How Annihilation changed Jeff VanderMeer’s weird novel into a new life-form

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Warning: The main spoilers for the film and book versions of Annihilation.
The annihilation of Alex Garland, the amazing sci-fi journey in the world of the books Southern Reach by Jeff VanderMeer, is an amazing film. It is smart and daring and almost as satisfying to speak as it is to experience it first-hand. It is even more surprising considering its origin, a seemingly unadaptable novel, totally strange. But Garland found a way to make the film his own creature. His version is, at the same time, faithful in spirit and surprisingly audacious in his departure in plot and theme.
The film covers the central elements of the book: a mysterious barrier, known as Area X by the mysterious government agency that studies it, appears around a strip of swampy coast. Humanity, particularly a group of four scientists, struggles existentially and physically to make sense of the fundamentally unknowable threat of Area X. But when VanderMeer's novel is more concerned with the flaws that create the threat on a mental, physical, ecological scale and sociological, Garland's film takes a more personal direction. The director of Ex Machina, known for his thoughtful scripts and his ability to mix tension-filled terror with surrealist thought experiments, touches on more issues of fluid self-identity and the destructive impulses of human consciousness. And it uses the inexplicable nature of an alien life form to explore those issues in a profound way.

As a result, the creation of Garland is an amazing metafiction exercise about the nature of personality and change. The film reorganizes and mutates elements of the novel to create something new, much like how the character of Natalie Portman describes the general effect of area X. For that reason, it is worthwhile to analyze how the film changes the themes of the book and its conclusions , and how Garland used his artistic freedom to create an original story from a set of shared ingredients. Here are four key ways in which you turned away from the book.

Photo: Paramount Pictures

1. The protagonist's motive
The biologist known as Lena in the film, played by Natalie Portman, has no name in VanderMeer's book. None of the four participants in the Area X expedition (there are five in the film) has specific names or backgrounds, which links the exploration of VanderMeer's identity and its reconstruction within the "pristine desert" of Area X, as its characters They are fans saying. This depersonalization makes it difficult for readers to care about the members of the expedition on an emotional level, but they are not primarily in history for traditional reasons of building the world.
No character in & # 39; Annihilation & # 39; of VanderMeer has a name
VanderMeer uses the characters, specifically the biologist and his narration in first person, to satisfy his thematic points about the nature of Area X. Through the prose of the biologist, a cerebral mixture of scientific observation and flow of consciousness used to underline his state mental mutant, VanderMeer tells the story of Area X. Her husband, for what is key in Garland's film, is not important in the book outside of its function as a plot device (at least not until much later in the trilogy). In the book, he dies of the undiagnosable mixture of cancers that he collects during the expedition, and she barely seems to cry. However, readers should assume that she enters Area X because she has an innate curiosity about what caused her death.
Garland's film takes an equally intellectual and sterile approach to characterization, treating expedition participants as thematic tools as VanderMeer does. Garland even deviates from them in the first few minutes to make sure the audience does not know that any of them, except Portman's character, comes out alive, so viewers should not get too attached to them. However, Lena's relationship with her husband Kane (Oscar Isaac), as she is known in the film, and the reasons why she chose to enter Area X (which the film calls "The Shimmer") are central to the film and important for Garland. is trying to say.
In the film, extensive flashbacks suggest that Lena and Kane's relationship was in trouble long before it entered the Shimmer. He withholds information about his army-related excursions, and she, in turn, is having an affair when he is not there. Kane may have signed up for the mission because he felt his marriage was falling apart. Still, Lena can not explain why her husband entered Shimmer, and why he chose not to tell her about the nature of the trip.
Garland says that self-destruction is encoded in human biology
Lena tells this to the psychologist and fellow participant of the expedition, Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), suggesting that the Shimmer trip is a "suicide mission". Ventress tells Lena that few people commit suicide, but that almost everyone "self-destructs." "That is Garland's thematic core in VanderMeer's book, which the director has described as more of a" subjective response "than a faithful adaptation.In a recent interview, Garland told The Verge he wanted to tell a story about the way in which the literal and molecular process of self-destruction in organic life reflects the psychological in humans, in which we are always rewriting our own personalities and resisting, or resisting, self-destructive choices.
Upon entering the Shimmer, which has swallowed several previous expeditions without leaving a trace, Lena seems to be choosing self-destruction. Apparently, she is looking for answers, but she also seems unhappy with the pain she caused Kane and the weight of her fate. The idea that self-destruction is encoded in humans on a biological level supports Lena's journey. It is also that quality of humanity that Area X threatens more to steal the organic life of its mental and biological agency.

Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

2. The nature and origin of Area X
The sense of mystery is what makes VanderMeer's book (and much of his fiction) so tempting and inspiring. The Southern Reach trilogy takes place in an ambiguous near future where the collapse of ecosystems, the tyranny of bureaucratic institutions and the deterioration of the Earth are taken as a kind of inevitability, based on the course of current history. But VanderMeer never explains these elements or many other details related to Annihilation. The omissions have a purpose: their worlds feel familiar but unknowable in an almost post-apocalyptic conspiracy, just as the current dysfunctions of American society would feel alien to past generations.
This has the effect that narrative devices like Area X seem to confuse readers, as it is for the Southern Reach organization, an agency that continually sends people to face grisly destinations, with little or no information about what they want. it's happening. In the strange but recognizable future of VanderMeer, even the government does not have much agency or much clue about what is happening. (No wonder then that the sequel to Annihilation, focusing on the dysfunctions of Southern Reach, is called Authority).
The future of VanderMeer is familiar but unknowable in a conspiratorial, almost post-apocalyptic way
Garland adopts a more conventional approach to the source of Area X and how it operates. Garland's Shimmer is an alien effect that extends from a meteor impact, but VanderMeer retains that information until the third book in the series and explains it only through the feverish vision of a character. Garland does not want the phenomenon to be dismissed as a dream or hallucination. Your alien nature is important to the flesh of your story. He also invents a theory of how the Shimmer works, like a prism that refracts DNA, mixes and mutates every source of life within it. In the book, the reasons behind the effects of Area X are treated as another unknowable mystery. We're not supposed to understand how it works.
And that may be because one of the central ideas of VanderMeer in Annihilation – one explored extensively in the comparable film The Arrival and many other science fiction classics – is that an event of first contact with alien life may not be recognizable in any way. rational. We may not understand other people's motives or be able to communicate with creatures radically different from us. VanderMeer takes this idea to the extreme, suggesting that we can not, on an ontological level, even be able to understand an alien form, which could be so different and wide as to distort our sense of reality and reason. His books even suggest that Area X contorts spacetime, transporting its inhabitants to a completely different part of the universe, which would explain the dilation of the time people experience within it.
The X area is a "hyperobject" too big for us to understand
The X area is designed to be strange, shocking and horrible, because it is simply too much for humans to perceive. As David Tompkins wrote in the Book Review of Los Angeles in 2014, it is a kind of "hyperobject", similar to a black hole, the Big Bang or climate change: other systems so vast and complex that we can not say that in a way Reliable or completely understand them.
The X area is so strange, the humans inside it experience a kind of ego death. The explorers descend to madness, and only the extraordinary self-determination of the biologist allows him to find the balance with the place. Garland incorporates this idea into everything, through Kane's suicide and Anya's assault on his teammates. But her focus is more on Lena and how her experience in Shimmer speaks universally about human nature.

