Annihilation is a science fiction psychological thriller film directed by Alex Garland. The film features a biology professor Lena who was also a former professional soldier. Lena together with three other women enters into a mysterious zone called “The Shimmers” to investigate the zone. Lena’s husband, Kane, who is a soldier has previously entered the zone with a team, and was the only one who has managed to return. Right after his return Kane is placed into intensive care as his health declined. Kate feels somewhat responsible of his husband’s condition as she believes that he volunteered for the mission once he uncovered that she was having an affair with a colleague. The other three women in the team –including Dr. Ventress who is in charge of the mission– all seem to have their own stories and reasons to be part of the dangerous mission. One of the things suspected about what might have happened to the rest of the previous team (apart from Kane) who did not return is that somehow people go mad in the Shimmers and harm each other and themselves. In this sense Annihilation reminds us of Tarkovsky’s Solaris.
In Tarkovsky’s Solaris a psychologist, Kris Kelvin, was sent to a space station with the mission of conducting research on a mysterious planet called Solaris. Kris’ task is to investigate what is going on in the spaceship as the crew members are acting strange. They suspect that somehow with the effect of Solaris the crew members are losing their minds. Arriving at the space station Kris finds out that Solaris brings out the worst memories each crew member holds onto. Kris wakes up one morning in the space station to find in his bed his ex wife who killed herself. We witness a replica, a doppelgänger of Kris’ ex wife.
Going back to Annihilation, The Shimmers is believed to have the same effect on people travelling there; the zone is somehow making people go mad. When Lena and her team enter The Shimmers they find out that in the zone plant, animal and human DNA are scrambling together and the result is a nightmare for the humans. They feel like they are being possessed by something and the hybrid animals are attacking them.
Towards the end of the film the last two survivors in The Shimmer, Lena and Ventress discover they were possessed by aliens. “It is inside me” Ventress says to Lena. We also witness Lena facing her own replica, a doppelgänger, just like her husband did. Unlike Solaris in which Kris sees the replica of his dead wife, in Annihilation Lena and her husband face their own replicas. We see a video watched by Lena which was recorded by Kane while he was in The Shimmer in which Kane says “If I wasn’t Kane what was I. Was I you. Were you me” right before he kills himself and his doppelgänger appears in the video. The alien possesses people in the shimmer either by entering in them or by creating a replica of themselves. The “Other” is no longer outside but either inside them, or the other is themselves. This reminds us of what the French poet Arthur Rimbaud who famously writes in one of his letters “I, is another”. This leads us to Lacan’s concept of divided subject according to which subject is divided, when one learns to speak, while entering into the symbolic order. We are exposed to a never ending self-alienation. In this sense “be yourself” is not a valid injunction.
In a flashback of a memory of Lena’s, we witness Lena having sex with her colleague. Her colleague tries to justify their affair by telling her “there is a clear physical and intellectual connection between us”. In her book What Is Sex, Alenka Zupančič (2017) argues that human sexuality is an intellectual activity. “… In this precise sense, to say that the satisfaction in talking (or in any kind of intellectual activity) is sexual is not simply about abasement of intellectual activities, it is at least as much about elevating sexuality to a surprisingly intellectual activity” (Zupančič, 2017, p.2). From here we come to the famous dictum of Lacan “There is no sexual relation”. Human beings need a fiction, a fantasy to cover it. In Lena’s affair, his colleague argues that their “connection” is not only physical but intellectual as well. He claims that Lena cannot talk about her job with her husband whereas with him she can. This intellectual exchange may be fitting the coordinates of their fantasy so that they can have sex. If we apply Alenka Zupančič’s formula here, sexuality is elevated to intellectual activity but it works both ways: they can discuss various topics and receive sexual enjoyment from talking but their intellectual activity also forms the coordinates of the fantasy or fiction that they need in order to be able to conduct sexual interaction. According to Lacan, “man’s desire is the desire of the Other.” (Lacan, 1977, P. 312 ). One wants to be recognized by the Other and also to be desired by the Other. That’s why the question “What does he/she want from me?” is important while one locates his/her own desire. In Annihilation Ventress describes the alien as “something that is not like us”. Ventress adds: “I don’t know what it wants. Or if it wants”. In a similar way when Lena is asked after she gets out of The Shimmer “what did it want?” she replies: “I don’t think it wanted anything”. This is the ultimate horror of the alien: We can never be sure what it wants of us and most probably it doesn’t want anything.
In the time of Corona Annihilation can be read as the revenge of the nature. Human beings are being punished for what they have done to the planet. Nevertheless, it is a film about self alienation and desires too. In this sense, what makes the thing an ‘alien’ in the film is the lack of its desire. After all, as Spinoza put it “desire is the actual essence of man” (Spinoza , 2011, p. 25).
Evren İnançoğlu has a Masters degree in behavioral sciences. He currently lives in Nicosia, Cyprus. He writes essays, short stories, and reviews.
Lacan, J.(1977) Ecrits. A Selection. New York: W.W. Norton and Company
Spinoza. Benedict de (2001) Ethics Part III. Blackmask online
Zupančič, A. (2017) What is Sex. Massachusetts: MIT Press