"I take orders from the Octoboss."


In ANNIHILATION, the sophomore directorial work of Alex Garland (EX_MACHINA, also author of The Beach and screenwriter of 28 DAYS LATER, SUNSHINE, NEVER LET ME GO and DREDD), Natalie Portman (LEON THE PROFESSIONAL) takes a journey into the heart of weirdness. Her character Lena is a cell-loving ex-Army biology professor at Johns Hopkins University (also the alma mater of Gil Scott-Heron, Wes Craven and Wolf Blitzer) whose presumed-K.I.A. husband Kane (Oscar Isaac, SUCKER PUNCH, THE NATIVITY STORY) suddenly shows up alive and odd and unable to explain anything. Sort of like the also mourning Amy Adams character in the also brainy-adapted-from-an-acclaimed-novel-sci-fi-movie ARRIVAL, she’s taken to a site (Area X) where soldiers and scientists face an unexplained, unprecedented phenomenon. In this case it’s not a spaceship but a sort of slowly expanding spectral bubble they call “The Shimmer” that surrounds a chunk of land and no one who has entered it has ever come back out. Until Kane.

Lena manages to get herself on the next mission, though she hides her personal connection from most of the team (much like Padme hid that she was Queen Amidala when she went to Tatooine). Psychologist boss lady Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh, EYES OF A STRANGER, FLESH + BLOOD, MIAMI BLUES), tough paramedic Thorensen (Gina Rodriguez, DEEPWATER HORIZON), physicist Radek (Tessa Thompson, CREED, THOR: RAGNAROK) and geologist Sheppard (Tuva Novotny, ID:A) make a strong squad of scientists who, like anybody in an ALIEN movie, seems to have had some amount of gun training as a job prerequisite (though Lena clearly has the most experience in that).

Big surprise, but their radios and compasses and shit don’t work inside The Shimmer. So much for live-Tweeting this. They have blackouts, messing them up from the beginning. But it just looks like peaceful, quiet nature and abandoned places. Hey, maybe nobody comes back because they’re having so much fun camping? Is that too optimistic?

At first the oddities are small things, like “This cabin is kind of tilted and has water in it” or “Hey, these are a bunch of different types of plants but they’re growing from the same stalk.” But the further in they trek the less normal shit gets, the more the DNA of everything gets fucked up, the shakier reality gets. Even the story structure of the movie dissolves (see also SUNSHINE).

They see rainbow colored mold and moss that they compare to tumors. Walls are covered in white something or other that looks like roots that look like veins that look like bones. There’s a profound trip into a butthole cave, just like in THE LAST JEDI. (I suppose most people will say it’s vaginal imagery, but I’m leaning butthole.) At some point a tattoo transferred from one character to another but that doesn’t seem that weird by the time you see the veiny penis lighthouse. How ya gonna keep ’em down on the farm after they’ve been to the veiny penis lighthouse?

There is danger. There are animal attacks. Those present two layers of terror:

1) I’m being attacked by this animal

2) Holy shit this animal was made wrong

A normal bear would be just as dangerous, but a bear that has half its skull exposed and keeps emitting the dying screams of your recently deceased friend is gonna leave an extra emotional mark if you manage to escape physically intact. Which you won’t, necessarily. There’s a half a second of exposed jaw that I believe would be on the cover of Fangoria right now if it was being published. One of those beautiful “where is that in the movie?” stills they used to excel at finding.

By the way, Fear Bear would make a really good talking teddy bear, and I wonder if they’ve considered rebooting Yogi Bear with The Shimmer instead of Jellystone Park and Lena as the ranger?

I’d like to think that as I get older and gain the wisdom of experience and the freedom of not giving a shit that my third eye will finally come in, my brain’ll sprout some beautiful butterfly wings and I’ll be more open to the surreal and unexplainable. But so far it seems like I’m going the other direction, turning more literal, wanting more structure and graspable meaning, less weird for weirdness’ sake, which I used to think was subversive because it made people uncomfortable – people like the one I’m turning into.

ANNIHILATION tips a little to the who-knows-what-thefuck-it-means end of the scale, but it doesn’t lose me. I still got enough of a taste for a sci-fi with a splash of that Zarathustra juice, that starchild amniotic fluid, that 2001 light show melted down into a liquid that gets in the camera and makes it film scenes that are about the mood and tone and feeling of evocative imagery more than dumb old human logic that can be explained in words. There’s stuff here that’s beautiful and creepy and beautiful-creepy. There is spectacle, but not the type where a laser cannon fires into a building on the side of a cliff and then everything cracks and crumbles and the hero jumps out and the camera floats around him and he falls in the water and all the flaming debris is falling past him and the camera looks up through the surface of the water at the light of the explosion or whatever. I’m talking about the kind where a beloved actress spews light from her eyeballs and glows from within and stretches out and creates a faceless being that looks crudely formed of cracked metal that mirrors another character like an acting class exercise. Surely one day every American will have to deal with a shimmer twin, but until then this is pretty weird shit.

