Annihilation was a movie that I wanted to see but didn’t get the chance to. I saw it recently and really regret not seeing it in the theater. It was a gorgeous movie about evolution and a failed marriage that happens to feature a group of women exploring a terrible place. It concerns an expedition into a weird place where something fell to Earth and now the landscape is all wacky with weird life. It is an exploration movie, mixed with weird science and just plain mysterious things. Big emphasis on mysterious shit.
After I saw the movie, I read the book by Jeff Vandermeer. Holy crap, if I thought the movie was good, the book is spectacular. They deviate a lot and I read that the director wrote the movie from what he remembered of the book, and didn’t go back to reference the book. Normally I would have some harsh words about that but the sliding perception nature of the book makes me wonder if a half-remembered version of the book into a movie might not be the best way to adapt the book.
Technically this book is about an expedition into a weird place called Area X where the laws of logic and science have given way. The narrator is a member of the 12th expedition, sent in by a government agency to figure out what the fuck is going on. Almost instantly, she realizes that most of their preparation was a lie and their real mission is a mystery. The narrator is also looking for some answers on what happened to her husband who went in on a previous expedition so there are personal reasons for going as well.
In reality, this book is a deep dive into the narrator’s personality. She’s an introvert biologist who feels most at ease observing life rather than participating in it. This drives her husband away and she knows it, but is so emotionally detached she is not all that sure she really misses him. She observes the weird land around her with the same detachment, giving her an advantage over her rapidly failing teammates.
As interesting, weird and fantastic as the land she is exploring is, the real story is about how alien the narrator is to her husband, her family and her place in the world. I was drawn to the weirdness of the creatures he meets, but ultimately I couldn’t help feel that the narrator is her own unique species. She doesn’t get her husband and he never really got her. She failed at most of her field work jobs because foundations need data they can use instead of the data she found interesting. In this weird Area X, she is an alien explorer but she was one in the normal world as well.
As a porn-writing nerd who dabbles in magic, I sympathize a lot with her. I suspect most people of an introspective bent will.
There are themes of perception being played with as well. Truth is fucking fluid. The group was lied to and manipulated but to an unknown end. The narrator inhales some spores early on and it gives her an advantage in perception but maybe also hallucinations. Journals are found and both trusted and suspected of being false. The fact that everything you know comes from the journal of such an emotionally detached person who admits to ignoring unpleasant facts makes every page untrustworthy.
The differences between the movie and the book is centered mostly on the narrator. In the book, she is a biologist who trying to connect with the bizarre life around her. In the movie, she is a biologist/ex-soldier. It is a weird change that turns a book of self-reflection into a movie about shooting monsters and trying to find the true fate of her husband. The movie expedition members get attacked by monsters. Most of the book expedition dies from circumstances only guessed at. It almost feels like a condemnation of Hollywood that the only conflict we accept in movies are things that can be shot or blown up.
The book is part of a trilogy and I haven’t read the others yet. Whether they live up to the wonderful experience of the first book remains to be seen. No matter what happens with the rest of the series, I will think back on this book fondly. The last time I read a book that both disoriented me while making me thinking really deeply was House of Leaves. Thankfully, Annihilation is a lot shorter.