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Unveiling the Cancer Metaphor: Exploring the Deeper Meaning Behind Annihilation

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Annihilation: A Science Fiction Film Analysis

Movies are not like puzzle boxes

in any way. Because art is not a game or a problem to be solved, there is no “answer” to the question. Since it is subjective, there are multiple ways to interpret it. The best art leaves room for interpretation, not because it is purposefully obscure, but because it encourages viewers to investigate particular ideas and concepts presented distinctively.

Annihilation: A Disturbing Tale

Annihilation, a science fiction film directed by Alex Garland, is an excellent piece of art because it manages to disturb its viewers by weaving its tale into the realm of the unexpected. This is especially true for those anticipating a run-of-the-mill sci-fi action movie. As a result, it is also a movie that is guaranteed to annoy and enrage some spectators, particularly those who want clarity and normalcy. The movie takes a turn that nobody saw coming, but it does it intentionally. For example, sequences such as Tessa Thompson growing leaves and individuals getting attacked by a bear with human screams are horrible but distinct in their horror. On the other hand, most Annihilation takes place in the domain of metaphor. It is intended to put you in the same dreamy condition as the characters, describing what’s happening but never declaring its ideas as it strives to weave subtext into the text. This is to achieve the desired effect.

Decoding the Metaphor: Annihilation as a Film about Cancer

So, what exactly is going on with this Annihilation business? It’s a film about fighting cancer. There is no single line in the movie stating, “It’s about cancer.” Even within the first fifteen minutes of Garland’s film, it becomes abundantly evident that the central question that drives the narrative is, “What if the Earth—that is, the planet itself—got cancer?” The narrative then continues along from this premise throughout the remainder of the film. The story may follow a biologist named Lena, played by Natalie Portman, who ventures into an inexplicable phenomenon known as “The Shimmer” with four other scientists: Thorensen, played by Gina Rodriguez; Sheppard, played by Tuva Novotny; and Radek, played by Thompson. Jennifer Jason Leigh plays Dr. Ventress. Lena sets out on this adventure in the hopes of finding some answers. The fact that this is a movie about cancer is made abundantly clear at several points during the film. As soon as Lena gave her first lecture at Johns Hopkins, we immediately began to focus on the film’s central metaphor. She discusses cell division, focusing mostly on the speed at which cells can divide and mutate. When an unknown object struck a lighthouse in the Southern Reach three years ago, and that object kept growing, we decided to pull back. The unexplained phenomenon serves as a suitable stand-in for how cancer develops. Everything is normal, and then suddenly it isn’t, and in its place is something that is changing and growing, similar to how The Shimmer does. We can talk about the elements that put people at risk. Still, the reality is that some perfectly healthy people will nonetheless get cancer. It’s not that cancer can’t be explained; rather, our knowledge of the disease is constantly expanding and improving. As soon as Lena and the rest of the team enter the Shimmer, they begin to see mutations resulting from cancer (the tumor at the core of the Shimmer) influencing other cells. Garland is using a biological phenomenon to stage an event comparable to Fantastic Voyage, except that the scientists won’t be shrunken down to investigate an individual’s body. Still, the body they will be researching will be the Earth. Because of the mutations, everything becomes screwed up. Radek later reveals to the group that they are inside a prism. Thus everything is refracting. Radek explains this to the group. Because cancer wreaks havoc on an otherwise healthy body, it wreaks havoc on people’s minds and their bodies. On the other hand, Garland delivers this in a very particular manner. It is not like The Cloverfield Paradox, in which anything can happen, and nothing is explained; for example, one person is infested with worms, while another person has an amputated arm that provides tips when you are stumped. The gameplay of Annihilation has not changed, and the game continues to display mutations in the same way that they would appear on a living organism. Garland makes the astute choice not to portray everything as either aesthetically or morally repugnant. An air of intentional apathy permeates the situation. Life develops and changes over time; occasionally, you see something stunning, such as a skeletal white deer with branches for antlers. There is also a chance that you will encounter ScreamBear, the Bear Made of Screams. Even though Garland is only a loose adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer’s novel of the same name, significant features support the cancer metaphor. Take, for instance, the fact that every member of the expedition crew is a woman. This is justified from the point of view of the narrative by mentioning that the members of the previous missions were men, which may influence the outcomes of the expedition. On the other hand, it’s important to remember that breast cancer is the most prevalent type and primarily strikes women. In addition, even though all of the characters are medical professionals (although Thorensen is a bit of a gray area because she works as an EMT), Dr. Ventress is the only one to be referred to as “Doctor” on multiple occasions. Despite the fact that she is a psychologist by profession, her role in the narrative has little to do with psychology and more to do with the fact that she watches people enter The Shimmer and never come out again. A situation like this would be comparable to an oncologist with a high patient mortality rate. Knowing is not a shield against cancer, and the character Ventress suffers from the disease in the movie. Cancer is connected to Lena’s flashbacks, like how Lena’s self-destruction causes cancer in her marriage. The film revolves primarily around the events in Lena’s life. Imagine for a moment that she did not have a tense relationship with her husband, that she did not feel guilty about cheating on him, and that she did not feel desperate to discover something that might be able to save him. If this is the case, you have a film that is still engaging but is icy. A lack of an emotional center can be attributed to the fact that five people are battling cancer. Everything in the memories, including our regrets, desires, and dreams, represents the humanity attached to each individual. The main theme of Lena’s story is her search for a second chance and redemption. Because of this, when she discusses her efforts to save Kane (Oscar Isaac), she does not add, “I love him.” She utters the words, “I owe him.” Both Sheppard and Thorensen end up dying as the movie goes on as we get closer and closer to the Shimmer. Garland, being the wise person he is, doesn’t make it shocking. In the first few minutes of the story, he reveals that those characters will not survive, but after that, he leaves us in the dark about what happened to Radek and Ventress. However, the story will finish with each of the four people succumbing to some form of death. Radek observes that Ventress “wants to face it” and Lena “wants to fight it,” but she accepts the outcome. There are occasions when some people get violent while others manage to escape. There is not a single kind that can be referred to as “cancer death.” The vision Garland presents to us throughout the film is the root cause of why The Shimmer is not an allegory for death. Everything mutates and evolves throughout the film. There are numerous pictures showing cells swimming across the water. When we see the body of the fallen soldier floating in the pool, we discover that his body has disintegrated and grown in size, similar to how a cancer cell would destroy a healthy cell. A growth that strongly resembles a tumor can be found on the Lighthouse. If Garland had wished to illustrate “death” in all its guises, he would have chosen a different visual metaphor, such as blood or ashes. Annihilation is “the conversion of matter into energy, especially the mutual conversion of a particle and an antiparticle into electromagnetic radiation.”


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