Review: Annihilation

Annihilation taken as a dialectical process is not nihilism but immanence.

“Hegel’s dialectical method … demonstrates how every determinate shape finds its truth in its annihilation.” (Slavoj Zizek, LESS THAN NOTHING, page 195).

THE BOOK is reminiscent of my two favourite science fiction films: STALKER and SOLARIS.

1) STALKER – because Area X was produced by an unknown Event creating a dangerous region, like the Zone, where ordinary reality’s expectations, regularities, and laws are flouted in unpredictable ways, perhaps due to the action of alien beings or artefacts.

The difference between the two is that in STALKER the laws of physics are no longer reliable, whereas in ANNIHILATION it is the laws of biology that are twisted or violated.

2) SOLARIS – because there seems to be a vast intelligence that may be experimenting on us or trying to communicate with us by unusual or incomprehensible means, including the creation of replicas with incomplete versions of the memories of the originals.

Despite the constant sense of danger and the eerie deaths one never feels that the book is a tale of Horror, even if the characters themselves may have experienced horror. This is a different thing from us experiencing horror in reading it, which does happen but is not the dominant mood or emotion.

THE WEIRD: estrangement, uncertainty, instability, wonder and horror

What dominates is an affective tonality of weirdness comprising estrangement (Area X does not play by the same rules as ordinary reality), ontological and epistemological uncertainty (we do not know what is happening, identities themselves become dubious constructs), instability (a continuous variation of forms), and wonder (there is at least as much of the wondrous as of the horrifying).

A negative point associated with this weirdness is that the style is also often long-winded, despite much engaging and well-crafted writing.

THE FILM is in the limbo between an artistic work and a film of action. It attempts to represent as enunciated content the “weird” that characterises the level of enunciation. Despite general reservations that one may have about the value or the desirability of this sort of  project of transposition, we should admit that the film does a good job.

1) Passage from style to content: the film is an enjoyable experience but nowhere near as good as the book. It may be a useful introduction to the book for those who have not yet read it, but for those who have read the book the film is disappointing.

Some elements that exist in the book at the level of the narrative style, for example the Heraclitean flux of interpretations are transposed or re-transcribed in the objects and events of the story (the body’s organs enter into flux).

2) SENSATIONALISM: unfortunately certain transformations introduced elements of sensationalism that were absent from the book, such as the big bad bear, the crocodile, the military team, the recurrent interrogation scene, the comet strike.

3) Pedagogical explicitation: the film partakes of a movement of explicitation already seen in Villeneuve’s ARRIVAL and BLADE RUNNER 2049, and also in ALTERED CARBON, where a demanding and initially confusing work is adapted pedagogically rather than transposed into an equally demanding form in a different medium.

Both the book and the film pose the question: how much epistemological and ontological flux can be contained in an art form?

How far can we go into immanence and annihilation and how much determinate form must we retain?

The book is able to integrate flux into very narrative technique and enunciative process, whereas the film has a more difficult trade-off between flux and form. This results in a new pulsation between the weird and the familiar, the enigmatic and the explicated, the shape and the flux, the form and the content, the unknown and the known. This sort of balancing act is a difficult exploit to carry off successfully.

The book is too intellectual, too enigmatic and frustrating for some and the film is too explicit and sensational for others. I personally prefer the book, but I am glad I saw the film.


One thought on “Review: Annihilation

  1. Those are some very sharp observations! I liked the book much more because it refused to state explicitly what was the nature of the weirdness. Also, the book had more layers of obfuscation such as the psychiatrist planting hypnotic suggestions in the team members. After seeing the movie, for the longest time I just didn’t know what to think of it. It didn’t gave me the same thrill as the book but I recognized that as a movie it was quite good.


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