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  • Writer's pictureNatalie Dalea

Meditations on Annihilation

[Note: This article discusses the film, Annihilation, which has received an R rating from the MPAA for violence, bloody images, language and some sexuality.]



God draws you close with your own curiosity. Do not be afraid. Do not fear. But tread carefully. To seek the face of God will change you irrevocably.


Annihilation begins with a swamp consumed by a mysterious “shimmer,” an iridescent bubble, gleaming, growing. A group of soldiers had entered, and only one exited – Kane, Lena’s husband. He reunites with Lena at their home, without notice. He cannot explain what he saw. His eyes shimmer. He begins coughing blood.


Lena rushes him to the hospital only for the government to intervene. They put Kane in isolation, declassify his mission for Lena, a former soldier, offering her the chance to try herself – to enter the shimmer, to uncover what lies in its depths. At the center of the swamp is a meteorite-struck lighthouse. This is her goal.


What draws us to danger, to its thrill? Beyond our bodies’ physical response, the addictive quality of adrenaline rush is this: within danger lies the unexpected. Within the unexpected lies new knowledge. Within knowledge lies – revelation, we hope.


 

Lena’s team: five women, all carrying their own guilt, private sorrows never healed, secret ailments calcifying into shame. 


Cass, a geomorphologist, who lost a daughter. Anya, a paramedic, recovering from addiction. Josie, a physicist, who struggles with self-harm. Dr. Ventress, a psychologist, dying from cancer.


And Lena, a biologist, who conducted an affair while her husband was missing. It’s why she’s eager to seek his cure, to stride into the shimmering wall, uncertain, steady – 


They wake up three days later, camped within the wetlands, no memory of how they arrived.


I don’t claim this film is purposefully a biblical metaphor. But I cannot help but notice the constructs – the shame, the flight, three days turned dead to themselves, the new world. Any film about the unknown will invoke questions of God.


 

The team finds traces of a previous expedition in an abandoned lab, a video left by Kane. He slices into his teammate’s belly, revealing the man’s stomach has been replaced by shimmering, snaking viscera. It weaves like a thing alive to itself.


Under a leftover microscope, Lena investigates her blood. It’s taking on the shimmer’s iridescent hum. One woman’s tattoo appears on her colleague’s body. They are changing.


Are you frightened by this prospect? Of being shaped and formed by something outside and within yourself. Of changing into something you cannot anticipate.


Why?


 


Night falls. Lena and Cass take first watch. Unseen, a beast tears through the night and devours Cass. She dies, screaming.


No one witnesses Cass’s death except Lena, who tries to spare her colleagues from witnessing the mangled corpse. Anya’s lack of information mutates into doubt, molds into fear. She looks at her hands; her fingerprints swarm in front of her eyes.


Lena awakens, tied to a chair, Josie and Ventress imprisoned next to her. Anya will not let her body be replaced by theirs. Anya will not believe what she did not see.


The beast returns – a mutated, decomposing bear, its voice transformed to shriek their colleague’s death cry, a rattling plea for help that chokes off like broken glass. Anya charges, thinking it’s her friend, thinking she can save her. She’s devoured. 


I have a question. If our lives are gifts from God. What do we make of our suffering? What do we make of our fear?


Suffering in itself does not hold a moral weight. Suffering can be a consequence of either sin or holiness. Many sin and live unmarked lives. Many pursue good and find martyrdom. We only believe suffering is moral so we can try to control pain. 


Job was a righteous man. God took everything from him. When Job’s friends said it was due to secret sin, God rebuked them. When Job asked God why he suffered, God rebuked him. Did you make the beasts. Did you make the leviathan. Did you create the depths. No. I made these.


I do not know how to act upon fear. Cass was afraid of death. Anya was afraid of her team. They tried to act upon their fears – to fight, to flee. Both died.


