Design a site like this with
Get started


What’s the meaning of this? Who’s to say? (Certainly not me…)

I don’t know what this is.
Maybe it’s an inane mixture of things. Or something novel and deep. Guess it depends on who (or what) is reading it.
Maybe it’s nothing but with something in it. Or something but with nothing in it.
It’s not for me to say, even though I’m the author. Actually, because I’m the author.
Just technically ‘the author’. See I wrote this here thing, I did, but who’s to say I am the authority of its meaning? (That question may or may not be rhetorical, according to preference.)
As a matter of fact (technically just an expression, BTW), it’s each reader that decides the meaning of what(ever) he/she/it is reading, as determined by the law of Intertextuality (and quite authoritatively at that, FYI). See, this fantastic law ‘deconstructed’ (as it likes to say [not that I really know what it means]) the myth of ‘authorship’ by revealing that the actual producer of meaning is [drumrole]… the reader! Ergo (just using this word ‘coz I like how The Architect said it in Matrix 2), each ‘meaning’ is equally valid (praise the law of Equality!)—and, ergo, implicitly untrue.
Case in point: commenter says this “post” is “garbage”. Therefore, he/she/it (‘they/them’ from now on) is actually right on both counts—provided only that they meant what they said. Then again…
…what they said might be totally untrue—who knows? (Rhetorical?—who knows?)

Postmodernism is not truth. On the contrary, it has rescued us from the perennial lie of Truth.
And so now, infinite possibilities dawn on Mankind Theykind…
Unimaginable possibilities… except, that is, for the most gifted theys: because it’s those theys who seem to always imagine the unimaginable possibilities for Us.
Case in point: Dark Side of the Moon. Title wasn’t even on the album sleeve, just an image:

A ray of light
through a prism;
colours reflected
by effect of refraction
(or something to do with that, IMHO)—
what does it ‘mean’?
(…does it mean?)

Needless to say, I don’t know because, obviously, no one can truly ‘know’ anything (although I genuinely feel like I ‘know’ that I don’t know, which is good, as it’s the most valid form of non-truth there is).
However (and even more needless to say), I do have a ‘pet theory’ about the meaning of that image (a theory which is automatically valid, i.e. purely by the authentic act [Oxymoron? Depends on what them decide…] of choosing to hatch it to my satisfaction).

‘Light is Truth’—the aforementioned perennial lie.
Prism refracts light; light exposed as being a multiplicity of colours.
Theory: prism is Postmodernism revealing the supreme falsity of Truth.
Colours represent different schools of ‘thought’, which are actually opinions and so are different ‘meanings’ each incompatible with the rest, each available for selection and endless substitution;
(according to one’s personality/mood—ergo, authentic feeling has finally debunked ‘rational’ thought)
with all ‘meanings’ being equally valid
(mostly for the reason that they are all tacitly untrue).

Concept album; symbolism in it. Ergo, time to get symbolic…
Central theme is madness, insanity, ‘mental illness’—caused by society; contemporary life. “The Moon”, a.k.a. Luna, is lunacy; the “Dark Side of The Moon” is unenlightened; unilluminated. Light = Knowledge, Wisdom—fictional concepts, actually, as exposed by Postmodernism.
Dark Side of the Moon released at the dawn of Postmodernism… Knowledge, Wisdom, Truth implicitly debunked… Mental Illness becomes the rule … (the comeuppance of Mankind’s arrogant delusions to rationality.)
Probably something to do with why the new ‘new’ is the (redundant, yet somehow entertaining) recycling of the old… [tries to come up with something wittily illustrative] …like:

‘I love the smell of nihilism in the morning. Smells like… history.’
(lame but authentically lame,
therefore automatically deserving of respect, if not praise).

Commenter: The ‘comment’ was posted after your ‘article’ (or whatever it is), therefore your ‘response’ during the article is impossible […]
Author: Impossible? I hereby refute the claim(!) by enlisting the principle of Relativity, as scientifically validated by Einstein. Ergo, it is but a matter of timelines, my (future) friend…
Commenter: […] and how can ‘my response’ appear within your ‘article’? It makes no sense […]
Author: on the other hand, you have (inadvertently) made a most valid point in that the ‘new’ scientific principles have implicitly – meaning tactfully – invalidated those of the legendary scientist. That’s why it will soon be (scientifically) apt to say of Einstein: “he’s no Einstein”. Therefore, in this case, we are both simultaneously correct/incorrect (as per the scientific principle of Schrodinger’s Cat, if you like).