ANNIHILATION is based on a 2014 novel by Jeff VanderMeer. Garland said he intentionally only read it once, so it must be a very loose adaptation. There are two other books in the “Southern Reach Trilogy” and he hadn’t read those yet either. So far of the people I’ve talked to, everyone who has read the book didn’t like the movie and everyone who hasn’t did. I haven’t read the book.

It’s good whenever there’s a sci-fi movie that doesn’t quite fit the usual templates. I suppose this one is similar to ALIEN (and PROMETHEUS and COVENANT) in that it’s a team going to study a weird place they don’t understand, finding evidence of the disaster that befell the last people there. But the setting and overall feel are different enough that that didn’t occur to me while watching it. It lures you in by playing like a normal mainstream movie but eventually it’s gonna a get a little UNDER THE SKIN. The score is by Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow, the same team who scored EX_MACHINA and made the cool rejected score for DREDD that was released as the album Drokk: Music Inspired By Mega City One. It starts with a gentle guitars but its DNA mutates into an ever growing wall of digital drones and blorps that are as much of a reason to see this in a theater as the blinding space-odyssey-on-land visuals. I felt like the vibrations in my ears and ribs were as important as anything else in the movie.

(In most countries, unfortunately, it skipped theaters on account of weirdness, and just came out on Netflix.)

But there was one great sci-fi movie it kept reminding me of. With all the extravagantly grotesque misshapen flesh on display, and not created digitally as far as I could tell, I couldn’t help but think of THE THING. But THE THING is an all male team of scientists investigating something weird and, as Lena notes here, she’s on an all female team.

That’s significant because it’s part of why they behave differently than the fellas of THE THING. They don’t just get screwed over by being in the wrong place at the wrong time – they choose to go there, from a mix of curiosity and self loathing. This is a suicide mission, and they’re not doing it because they’re macho. They’re doing it because they’re suicidal.

For the most part they don’t have the same paranoia and distrust as in THE THING. I’m not sure it’s cool that the character specified as a lesbian is the only one that does flip out and tie the others to chairs. I guess the reason could be that she’s the one with the most traditionally masculine qualities.

SPOILER: The ending is kind of a reflection of THE THING also. But instead of two people waiting and wondering if one of them is The Thing, and not really knowing, it’s two people figuring yeah, we probly both are The Thing, aren’t we? Heh.

As life goes on, people change. They become different people. Literally, they are a different set of cells. Figuratively, their experiences change their personalities, whether it’s going off to war, starting a new career, being apart, or just growing. Here are a husband and wife who have become different people. But they still have each other. I thought it was kinda nice.

P.S. I recommend this very personal Vulture piece by Angelica Jade Bastien about ANNIHILATION’s depiction of depression.

This entry was posted on Monday, March 12th, 2018 at 11:04 am and is filed under Reviews, Science Fiction and Space Shit. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

34 Responses to “Annihilation”

  1. I’m surprised that this went straight to Netflix outside of the US. The “If it bombs in the States, it goes DTV everywhere else” model seemed to be dead since a decade or two.

  2. I didn’t read the whole review because I intend to see this someday and suspect it’s best to see it knowing as little as possible, but I got as far as the term “also mourning” and was reminded of how tired of am of movies that start with the characters already sad about something. Every horror movie or thriller is about a couple who lost a child or a single mom whose husband just died or some kids getting over the loss of their parents. The movie starts in sadsack lugubriousness that prevents you from ever feeling a sense of normalcy for the inevitable horror/action to disrupt. It also makes it seem like all this stuff happened just to give the main character a boilerplate redemption arc. It’s incredibly solipsistic. It’s also fake drama, the kind of Screenwriting 101 bullshit that turns every story into a fill-in-the-blanks hero’s quest. Why can’t we just see somebody have their regular day interrupted by some crazy shit instead of having everything in the whole universe revolve around teaching some poor sad bastard a lesson?

  3. Well, the mourning in this one is about the premise explained in that opening paragraph – that she thought her husband was dead, and now he’s alive but confused and dying. At any rate you can’t really say it’s forced drama in this case, because unhappiness and depression are largely the topic of the movie.

