Annihilation (2018), Alex Garland’s sophomore effort, is every bit as astounding as his freshman one, Ex Machina (2014). In essence, the plot is the following strung together: Stalker (1979), Solaris (1972), the Doctor Who (1963-) episode “Midnight,” Under the Skin (2013), and Ex Machina. The filmmaking, though, is incredibly self-assured, despite all the technical and narrative innovations.
All that having been said, this film didn’t really speak to me. It’s wonderfully ambiguous enough to accommodate a wide range of themes and interpretations, as demonstrated when Matt Zoller Seitz bought out a theater for a group of Twitter fans and discussed the film with them afterward. If pressed, though, most would agree on two main themes. The first is the fear of losing one’s identity, manifested in the DNA blender that is The Shimmer. I don’t have much to say on this, because I’ve long since accepted that identity is just a figment of our imagination designed to keep us sane.
The second main theme is depression and mental illness, and this theme has inspired a good number of courageously personal film reviews on the subject. I’m fortunate to never have suffered from depression or mental illness, but reading these pieces has been a moving and illuminating experience. Here‘s a review by Angelica Jade Bastién that delves deep into the mindset of Josie Radek (Tessa Thompson, turning serenely into a tree) and that explains the symbolism of that fucking bear. And here‘s one by Walter Chaw that, among many, many other things, communicates the phenomenology of depression and explicates the mirroring scene—and is the best piece of film criticism I’ve read in quite a while.