So you see: some thems – in this case, Pink Floyd – are more gifted than most thems at the game of ‘meanings’; meaning, ‘gifted thems’ are more entertaining at the conceit of meaning-making than the rest of us—so thank God for them thems! (Note: I meant that merely as an expression […although, that ‘He meant me merely as an expression’ would be an equally valid viewpoint {despite being utterly ridiculous, of course.}])
Case in point: In Rainbows­. Title was all over the album sleeve (five times, covering three quarters of the cover, to be more precise)—yet its meaning might be even more obscure than Dark Side (one’s unique configuration of brain neurons also being a factor in such things, scientifically speaking).
Radiohead. Oft referred to as ‘the new Pink Floyd’. Band name taken from song title by Talking Heads (another predecessor of the Head, having been an avant garde ‘alternative’ band with a penchant for critiquing society). Thus (not wanting to overuse that ‘ergo’) was/is ‘artistic’ recycling the new ‘new’… (déjà vu?)
Rainbows = refracted light. In Rainbows, track Reckoner*; lyrics:

Because we separate like
ripples on a blank shore
In Rainbows
Because we separate like
ripples on a blank shore

Words in lyrics booklet are separated; multicoloured. Thus
Radio’s Head is Talking here about society (does it ever not? [I feel sure that one’s a rhetorical… but I could be wrong of course]): people are separated; multicoloured—multicultured.
*Reckoner is track seven on In Rainbows; track seven on Dark Side is Any Colour You Like: synchronous multicolourism.
Postmodernism is – amongst other wonderful things – Multiculturism: the multicolouration of society (as the Head has cryptically metaphored it).
People of all colours, different races and nations, of every religion and faith, speaking languages from across the globe; all living together in one nation (England, in this case, as per the Floyd and the Head [and myself, as it happens]). A far nicer and humane arrangement than the redundant one of an indigenous, traditional culture, is it not? Beautiful to behold—like a rainbow of humanity.
But, as I regret to remind you, Radio’s Head is a notoriously gloom-ridden one (no doubt having been affected with the mental disturbances of Dark Side [In Rainbows being their esoteric sequel and the Floyd being their spiritual ancestor {and Dark Side of the Rainbow being… I don’t know but the title fits in nicely here}]).
And so we see, in In Rainbows, the Head alludes to multicoloured society in which “we separate like ripples on a blank shore, In Rainbows”—all of which sounds quite nice, poetically, but none of which can logically be said to bode well for “we”. Thus – via their characteristic crypticism (and Tom Yorke’s trademark beautiful-yet-disturbed vocals) – it’s as if the Head is Talking about the ‘diversity’ inherent to Multiculturism as being beautifully colourful but effectively divisive.

Side note (a quite meaningless one, but indulge me): Come to think of it, this little ‘div-’ never seems to bode well for society (or the individuals in it)…
divided, as in “A house divided against itself, cannot stand.”, said Abraham Lincoln; or “Divide and conquer.”, said Julius Caesar.
divergent, as in “moving or extending in different directions from a common point; diverging from each other.”
divorcive, as in “tending to divorce.”
dividual, as in (the definition I just made up) “the opposite of ‘individual’; a person of a divided personhood; ‘the divided self’ (i.e. ‘madness’; ‘mental illness’).

The notoriously gloomy Head is, however, also a very deep one; hence (to give ‘thus’ a break [i.e. in rationing ‘ergo’]) the glass-darkly crypticism of Radio’s Head is Talking about more than Multiculturism. Indeed, Radio’s Head is renowned for Talking about the Dark Side of society in all of its inconvenient aspects…
Like the moon reflects the light of the sun, the Head’s “Rainbows” reflects the gloom of Floyd’s “Moon”; in other words (i.e. less conceited ones), a reflection of one generation’s society to that of the next. Whereas the Floyd’s Dark Side society was not (quite yet) one of Multiculturism, that of the Head’s In Rainbows most certainly was; and which included (as it now does even more so) it’s offspring Diversity*, which had already begun painting society with its multivaried diverseness.