  4. I read the book and liked the movie.

    The book is great — it’s like LOST as written by HP Lovecraft. Super creepy, 100% about developing mysteries and a mood of dread (as I recall it’s all in the form of the protagonist’s journal) as opposed to answers to any of the mysteries of Area X.

    The movie changes lots about the book but I was OK with the changes. Some weird, memorable things from the book happen differently in the movie (like SPOILER!! why expedition leader yells the word “annihilation” at a key moment); some other weird, memorable things are added (like the screaming bear Vern describes–yikes!).

    The bear attack is one of a few moments in the movie that felt to me like being in a waking nightmare, where everyday reality starts to slip into something scary or just “wrong” somehow — and that’s what I remember most clearly from the book as well.

  5. I’d like to think that as I get older and gain the wisdom of experience and the freedom of not giving a shit that my third eye will finally come in, my brain’ll sprout some beautiful butterfly wings and I’ll be more open to the surreal and unexplainable. But so far it seems like I’m going the other direction, turning more literal, wanting more structure and graspable meaning, less weird for weirdness’ sake, which I used to think was subversive because it made people uncomfortable – people like the one I’m turning into.

    Amen, Brother.

  6. Vern: I’m not accusing this movie, which I haven’t seen yet but plan to, of anything. It just sparked off some thoughts about some trends I’ve been noticing in other movies.

  7. I fucking loved this movie. Still trying to unravel the ending

  8. For some reason, I expected (GOOD TIME) to be one of the Jennifer Jason Leigh credits you would link to, but it turns out you haven’t reviewed GOOD TIME and I guess I just dreamed you did. You should put that one on your list, if you have one.

  9. I really like your comparisons here Vern. I have seen a bunch of reviews likening this film to PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK which I think is a real disservice since instead of being simply about an insoluble mystery Weir’s film was about a community’s reaction to that mystery.

  10. Glad you dug it, sir! Its been haunting me for a few weeks now since I saw it. I was telling people its like The Thing crossed with Stalker. (Dna blending going on, just like the movie!)

    I feel like Garland has a rep of making heady sci-fi but he loves pulp just as much, and I think that’s why i dig most of his flicks.

    But this is definitely one I’m glad i caught in a good house with a great sound system. I want that alien noise to be my text message alert.

  11. Mr. M- I think the trend you mention does seem especially notable recently in horror movies. There seems to be a push to really literalise a lot of what might previously have been subtext. The first thing I thought of when I read your comment was The Babadook, where the main character’s grief and guilt are personified into the titular monster, but It Follows and the recent (pretty good!) netflix piece The Ritual also sprang to mind. Even something like the second Purge flick, our main man is mourning the death of his son and two other characters are in the middle of a divorce. Like, it’s ok guys, I’d be interested in watching them try to survive a city-wide murder hellscape even without wondering if these kooky kids will ever make it work.

    I suppose in a lot of ways the literalisation of abstract horrors has always been what the genre is about, but I agree it’d be nice to get some more Drag Me To Hell-style “regular person gets their day ruined by a demon” flicks going too.

    I might be thinking about it in an overly literal manner, but the blocking of the final confrontation between her and the entity seems so deliberate. I believe there is no Tyler-Durden-car-crash ambiguity in terms of that the body that enters the lighthouse is the same body that leaves it.

    So there are a few things that I think might explain it.
    -The whole essence-transferal mechanism that they believe led Sheppard’s dying consciousness to be grafted onto skullbear. When it dies, the entity uploads itself into her.
    -Among the crew, Lena seems uniquely immune to the shimmer…but is she really? Maybe because, being the only one with a “reason to leave” as the film states, her transformation is one that allows her to leave and carry the shimmer out into the world … while being a close enough simulacrum to the Real Lena to be able to pass as such.
    -It’s pointless to try and figure it out because like UNDER THE SKIN it is a wildlife documentary about something that is too alien to be understood. The film is about the futility and frustration about grasping human rationality onto something that is genuinely not us. I think a lot of dialog revolves around this idea, and there’s also the fact that they all seem pretty dismissive and uninterested in one another’s various theories about how to explain the phenomena they encounter.
    -It’s pointless to try and figure it out because it’s a metaphor for depression, the shimmer is their externalized mental illness and you want to try and rationalize your way out of it but you can’t. Even if Lena’s the only one* who somewhat conquered her depression it’s always gonna be with her. I know this film has resonated strongly with some individuals that suffer from depression and it’s clearly a central theme but I’m not sure how metaphorically to take what we see on screen.

