Annihilation (2018) – Lovecraft meets Nietzsche


I recently watched ‘Annihilation’ on Netflix. I don’t think I exaggerate by calling it one of the best Horror SciFi films of the past 30 years.

Humanity is confronted with the apparition of an alien life force which settles its base inside a lighthouse on the sea shore, from there growing slowly like a cancer that will eventually swallow the entire planet. A paramilitary team is sent to investigate the area (‘the shimmer’). Contact is lost. The only survivor, Kane, returns a year later. He has internal bleeding and seems completely amnesic. A new team is sent to the shimmer, composed of women scientists, including Kane’s wife, Lena (Natalie Portman).

The team solves the mystery. The extraterrestrial shimmer acted as a refracting prism for DNA, distorting and transforming any life form in its radius – including the bodies of the paramilitary crews. The women encounter the corpse of a member of the first crew morphed into colourful lichens; the plants in the shimmer have mixed flowers from tens of species; loads of bushes grow in the shape of the human body; alligators have shark teeth; boar-bear hybrids emit distorted ‘heeeelp meee’ roars, the last cry of their human victim. On the sea shore, trees have incorporated water molecules and are completely transparent.

Lena, the last survivor, manages to enter the lighthouse, encountering the extraterrestrial organism, the source of all mutations. The organism gathers DNA from Lena’s blood and produces a clone that becomes more and more similar to her, until it starts mimicking her movements and expressions. When Lena attempts to escape the lighthouse, the clone does the same, blocking her escape. When Lena charges the clone, it responds in kind; Lena passes out, so does the clone.

What do the aliens want? They don’t want anything; they are totally indifferent to their host’s motives. The planet’s ecosystems, human systems of government, our fears and desires don’t mean anything to them. Here you can recognise a Lovecraftian element of Cosmic Horror (‘The Colours out of Space’ comes to mind). The growth of the extraterrestrial cancer does not even attempt to destroy local life forms; it is merely a refracting prism that connects everything, amalgamates the mineral, plant and animal kingdom, accelerates mutation. Certain mutations are horrific (especially for those with high purity/sanctity scores), others are beautiful; ‘the shimmer’ sometimes looks like a paradisaical tropical landscape. The true horror starts when you realise that, in a way, all the shimmer does is accelerate the process of evolution; if we were to witness a fast replay of the last tens of millions of years of natural history, we would be confronted with the same cosmic horror; if we were able to see the millions of microscopic organisms co-existing inside our own (symbiotes and parasites alike), we would be similarly shocked.

Lena is a biology professor and knows that we already possess destructive tendencies. Not just at the genetic level (we grow old and die because telomeres get shorter, we develop cancers etc), but also at a behavioural level. We drink, smoke, procrastinate, hurt the ones we love. Lena had cheated on her husband with a professor colleague and was tormented by guilt; her husband had found out about the situation and later voluntarily enrolled to investigate ‘the shimmer’ because he himself had developed self-destructive tendencies.

When you are confronted with the monstrosity of your own nature and that of the entire ecosystem, why fight for its perpetuation? Ultimately, what the alien does is hyper-connect and accelerate the process to its final conclusion; the process is change, not annihilation. We don’t know what lies beyond, we lack the words to describe it; we only know that all contaminated life forms become part of a common macro-structure.
Isn’t this the dream of every Oriental religion? Isn’t this the end goal of Social Progressivism? The eradication of localism, bigotry, pre-judgedness in favour of universal hyper-connectivity, tolerance, inclusion and the acceptance of any alien element as part of the civilisational hyper-organism? Change is always good. Practice mindfulness! Stop desiring outer things, stop fighting for external ideals!

Although science could discover the antidote to this existential resignation, it does not contain in itself any premise that would demand it. The goal of the scientist is to become an impartial observer, a mirror that prostrates itself before any phenomenon that demands to be known; emptied of any desire, other than knowledge or ‘mirroring’ of facts. Any residues of the scientist’s personality appear to him to be accidental, arbitrary, because he has become used to regarding himself as a reflection of external forms and events. He is an instrument, a slave, nothing in himself (paraphrasing Nietzsche’s ‘Beyond Good and Evil’).

Both scientist crews gradually lose their desire to succeed and leave the shimmer; even after they have discoverer the scientific explanation of the alien invasion. ‘Existential tiredness’, Douglas Murray would call it. Some of them are dazed and confused, others euphoric.

Salvation comes from Lena (and Freddie Neechee). Precisely because she had sinned in the past against her husband, she knows she has to undo those wrongs, and this gives her the motivation to return. When you love a certain person and you hold yourself accountable for your behaviour towards her, you discriminate, producing an anomaly in the alien hive-mind. The religious fear of contamination, the disgust towards the absurd parroting, interbreeding and mixing fabrics in one garment (Leviticus 19:19) inside the shimmer – best symbolised by her personal clone – convince Lena to fight for her life. By attacking her clone, she delimits herself as hostile to it, and one single gesture of hostility against the mutant symbiotic ecosystem is sufficient to bring about its destruction.

“But shall the fear become the cure?
The fear of letting go
That has buried me in this field of snow”

The Jolly Dr Dutton
The Breadtube’s Struggle against Cultural Christians

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