*Not meaning the band Diversity (…who, come to think of it, were formed in the very same year…)

More important than Multiculturism and Diversity – these young, fresh-faced deities in the pantheon of Secularism – is their origin; namely, the societal prism that is Postmodernism. For the prism – that image made permanently famous by the Floyd half a century ago – symbolizes the postmodernist refraction of Knowledge into a variety of different and thus incompatible ‘knowledges’. The necessary result (as both the Floyd and the Head have been artistically alluding to) is the dissolution of Meaning; which tacitly becomes ‘meanings’ and so implicitly becomes meaningless—and which ultimately begets Nihilism: the annihilation of Meaning in Society (Hmmm. I’m beginning to feel like this is actually going somewhere – dare I say it? – meaningful….)
So you see, Multiculturism is but a logical offspring of Nihilism; and Nihilism is the essence of Postmodernism—not that society admits this, or is even remotely conscious of it, since people have become captivated by the ‘Society of the Kaleidoscope*’ (sure is pretty and entraining entertaining, ain’t it? … Hey, you still with me?)
These, then, are the phenomena that the Floyd and the Head – through their profound form of cryptically critical artistry – have been reflecting back to society. Thus behold! (says them) We are living on the “Dark Side of the Moon”… [one generation later] …separating “In Rainbows”… (Again, says them, not me [lest I incur the wrath of Cancel Culture, that most spiteful of postmodern gods].)

1. A complex, colourful, shifting pattern or scene.
2. A series of changing phases or events; a complex set of events or circumstances; continually shifting from one set of relations to another; rapidly changing.
3. Kiedis’ band’s style, i.e. rock/funk/rap/pop/Blood/Sugar/Sex/Magik/etc.—or,  ‘Kiediscope’.
4. Kelis’ album—or, ‘Keliscope’.
5. Coldplay’s EP—or, ‘Koldplay’scoEP’ (by the ‘anti-Radiohead’, i.e. those thems who you can always count on to turn uplifting the themes Radiohead had made depressing).

nihilsim: from nihil: “nothing”.
annihilation: from annihilare:reduce to nothing”.
Annihilation: sci-fi horror film by Alex Garland (definitely ‘one of those thems’). Story is cryptic; visuals are kaleidoscopic. “A beautiful heap of nonsense” says one film critic, being quite right—and yet very wrong (as I will shortly explain by my second ‘pet theory’ [a direct sequel, FYI]).
Arrival* of an alien presence (*not Heptapods) via meteoric crash; plant and animal life begin to mutate; area is made into a mysterious quarantined zone: “The Shimmer”.
Intergrowth of plants into kaleidoscopic mixtures, some shaped like humans; animals mutate—(freakily) incorporate aspects of humans they kill.
Expansion rate of The Shimmer is increasing exponentially: whole planet will be mutated in ten years. Team of scientists/warriors, all ‘female’ (if debunked concept is permitted for purely romantic usage), venture into The Shimmer on a mission to gather information therein (I like ‘therein’—it’s got the kind of pretentiousness that reminds one of ‘ergo’. Ergo, in an alternative universe, the Architect actually says ‘therein’… [Consider this rambling ‘meta’? If so, also consider it a clever homage to that postmodern jester-deity, Meta.])
Film begins at the end of the story… and ends at the end of the story; that is, the same scene. Thus almost entire story is delivered in one long ‘flashback’… and via flashbacks within the flashback (hence we now meta-‘flashback’ to Postmodernism, since the fiction of this era is characterized by all manner of disjointed narration [a style notably pulp-fictionalized into pop culture by that grand master of cinematic recycling, Quentin Tarantino]).

The Meaning of Annihilation

The Shimmer represents Nihilism – that is,
the annihilation of Meaning and thus
of fixed and stable concepts or forms – as it
threatens to spread throughout the globe
until it has annihilated Nature
and, along with it,

Thus summarises the primary meaning of Annihilation, i.e. its most significant allegorical context. Now, I shall elaborate extensively by discussing the key aspects of the film’s interrelated metaphors, using a series of select quotes (taken from the shooting script).

Dramatis Personae
Lena: Cellular Biologist; US Army Veteran
Kane: Lena’s husband; Green Beret
Dr Ventress: Psychologist
Radek: Physicist
Thorensen: Paramedic
Sheppard: Geomorphologist
Lomax: Interviewer

Lena: (as she examines multi-coloured flowers) These are very strange.
Dr Ventress: Why?
Lena: Well, they’re all so different. To look at them you wouldn’t say that they are the same species… but they’re growing from the same branch structure… so it has to be the same species. It’s the same plant! It’s like they’re stuck in a continuous mutation.
Dr Ventress: A pathology?
Lena: Well… you’d sure as hell call it a pathology if you saw this in a human.