    *Not sure how Kane fits into it either

  13. Majestyk and Kurgan – Good points. Also add THE INITIATION to the list.

  14. THE STRANGERS sequel out now struck me as a nice counter to that overall trend. I’m hoping it gets a review at some point.

  15. I heard Netflix offered $40 million for the international rights and I’m guessing based on what they thought was the likely take overseas, took the money as a result.

    I didn’t like this film but I like that they make films like this (see also mother!).

  16. I read somewhere that the distributors feared that the movie was “too smart” for European audiences. Yeah, right!

  17. Wait. When did Europe become the place, where people don’t appreciate “smart” movies?

  18. CJ – in Britain it was surely when we voted for Brexit.

  19. That’s the smartest thing you ever did. But I was more interested in knowing if they think that our friends on the other side of the big ocean are smarter than us.

  20. I have never actually seen STALKER all the way through but the book it came from (Roadside Picnic) is the obvious inspiration for this movie. I guess I am supposed to be happy that the ending doesn’t answer any questions and this makes it “cerebral”, but I am not. I’m with Vern. It’s too fucking easy to throw ideas at the screen without any real conclusion. I’ve seen 2001 ten times and love it to death but at least the individual episodes themselves have some resolution. The apes learn to use tools. The scientists set off the obelisk on the moon. HAL goes crazy. Dave lives out his life in a weird room and is reborn as a space-baby. It doesn’t necessarily make sense, but it’s not completely random bullshit.

    Roadside Picnic has an explanation for the weirdness that is going on, or at least one of the characters has a theory, and it’s a brilliant one. And as a result the characters are just going through their meaningless lives trying to make ends meet and not get killed in a dangerous and unexplainable environment, but that is actually the point. They are dealing with things that are beyond their understanding. Is that the case here in ANNIHILATION? Yes… and I guess this movie has some touches of the novel Blindsight in it too, where aliens not only don’t understand us, and we don’t understand them, but they don’t even seem to have consciousness to understand us with.

    But if that is the point of your movie, then fucking say it. Don’t just throw some shit at the screen and then throw up your hands and say “I don’t know” a dozen times. That’s too easy, and lazy, and as good as some of the parts of the movie are, at the end it just feels like a waste of time to me. This is not PROMETHEUS-level random number generator storytelling but it’s close. I had a feeling of dread when Portman went down the hole into the ALIEN ripoff underground lair, and there was the expedition leader and weird shit started happening. I was afraid they were just gonna wrap this all up with a weird shitshow and not explain anything. And yep, that’s what happened.

    The Portmanteau dancing alien thing was kind of cool. The screaming bear was great. The flowers stuck to all the trees looked fake and tacked on in a pretty amateurish way. The eel-belly guy who flowered into a giant fungus skeleton was pretty neat. The lesbian going nuts and tying up the other women was pretty dumb. The affair and the marriage woes were pointless and dull. Yeah it is supposed to be an allegory for dna mutating or splitting cells or cancer or whatever, but we never asked for artsy fartsy stuff in our sci fi films. Or maybe we did. We were wrong. We were so wrong.

  21. Like Pegsman and the WILD BUNCH, I watch STALKER all the way through – the ending is the kicker! – every couple of years, and I have on two occasions traveled some distance to catch it on a big screen. After THE WILD BUNCH it’s my favourite film. I’ve read Roadside Picnic, and for a long time held to the hope/fantasy that Steven Soderbergh would film it relocating it back to its North American setting, ideally with Bruce as Red Schuhart, the Stalker. This by way of full disclosure.

    So, I was and am interested in this and had thought there was space for another take on this kind of story. And Garland is in credit with me. But I’ve not seen this yet, because I’m not on Netflix just now.

    But I feel bound to speak up for “arty fartsy stuff in our sci fi films”. Not that I don’t agree with Mr M that LOCKOUT is awesome – it is – and not that I don’t think there is real art in the movies we love anyway – THE THING is surely art, even down to its initial reception. However, leaving aside the issue of whether the best films come from giving people what they asked for, I guess here “arty fartsy” is intended to mean willfully difficult, obscure and pretentious – my apologies rainman if I misinterpret.

