potential for meaningful action once advances in technology or understanding make it unavoidably the case that our categories are outdated folk taxonomies. This is not hostility, just an understanding that our categories were established when we knew only so much. Annihilation is poking its head into these themes, but through the lense of alien intervention rather than human technological breakthrough ala Ex Machina.

I agree completely about the missed opportunity to dive more deeply into identity, but then this is a two-hour effects driven blockbuster more than a 3-hour Tarkovsky meditation, and we already have Stalker. So I guess I'm not overly disappointed by its relative shallowness.
domino wrote:As far as emotion, I find this argument far less convincing. I think the film has a hostile treatment of emotion, perhaps in order to make the eventual point you suggest, but all emotional responses in the film seem like sterile imitations of actual emotion: Portman is defined by grief, but this only manifests in being outwardly aloof and distant and we know nothing about her other than her job and some poor pillow talk; the members of the crew are all self-destructive due to preexistent circumstances, but there’s no real differentiation in their actions that is informed by this (a suicidal character’s willful act of giving up is hardly insight, especially since the entire crew shares her basic defeatism). The mother who lost a daughter is the most friendly (ie matronly) to Portman, which I’d invest more in reading as a larger statement about how the film treats emotions if I weren’t convinced this was only done because the film
SpoilerShow
intends to kill her off first— show of hands, who didn’t know immediately once she started talking in the rowboat that she’d be the first to bite it, since she’s the only one setting up conventional (knowable) character beats? I like audience manipulation as much as anyone when it’s done well. This was too transparent.
In the end, I don’t think Portman has anything resembling an emotional response to her husband, interrogators, or alien-self. A better film could exploit this, but based on the two films he’s directed, I’m not convinced Garland is interested in humanity as any kind of tangible theme or perspective, instead treating it as an abstract notion (not unlike how the Portman double undoubtedly would). That’s a lot more interesting in theory than it winds up being in practice here and in Ex Machina, though.
I think we'd agree that the film is more about emotion than containing it. Its tone is distant and frigid, no doubt to create unease as much as anything. But I do think that gesture at the end is an affirmation, in this case of the authenticity of emotional experience as experience, including the experience of beings of dubious authenticity. But I agree: this is handled in the abstract, as an intellectual problem, and not as a dramatic situation. The Domhall Gleason episode of Black Mirror is a far more incisive and moving account of the emotions of being confronted with simulated beings than either Annihilation or Ex Machina. But much as Ex Machina was using the frame of the turing test to suggest the authenticity of the emotional experiences of its robot, the refracted identities in Annihilation do culminate in the only gesture in the film of human need for another, however muted. Whether Oscar Isaac is her husband or her husband, or if she is herself or what, she does make a gesture of wanting and needing him, and I can't help feeling it's an analogy to the troubling but authentic gesture of defiance at the end of Ex Machina. But Annihilation is observing all this rather than feeling it, and doesn't intend us to share the experience (and maybe even wants us to be frightened of it in a small way). And I would agree that overall this concept is not explored with the depth it could've been.
Once again, I'm in total agreement with Mr Sausage's take, and I appreciate that you took the time to break it down like this. Very on point.

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