I am captivated by Lena’s fear, the way she neither flinches nor flees, neither pursues nor panics. She contains a stillness, a trembling that holds itself. There’s an awareness of her limitations, the knowledge of her helplessness. Instead of fear, would you call this moment trust? A silent plea – send this away, because I cannot do so on my own. That is what I would pray, what I have prayed, when I have been faced with devouring.


 


By day, the swamp reveals a gentleness, a curiosity mirroring the women’s. It mimics their shape. Deer bound by, one an albino, envined doppelganger of its earthly twin. Plants twist to mimic the bodies that tread in their midst.


The shimmer refracts life, Josie, the physicist, muses to Lena. It takes us and bends what it takes, transforming everything under its touch. She lifts her arm, sleeve slipped down to reveal her scars, turns the soft inner skin of her wrist toward the light. Wildflowers sprout from her cuts, wounds made beautiful. When Lena turns, Josie is gone. Flower figures bloom where she once stood – the shimmer turned humanoid, Josie turned to the shimmer.


I don’t know what I think about this scene. I want beauty to be proof of goodness.


Josie turns into something beautiful. Josie still dies.


Does Christ come to make our wounds beautiful? I’m concerned about this concept, its seduction to make despair sweet. Despair is not grief yielding to love, sorrow to hope – despair is only self-justification, no resolution but itself. Pain is not meant to be our home.


I think there’s a difference between accepting pain versus accepting pain’s forge. Christ kept his wounds when he returned. Christ’s wounds are beautiful not in themselves, but because they are proof of what he did for us. Christ came to make all things new.


Lena resists this end. She plunges onward, to see the shimmer for what it is, drawn to its light.


 

At the shimmer’s center, the ocean unfurls on the edge of a white-sand beach, littered with orderly piles of bones. A lighthouse harbors a meteorite crater. Ventress has arrived here ahead of Lena, and she languishes in the pit, laboring.


“It's not like us,” she groans, voice rasping under the burden of her transformation. “It's unlike us. I don't know what it wants, or if it wants, but it'll grow until it encompasses everything. Our bodies and our minds will be fragmented into their smallest parts until not one part remains – annihilation.”


Her body spews a shimmering cloud. She disintegrates. Beyond dust, she becomes geometry, forming fractals, color, light.


When I think of cosmic horror, I think of Lovecraft’s indescribable monsters, his protagonists’ fears compounded by the fact that they could not understand, could not comprehend the vast being before them. More than the terror of the being before you, it’s the fact that you cannot articulate its presence.


It must be devastating to think God is a being who does not want us to know him. But God wants us to know him so intimately, he lived within our midst, once, twice, three times and forever.


I wonder if the true fear of God comes from knowing what this means – to understand God’s revelation is also apocalypse. To die to the self is no easy feat. We know we might be unrecognizable on the other side.


 

When you destroy your former self you can be made new.



The shimmer coalesces, births a double, Lena’s doppelganger, the only thing she fears enough to act. When faced with herself, Lena flees. 


What did Lena see, that this, more than any other beast in the swamp, made her flee? 


Her double pins her to the wall, almost strangles her in its ignorance, as it finishes its copy, an exact replica. Lena witnesses herself. She hands herself a flare. She pulls the tab.


If we met God, we would not recognize him. If we met God, of course we would recognize him. Mary didn’t recognize Jesus. Then he said her name. Maybe we only recognize God when he points us back to ourselves.


The lighthouse burns. Her double holds the flame tight, dissolves in a burst of light.


I wonder if the only difference between beauty and the grotesque is a trick of the light.


The swamp combusts with the chemical heat of a salt burn. The beach sizzles and foams. Lena is not consumed. She is the burning. She is the silhouette revealed by the light. She is––  


 

She’s seated at the government facility. Who could say how she returned. She reunites with her husband. They hold each other. 


“Are you Kane?” she asks, clinging to his shoulders.


“I don’t know,” he replies. “Are you Lena?”


Her eyes shimmer. 


“I don’t know.”

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