Photo: Paramount Pictures

3. The tracker and the clones
While the Garland Annihilation plot traces approximately the first two thirds of the book, it takes some bold liberties with the ending, particularly with respect to the physical manifestation of Shimmer's "core". VanderMeer sends its expedition members through an underground tunnel, which the biologist believes is actually a tower, which represents one of the many ways in which VanderMeer plays with the idea that Area X can push the limits of even the ability of the human brain to extract meaning from language. Inside the tower, they find the Crawler, the closest Annihilation has to an antagonist. This is the enemy that the biologist feels he is destined to face.
The Crawler is best described as a mutated human, a mix of what was built and comprises Area X, and the first person who "infected". Its origin is explained in later books, but the Crawler works as a physical manifestation of Area X. Crawler is the most Lovecraftian element in VanderMeer's book, especially when he is writing nonsense that sound biblically on the walls of the tower in a kind of organic ink of mushrooms. His words, which literally came to VanderMeer in a dream, do not seem to mean anything. They are an element of horror and rarity.
Garland eliminates the Crawler, but keeps the clones
Later, the tracker and the biologist come into contact, a decision that the biologist takes as a defiant act of radical free will against the overwhelming subjugation of Area X. As a result, Area X creates a clone of the biologist and sends it to the outer world. This totally new and unique organism has its own identity and plays an important role in later books. The original biologist is left behind, knowing that her husband's clone died outside Area X, and that the original may still be inside, transformed into something new, but alive. The function of cloning is never clear, but VanderMeer suggests that the clones act a bit like dormant agents to help the expansion of Area X.
Garland changes almost every aspect of this part of the book, resulting in one of the most captivating and fascinating film segments since the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Dr. Ventress apparently becomes a substitute for the Crawler: Lena finds her inside the tunnel at the base of the lighthouse, and sees her separate and transform into a pulsating and textured flower that produces a clone of Lena. Just when she acquires her physical appearance, Lena tries to kill him, using the same type of grenade that her husband used to commit suicide.
The end of & # 39; Annihilation & # 39; it is a hypnotic and hypnotic sequence open to interpretation
The sequence is intentionally open to interpretation, suggesting many different forms of self-destruction. Critics have interpreted it in different ways: former editor of culture Verge and Vulture critic Emily Yoshida compared the depression sequence of depression, the way illness consumes people, drags them to exhaustion and steals and it overwrites your entire existence. Matt Goldberg at Collider sees it as a metaphor for cancer and how disease turns our bodies against us.
The most direct reading is that Lena, like everyone else in Garland's worldview in this movie, has the innate human drive to self-destruct and transmits it to her specular image. Then he gives the means in the form of a phosphorus grenade, annihilating both the newly created part of itself and the alien presence that invades the Earth. In the closing scene of the film, Lena's eyes shine when she embraces her husband's clone, suggesting that both were erased in different ways and reconstructed in an act of self-destruction.

Image: Paramount Pictures

4. The meaning of the title
This may be the most significant starting point between the film and the book. VanderMeer's novel shares Garland's idea of ​​self-destruction as a natural and biological human trait, born of a concoction of conscious thought and instinct. But VanderMeer's writing is often more interested in the large-scale ecological idea. In that sense, Aniquilación, the book works as a parable about climate change and the ways in which the human race is destroying the planet in cancerous and uncontrollable ways.
And so, Area X and its effect on organic life is a kind of metaphor for the destructive nature of humanity, twisted in a way that we can not control or perceive, and used to return power and an agenda to the natural world and organic. That complete collapse of human rationality and control is the annihilation in VanderMeer's book, since the biologist and his companions lose the ability to explain, escape or survive the ways in which the extraterrestrial entity changes everything it contacts. (There is also a secondary plot in which Southern Reach employs a cryptic and systematized version of hypnosis to control almost everyone it employs, and the psychologist's key word for the female expedition to be dismantled by suicide is "annihilation." ")
The & # 39; annihilation & # 39; of Garland shares the same DNA, refracted and rearranged
Garland takes the subject to a more personal end, considering the annihilation of a sense of self. Its title works as a reference to the annihilation of the human race by a superior and more sophisticated way of life, a line that Dr. Ventress repeats in the final arc of the film. But Garland is fascinated by the personal act of self-destruction, and it is easy to see why he shied away from the deeper, more dreamlike elements of the book, and focused instead on how he expresses some of his own obsessions.
By not using the Crawler, Garland played down the need to explain the human identity beneath him, which would have changed the focus of the story, or establish a sequel that he said he was not interested in doing. And by focusing on the deconstruction and rebirth of Lena, Kane and their marriage, Garland has created something human and universal from a narrative purposely designed to feel inhumane and beyond our collective understanding. The movie is not the annihilation that fans of the book expected. Even VanderMeer himself points out that it is a "very liberal adaptation". But it shares the same DNA, refracted and reorganized into something new.


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