The above portion of dialogue serves to introduce some key symbolism and metaphors in the allegorical context of Annihilation:

  1. “all so different… flowers [of] the same species” represents the national/racial/cultural diversity of peoples amongst Humankind;
  2. that “they’re growing from the same branch structure” represents Nation(s) of Multiculturism;
  3. that “they’re stuck in continuous mutation” alludes to the interracial/international breeding therein;
  4. that it is “a pathology” refers to the (inherently) destructive effect of this state on Nation(s);
  5. and that “you’d sure as hell call it a pathology if you saw this in a human” alludes to the effect of Postmodernism on the West’s secular ideal of Individuality: specifically, to fragment the individual by saturating him in a society, culture, and ‘global village’ of intensifying variation, contradiction, and discord (thus postmodernizing the essence of ‘individual’, the literal meaning of which is ‘something that cannot be divided’)—and hence, above all, ‘refracting’ the individual’s psyche:

Dr Ventress: Tell me, Radek. If the Shimmer is refracting us physically, couldn’t it refract us psychologically too? Our perception? Our minds?

To introduce the central embedded theme of Annihilation, I refer back to the piece written by the right-but-wrong film critic titled “Annihilation: A beautiful heap of nonsense”. Perceptively, this critic pointed out that the statement “I don’t know” (or variations of it) “is uttered repeatedly throughout the film”; to which I would add that (significantly) it is stated by a variety of main characters, namely Lena, Kane, Thorensen, Radek, and Ventress (for a total of fourteen times, according to the shooting script). This useful observation serves to indicate the key literal motif of Annihilation, which is (an)nihilistic in meaning: a world being overrun by Nihilism is one in which “I don’t know” essentially becomes implicit with regards to anything—above all with regards to anything of existential significance.

Shimmering into a Kaleidoscope

Returning to the ‘Society of the Kaleidoscope’, the effect of The Shimmer (a.k.a. Nihilism) is to transform Life into a kaleidoscope of mutating forms. As Pink Floyd and Radiohead waxed lyrical (and visual) about, the refraction of Light, which immemorially represents Knowledge, into a rainbow, which in this case represents Society, cultivates the madness of minds (Dark Side of the Moon) and the separation of peoples (In Rainbows)—and this is a course with apocalyptic implications for Humanity.

Apocalyptic Threat in Annihilation

The threat of apocalypse has become most pronounced in post-millennial civilization, as evidenced by the crescendo of cultural, political, and scientist messages propagating the notion. In Annihilation, the impending apocalypse is metaphored in the form of The Shimmer, which represents the postmodern Nihilism that has contaminated Western civilization and which, in a world it has globalized, therefore spreads at an exponential rate across the globe—like a fast-growing cancer. For the essential effect of The Shimmer is a process of destroying the nature of Nature; that is, it destroys the archetypal DNA that characterizes each distinct species of life—i.e. without which all distinct species and forms of life that constitute the holistic system of Nature would be dissolved via continuous intermutation.

The Annihilation of Nature

The nature’ of something is predicated on the facts that:
a) it is embedded with a fundamental pattern that defines what it is; and
b) that this pattern has been embedded by Nature—otherwise the use of the word ‘nature’ is merely a (misleading) expression.
    Thus, natural patterns – a concept which is approximated by, but not defined by, that of ‘DNA’ – essentially represent the ‘meanings’ within Nature; and which – when perceived and contemplated holistically – convey the essential meaning of Life.

Radek: The Shimmer is a prism, but it refracts everything. Not just light and radio waves… animal DNA, plant DNA, all DNA.
Thorensen: What you mean “all DNA”?
Dr Ventress: She’s talking about our DNA. She’s talking about us.
[Key words/phrases underlined]

Annihilation by Refraction—of Everything

As the above exchange highlights, The Shimmer is a perfect metaphor for the refraction of everything by the Nihilism within Postmodernism: the ‘refraction’ of Knowledge, Meaning, Nature, Nationality, Culture, Identity, and – with the advent of bioengineering – DNA. Thus does Nihilism (an)nihilate all that was previously ‘known’, in effect annihilating the very concept of ‘knowing’ itself.
    That The Shimmer not only refracts the living environment but also refracts human beings too is stated in the above exchange between Radek and Ventress, the respective physicist and psychologist of the group. It is also deftly symbolized twice visually, first during the (flashbacked) scene between protagonist Lena and the sudden and inexplicable return of her husband, Kane, after a year of having gone missing during a top secret mission: a mission – as Lena would soon be informed – into The Shimmer, from which no one had previously returned. As Lena questions him (as to what happened to him) Kane – embodying a vacant demeanour – is unable to explain anything at all, sometimes responding with a silence—but repeatedly responding with the statement “I don’t know.”

Lena: You must be able to tell me something. Vanished off the face of the Earth for twelve months. I deserve a better explanation than… no explanation.
Kane: I mean: I can’t tell you. I don’t know where it was. Or… [He trails off]
Lena: You’re telling me you don’t know where you’ve been? How can that even be possible?