    Let’s not open the BLADE RUNNER can of worms again, but how about UNDER THE SKIN, THE FOUNTAIN, CLOUD ATLAS, PRIMER, UPSTREAM COLOUR, A SCANNER DARKLY, either version of SOLARIS? Hell, I’ll take the Tokyo Highway sequence from Tarkovsky’ SOLARIS over another lazy ALIEN ripoff any day:

    And it sounds like the arty fartsy stuff here may be cover for laziness – again, I haven’t seen ANNIHILATION – which is always gonna be the real problem.

  22. If anyone is interested in a rigorous arty fartsy read on STALKER, I can recommend Geoff Dyer’s Zona, which is a scene-by-scene retelling of the film with history, commentary and often very funny tangential asides.

  23. Also, apologies to Pegsman, if I have suggested above that he and THE WILD BUNCH watch STALKER together. That was just my lazy grammar.

  24. I watched STALKER with my brother once, and we like to think of ourselves as the Gorch brothers! Does that count?

  25. Yup, that definitely counts, but only as long as your Lyle. Much though I love the name Tector, one should always choose Warren Oates to play oneself. Think how much better PATCH ADAMS would’ve been had Dr Adams applied that simple rule (even with Oates having been dead for 15 years by the time they made the movie).

  26. Sorry, my looks and personality is more Tector, and my brother is more Lyle. He’s younger too.

  27. I refer you to my previous remarks. Don’t blame me if Rob Schneider gets to play you in the movie now.

  28. Ben Johnson owns Warren Oates’ ass in WILD BUNCH!

  29. To be sure. But there’s hardly anyone in THE WILD BUNCH who isn’t doing career-best work. And what careers!

    I always loved the story that Johnson didn’t want to do THE LAST PICTURE SHOW because he thought it was dirty.

  30. Yes, “willfully difficult, obscure and pretentious” is bad, if it is used as an excuse not to give any explanations whatsoever.

    I hated UPSTREAM COLOUR and had to turn it off about 45 minutes in.

    I have seen both SOLARI, the Tarkosvky version once and the Clooney version a couple times. They are both pretty good, with definite edge given to Tarkovsky. Those movies don’t necessarily spell everything out to you but at least you know, kind of, what’s going on. The planet itself is alive and has thought, and it is trying somehow to communicate with these tiny things floating above it, by creating dopplegangers of their innermost thoughts, but that’s as far as it has gotten in its strange attempts to relate. SOLARIS is about communication and the difficulty and maybe impossibility of understanding between two intellects that operate on huge differences in scale and that can’t even have the same goals, ideas, dreams, or relationships. There’s only one planet, and it doesn’t have family or friends or children, so wtf is it supposed to think about these humans that show up? What are we supposed to say in return, and how do we say it? The planet probably doesn’t have a language, who is it supposed to communicate with? SOLARIS is about this intellectual conflict and the mistakes that arise out of the gap between the two “species” (if a planet-scale intelligence can be called a species), and the unintentional consequences of the planet’s probably well-intentioned attempts to communicate with the humans through replicas of the humans that they feel most strongly about.

    What if we found a species of ants that have intelligence, but not on an individual scale and instead on a hive level where the “mind” of the hive is achieved through chemical interactions between individual ants much like the interactions between our brain cells? An insect hive does work somewhat like this already — the “thoughts” of the hive to attack, defend, reproduce, etc are not decided by individual ants, or by the queen, they come from the aggregate of chemical signals passed around between ants. What if this evolved to the point where the hive was actually conscious? (This idea is explored about halfway through the book “Goedel, Escher, Bach”, and halfway is about as far as I’ve ever gotten through that book.) How would we try to communicate with it? How well would that work out? Sci fi usually represents these kind of interactions as if we taught the ants English and then they just act like humans with slightly different needs from then on.

    In STALKER, we’re the ants, and the aliens just don’t give a shit about us. They have probably seen enough primitive species living out their lives on backwater planets that they just move on without giving us a second thought. The aliens aren’t even in the book! We only know about them from the trash they left behind which fucks up half a country worth of real estate. I don’t particularly like the ending of “Roadside Picnic”, with the wishing machine etc, and I think the novel goes a little bit off the rails after the first half of the book and never recovers, but on the other hand I have no idea how I would have ended the book. There is really nowhere to go from here and that’s part of the point, really.

    Both SOLARIS and STALKER have deep ideas behind their plots, and the plots are really just explorations of the consequences of these ideas. That’s what makes great sci fi. ANNIHILATION is just… “What if some alien shit landed on Earth that started mutating DNA? Then some weird shit happened, let’s throw in some symbolism with a failed marriage and make it kind of like MAGNOLIA or some shit, and there ya go.”

