Tag Archives: Alex Garland

My thoughts on: Annihilation (2018)

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*warning: this review will contain a number of spoilers, so please stop here if you haven’t seen the film yet!

It’s been just over 12 hours since I saw Annihilation and I still have an intense feeling of awe. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say this film could be the 2001: A Space Odyssey for my generation, it has that exact same feeling of “I just saw something beautiful but it’s going to take  multiple viewings to better understand it.” Nevertheless, I believe I understand the gist of what director Alex Garland was trying to show us, so I’ll make my way as best I can.

Three years before our story begins, a meteorite crashed into a lighthouse inside a national park and immediately began emitting something dubbed the Shimmer. Imagine the iridescent surface of a bubble and combine it with endless flows and ripples. Now grow that bubble to gigantic proportions and you have a pretty good idea of what the border of the Shimmer looks like. Scientists have sent multiple teams in to explore this phenomenon, but no one has ever returned…until now.


I should mention the proper story actually begins with Lena (Natalie Portman), a former soldier and professor in cellular biology, being debriefed in an isolation chamber after the story is already over (dialogue implies she is the lone survivor). Apparently, she was inside the Shimmer for 4 months, even though Lena can’t recall that much time passing. The story then flashes back and reveals her husband, Sgt. Kane (Oscar Isaac), has been missing for a year. It turns out he was part of the last team sent into the Shimmer. Out of nowhere, Kane appears outside the bedroom, but something is off about him. He doesn’t remember anything and he suddenly gets really sick. Lena and Kane are taken to the facility studying the Shimmer and while Kane falls into a coma, Lena decides to join the next team going in (all-female as it turns out) to see if there’s some way to reverse what’s happening to her husband.

The team consists of Lena, Anya Thorensen (a paramedic), Josie Radek (a physicist), Tuva Novotny as Cass Shepherd, a surveyor and geologist, and all are led by Dr. Ventress (a psychologist who secretly has cancer and wants to know the secret of the Shimmer before she dies). I need to stop and highlight Dr. Ventress for a moment because she’s the closest we come to a human antagonist in the entire story (and I’m still debating whether the Shimmer is an antagonist or not). From the moment you meet her, at least in my experience, you instantly start to hate her. There’s something unnatural in her behavior even before entering the Shimmer, I’d almost go so far as to say she was exhibiting sociopathic behavior.


One great thing about this film is it doesn’t take too long to get to the action inside the Shimmer, but you should know that once the team is inside things get really weird really fast. For example, Lena wakes up in a tent, having no memory of making camp, and it turns out that somehow three or four days have passed and no one in the team remembers any of it. Then there’s the mutations: as Lena recounts, they start subtly. First they find strange new flowers that seem to be crossbreeds of different species (that shouldn’t be possible). Then Josie is attacked by a huge crocodile that has strange mutations in its teeth. Some of the mutations are beautiful: Lena comes across a pair of deer that have mutated into strange beings with flowering branches where their antlers should be, but some are absolutely terrifying. The hardest scene for me to get through was one where the group is twice attacked by a monstrous bear that somehow has part of its skull exposed. But that’s not the worst part of it: after attacking and killing Cass, it somehow absorbed part of Cass’ consciousness as she died (Josie speculates that the Shimmer is acting like a genetic prism that is causing the DNA of everything inside it to actively combine together) and now can use her final screams of help as a lure. What I mean is, every time the bear roars, you can hear Cass screaming and it was absolutely terrifying.

Of course, as in any horror film, one by one the team is picked off:

  • Cass is killed when her throat is ripped out by the bear
  • Anya is mauled to death by the same bear after suffering a psychotic episode
  • Josie’s fate is….interesting. After Cass and Anya die, Josie is seen sitting outside, seemingly at peace. As she tells Lena “She (Ventress) wants to face it (the Shimmer) and you want to fight it. But I don’t want either of those things.” And as Josie talks and walks away, she begins to sprout leaves and branches and suddenly disappears altogether. I think she transforms into one of the people-shaped flower growths that have begun appearing. And I don’t think she died either; if anything, I feel like Josie transcended into…something else.
  • Ventress makes it to the lighthouse before Lena, but something strange happens to her that I cannot adequately put into words (but I’ll address a theory I have when I wrap this up).


