Annihilation And The Process of Self-Destruction

"What I saw in Annihilation terrified me not because it was horrific, but because it was familiar and comforting."

Annihilation is a strange film. It begins easily enough, with a group of female scientists venturing into a designated military area termed "The Shimmer" from which previous teams have not returned. Each of the women is burdened with secrets; their lives had been touched by tragedy and despair. But their task is simple: figure out what The Shimmer is, and find a way to help stop it from spreading. What they find when they enter however is a wild perversion of biology and science fiction. The organisms within The Shimmer are changed somehow, blended and crossbred in way that shouldn't be possible. The danger they face is just beginning. 

While the entire film was captivating, the scene that stuck out to me most came late in the second act. Physicist Josie Radek (Tessa Thompson) deduces that The Shimmer is a prism that refracts not just light and sound waves, but DNA, including that of the team. After a terrifying night in which the women face the truly horrific possibilities of The Shimmer's genetic splicing capabilities, she tells Lena (Natalie Portman) that while she and the other team members want to alternatively face and fight The Shimmer, she isn't sure that she wasn't either of those things. As green buds grow directly from the scars left on her arms from years of self harm, she wanders into The Shimmer's vast greenery and disappears, presumably becoming one with the strange environment. 

I've struggled with depression for years, and while the intensity of the experience often shifts, it is always a difficult thing to find my way out of. My history of self-harm is something I am very private about because while I can intellectually articulate all the reasons why I should not be ashamed to tend to my mental health, the stigma remains. I don't want to be the unstable black girl. It's a self-reinforcing path to destruction. 

Josie's passive relinquishment to the mystery of the Shimmer felt almost religious. She had simply seen enough to know that she no longer wanted to fight. Sweet release would be preferred. It was a strange metaphor for passive suicidal ideation. And that's when I realized that what I saw in Annihilation terrified me not because it was horrific, but because it was familiar and comforting. I have tried to reconcile my teenage depression with the woman I am now, and it is difficult. Much has changed, but a lot has remained exactly the same. There are days when ceasing to exist feels like the most merciful ending, and there are others where I cannot fathom not fighting to stay alive. But the temptation to let go is always there. 

Annihilation succeeds at bending its sci-fi premise into a relatable metaphor for depression on all fronts. From Josie's surrender to Lena's understanding of the futility of her journey, the narrative shifts to frame each desperate act as needed. Visually stunning, rich, and full of dazzling grotesqueries, the film makes death feel not only inevitable but desirable. The world is simply too savvy not to fight back when people pose a threat to its existence.