    What is the “big idea” behind ANNIHILATION? And I am not talking about the splitting / mutating / self destruction motifs going on, that is just window dressing here. Sci fi is about ideas. If you’ve got a great idea and then you add some artsy motifs and symbolism on top of it, great, maybe you’ve got a genius movie destined for the Library of Congress, but without the central sci fi idea you’ve just made an art film and pretended it was sci fi by putting in some nebulous aliens.

  31. From the comments here I was expecting something completely off-the-wall and impenetrable but the themes of the movie seemed pretty explicit and well-articulated to me. I don’t even need to spell them out, because there are dozens of reviews out there that do it better than I could. I don’t think it’s as good as SOLARIS (either one) but I don’t think it’s any more opaque than that film. I certainly don’t think this movie is ambiguous out of laziness or “weird for weirdness’ sake”, both of which seem mildly insulting to the filmmaker. I mean, I’ve been to student film festivals, I know what lazy ambiguity looks like, and ANNIHILATION ain’t it.

  32. Wait, the dude from Portishead made a rejected score for the Dredd film? How am I just now finding out about this?

  33. *SPOILERS* I wish I liked this alot more – there’s some beautiful imagery, music, and next-level sound design, but I guess I’m one of the stupid unwashed masses who just “didn’t get it”, because I left the theatre with a giant shrug. I’m not opposed to “cerebral”, heady sci-fi – Arrival was probably my favorite movie of that year. I’m also down with slow, ambiguous, moody, dream-like movies (Blade Runner, Upstream Color, anything Terrence Malick). Combining a movie with these lofty ambitions plus a Predator-style creature feature sounds up my alley, but I was unsatisfied on pretty much all fronts. The pulpy moments are underwhelming – I have no idea why people are acting like the CGI gator was some great accomplishment, or that the bear scene was incredible when it basically seemed like a retread of The Relic in appearance (and concept!). I don’t like that Gina Rodriguez suddenly acts like a pro-wrestling “crazy girl” out of nowhere. I don’t like that this has the Lindelof-ian habit of being incredibly mysterious and obtuse until characters literally spell out themes and plot points. (“She cuts herself not because she wants to die…but because she wants to feel alive!”) I don’t like that I have no idea what happened to 2 out of the four members of the team, I don’t like that I have no clue what the hell happened in the last 15 minutes of this movie. And if we are to actually trust what we see onscreen, I don’t like that this is a “heady” sci-fi movie that somehow ends with a Death Star-style “fix everything by blowing something up” finale.

    It’s certainly more professional and better well-made than the similarly dumped-on-Netflix Cloverfield Paradox, but I’m actually shocked and a little saddened at how similar the two are.

  34. Probably, there will be spoilers.

    I finally watched this one, you guys, hurray for me! I’ve been wanting to do so, but couldn’t work up the steam until I was able to watch with a friend, so, here we are a pandemic and change later.

    This is my kind of film, done well. I agree with others that it’s not lazy weird or up its own ass weird. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: There are films with concrete antagonists and tidy objectives that give rise to win-or-lose endings, and then there are films that are designed to make you stare into the abyss and question the utility and validity of story (identity, perception, project) itself. Vanity of vanities.

    I understand the desire for more structure and a more clearly telegraphed or exposited unspooling of why everything happened and why it’s significant, but, sorry, wrong film. If you want good Christian values, ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD is not your film, and if you want ass-kicking, THE NOTEBOOK is not your film. Move on! As for me, I don’t want Jennifer Jason Leigh to be the secret double-crossing bad guy. I don’t want to find out that this is actually a psychological experiment being conducted by a corporation. I don’t want to discover that Anthony Hopkins and Bradley Whitford having biologically engineered skullface bear to as part of a business plan to sell mutant wildlife to exotic game hunters. I don’t want the alien at the end to speak some powerful words to Natalie Portman, like the fucking Lorax telling her to plant a tree or love her neighbor better. I don’t want Tessa Thompson to double back for Natalie, and they nuke the lighthouse and stagger out together to be met by paramedics as the Michael Bay crane shot pans away. Fuck that, I want all the weirdness this film unapologetically delivers.

    As for real interpretations, I think a lot hinges on Portman’s affair and her acknowledgement that she hates herself for it and for betraying her husband. She goes into the Shimmer to somehow save him or make some kind of atonenment, but she ultimately must confront herself refracted back at her. She has to confront the self that she hates and decide whether she will be consumed by it or whether she will face it, do something about it, and move forward. She does confront it and ends the film with an intent to move forward.

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