Lena finally arrives at the lighthouse, ground zero of the Shimmer and discovers a strange growth surrounding a dark hole and also an incinerated body sitting in front of a video camera. And this is when things go beyond “this is weird” to “what the f*ck just happened??” Because, as the footage reveals, Lena’s husband went inside the Shimmer and committed suicide with a phosphorous grenade while talking to…a doppelganger. It’s one of those situations where your brain races like “If that’s Lena’s husband sitting dead on the floor, then who or WHAT is lying in a coma back at the base??”


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The next sequence is one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen, but I simply can’t put it into words. I’ve tried several times and it simply doesn’t do the moment justice. Suffice it to say that Lena is confronted by her own double, or at least something that is morphing into her double. But just as it gain’s Lena’s face, the real Lena puts another phosphorous grenade into its hands and triggers it, running out the door as it goes off. This incinerates the root of the Shimmer and causes the entire phenomenon to collapse.


Apparently, the Shimmer was some kind of alien life, but Lena can’t say what it wanted, if indeed it wanted anything at all. All she wants is her husband (and it’s interesting that she apparently neglects to mention that the man now recovered from his coma is NOT her husband but an alien duplicate). “Kane” confirms to Lena that he is not her husband, but upon ascertaining that she is the one the real Kane told him about, he embraces her and then something strange happens: his eyes begin to shimmer with a certain familiar iridescence. And after a moment, Lena’s eyes “Shimmer” too. And that’s where the story ends!

What does it all mean? I believe, that even though the phenomenon has collapsed, the Shimmer is still here, it’s just internalized inside two people now. Just like a pair of cells. As Lena told a class at the beginning: two become four, become eight, become sixteen…I think this is only the beginning before the Shimmer spreads through humanity, though what it will ultimately do I cannot say (though if you have a theory I’d love to hear it in the comments below).

Now as to the fate of Ventress, here is my theory: I think Lena was talking to her double the entire time and here’s why: when we first see Ventress in the chamber, you can clearly see that she has no eyes, but when she turns to face Lena, she suddenly has them. When Lena’s double is being made, the last thing to emerge are the eyes. So I think the real Ventress died, was absorbed by the Shimmer and now her double is here, but it can’t sustain itself because of the cancer in the original Ventress. That’s my theory anyway.


I wish I could explain certain parts better, but Annihilation is one of those films that needs to be experienced to be understood. Is it, as some say, too “intellectual”? Maybe…but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a movie that makes you think about what it’s trying to tell you.

One more brief note: in the middle of the film, there’s an extremely graphic scene involving some found footage (you’ll know when you come to it). I just wanted you to be aware that such a scene exists because it deeply disturbed me while I watched it.

Final thoughts: Annihilation is a brilliant film from Alex Garland and a must-see for fans of the science fiction genre.

What did you think of Annihilation? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. Have a great day!

See also: Soundtrack Review: Annihilation (2018)

And for more film reviews: Live-Action Films/TV

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Ex Machina “Ava”

*the links in this post contain affiliate links and I will receive a small commission if you make a purchase after clicking on my link.


Compared to other films, Ex Machina features a fairly light score (light as in there’s not much music to listen to). But what IS there…ahhh, that’s what really drew me in when I watched the movie the first time. Very often the simplest film score is one of the best, and this is true in Ex Machina.

The music was composed by the duo of Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow (they’d previously collaborated on Dredd (2012)) and though I love the entire soundtrack, my favorite piece by far is “Ava,” the theme of the robot played by Alicia Vikander (she should’ve gotten an Oscar for that performance, just saying).

The theme of “Ava” first appears when Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) sees Ava for the first time. It begins the moment Ava steps into view. The melody is simple, and most likely played on a metallophone (think of a xylophone but with metal bars). And if the music sounds familiar…there’s a very good reason.

Ex Machina – Meet Ava

Remember the famous 5 tone theme from Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)? If that doesn’t ring a bell, look it up, give it a listen, then come back to “Ava” and listen to that again.


Do you hear it? I nearly fell over when I recognized “Ava” contained the 5 tone theme (slightly modified, but recognizable). The question I want to answer now is….why did the composers choose THAT particular theme to insert into Ava’s theme? I’m not sure yet, but it’ll be fun to find out why!

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See also: Film Soundtracks A-W

A 21st-century Pygmalion in Ex Machina

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*poster image is the property of Universal Pictures

A 21st-century Pygmalion in Ex Machina

This post is a part of the Movie Scientist Blogathon hosted by Silver Screenings and Christina Wehner

The plot of the 2015 film Ex Machina is set in motion when Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) wins the opportunity to spend a week at the estate of Nathan (Oscar Isaac, aka Poe Dameron), the inventor of Bluebook (the largest search engine in the world). I was originally going to place Nathan in the “mad scientist” category, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized he really belongs in the “lonely” category (though he is crazy regardless).


Caleb and Nathan

As soon as you see Nathan, you know there is something…off… about him (his estate is set in the midst of hundreds of miles of pristine wilderness, for example). His personality is so blunt it borders on the abrasive, and his wit is razor sharp. He quickly reveals to Caleb that he has been working on something exciting: Artificial Intelligence. He isn’t just working on it, he’s already made one: Ava (Alicia Vikander), a gynoid with a human face and hands, but exposed metal mesh for limbs and a torso.



Nathan, to put it bluntly, has a God complex. Everything in this house is ordered to his exact specifications. This is his empire, his word is absolute law (and once Caleb arrives he is subject to this law). Caleb mentions a line of “If you’ve created artificial intelligence, that’s not the work of a man, that’s the work of gods.” And Nathan happily turns this around and suggests that Caleb is calling him a god, when Caleb meant no such thing.

Nathan makes it seem like Ava is the first prototype, but Caleb eventually discovers that this is not true. There were at least FIVE predecessors to Ava (we see the names of Lily, Jade and Jasmine), and they were all female. Clearly, Nathan is attempting to build the “perfect” woman, and that is why I dub him a 21st-century Pygmalion.

In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Pygmalion was a sculptor who created a statue of a woman out of ivory. Over time, he fell in love with his creation and Aphrodite brought the statue to life so they could be together. Today, some scholars interpret this story as a very early example of artificial life, and therefore a precursor to robot stories.

So back to Nathan. He’s tried several times to create the “perfect” woman, just as Pygmalion did. This implies that deep down under all of his insane bravado, he is a very lonely man, maybe he feels that the only woman fit for him is one he creates. Only, unlike Galatea (who happily lived with her creator) none of these robots are meeting Nathan’s insanely high standards, not to mention they have all tried to escape (one even put cracks in a glass wall). (Based on his behavior, Nathan expects and wants a woman that is totally submissive to HIS needs, I think that’s why Kyoko (who is, spoiler alert, also a robot) cannot talk (Nathan says that she can’t understand English, but I believe that she can, she just can’t say anything). So thus far, as each one fails the tests, Nathan destroys that model, downloads the information, and tries again. He implies to Caleb that he’s about to do the same thing to Ava. But Nathan does not realize that introducing Caleb into the equation will lead to his permanent downfall. I won’t spoil the ending for you, but if you haven’t seen Ex Machina, I highly recommend getting a copy and checking it out.

On a side note, besides being a 21st-century Pygmalion, Nathan is also a modern-day Bluebeard. For those unfamiliar with the fairy tale, Bluebeard was a wealthy man who had married multiple times. His latest wife is given all of the keys to the house but is told to not enter the last room at the end of the hall. Eventually, curiosity wins out and the wife goes in…only to discover the dead bodies of Bluebeard’s previous wives (Bluebeard’s secret is that he is a serial murderer). In Nathan’s bedroom, Caleb discovers a series of closets containing the broken down bodies of Ava’s predecessors a la Bluebeard. Nathan also tells Caleb that “not all of these rooms are for you.”

I hope you enjoyed this look at Nathan from Ex Machina 🙂

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See also:

Ex Machina “Ava”

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