This conversation takes place with Lena and Kane sitting opposite each other at a table, with a glass of water in between them; and during this scene, their hands are touching each others at the centre of the table, such that (from the viewer’s point of view) their hands are seen to be refracted by the glass of water. This visual symbolism signifies that their relationship will be ‘refracted’ (more on this in a moment).
    During the scene, it becomes quickly apparent (to both the Lena and the viewer) that something is very wrong with Kane; that he is somehow no longer himself. Whilst their hands are touching at the centre of the table, Lena pulls hers away; and by this (scripted) movement, the visual symbol is altered to that of Kane’s hands being solely refracted by the glass of water. Since later in the film it is all but confirmed that Kane has essentially been transformed by The Shimmer into something that is no longer Kane, it becomes clear that the image of his refracted hand was intended to signify that Kane himself has been ‘refracted’ by The Shimmer—and thus – in a sense (of which I will shortly discuss) – Kane has been ‘annihilated’.
    This scene with this symbolism occurring at the start of the film is mirrored by one at the end of the film, after Lena has herself returned from The Shimmer, as did her husband Kane, and is being questioned about her experience, just as she questioned Kane: as Lena sits by a side table with a glass of water upon it, the camera in side shot creates the image of her hand being refracted by the glass of water. Thus in both scenes, this visual motif signifies that The Shimmer has ‘refracted’ the only two people to ever return from it.
    The initial shot of Lena and Kane’s touching hands being refracted by the glass of water symbolically foreshadows their refracted relationship: for (as we would later learn) Lena was having an affair, Kane secretly knew about it, which likely led him to accept the perilous mission into The Shimmer; which in turn led Lena into The Shimmer (to discover what had happened to him); and which ultimately led to both Kane and Lena being reunited in the end, the script insinuating that they are no longer themselves—i.e. that the ‘refracted’ Lena and Kane are forming a ‘refracted’ relationship.

Annihilation by Mutation

Strongly related to the refraction of human beings is the concept of mutation, which is a prominent theme of Annihilation and is the mechanism by which Humanity and Nature are under threat of extinction annihilation. Mutation is also a fundamental aspect of ‘Evolution’, the theory popularized via Charles Darwin’s 1859 book On the Origin of Species. Ergo, the seeds of Postmodernism and Nihilism were planted in the 19th century, in that the theory of ‘evolution’ is predicated on the impossibility of anything being immutable; for, according to ‘evolution’, the elements of all biological entities exist in an unending process of combination and recombination – i.e. mutation/transmutation – which therefore precludes the possibility of eternal essences.

Annihilation by Gaian Apocalypse

With regards to the lifecycle of Western civilization, Nihilism is actually the logical conclusion to the secularization process founded by The Theory of Evolution, the culmination of which is to catalyze a re-sacralization process whereby the civilization is devolved back into (techno-)religious, (neo-)primitive societies—i.e. in a repetition of the historical ‘rise and fall’ process of every other civilization as recorded by History. Culturally, this process is reflected in variations of the Gaia theme becoming prominent in works of fiction; most notably, the apocalypse-themed stories that imply or state the notion of ‘mother earth’ rebelling against the escalating abuse of Nature by the human race.
    Of these apocalyptic stories, extinction by virus or by Man-caused ecological disaster have been the most prominent forms by which this ‘wrath of Gaia’ trope has been crystallized in the social consciousness—and in the social conscientiousness, which is generally the obvious intent. Synchronistically, the notion has been promoted via scientific, political, and social media so as to legitimize it and justify the imperative to re-Order society in order to ‘save’ Earth and Humanity – in that order, apparently – from the impending threat of annihilation.

Annihilation via Self-Destruction

Unlike prehistorical ‘Extinction Level Events’ on Earth, such as ice ages and whatever extinct the dinosaurs, the notion of ‘the apocalypse’ has always seemed to be based on that of Mankind receiving its comeuppance, i.e. the theological/cosmic ‘retribution’ due essentially to collective destructiveness and inhumanity. Thus, the typical ‘logic’ or ‘philosophy’ of apocalyptic narratives (both fictional and social) is that the destructiveness of Man brings about his actual self-destruction.
    This theme of self-destruction is central to the (beautiful nevertheless) apocalyptic vision that distinguishes Annihilation, explicitly stated via the character dialogue after having first been set up by the following two exchanges:

Lena: Why’s our team all women?
Thorensen: Affirmative action. It’s an important part of the struggle that women get equal opportunity to go on suicide missions.

Sheppard: But I guess there had to be something. [in Lena’s life]
Lena: What do you mean?
Sheppard: Signing up for something like this – it’s not something you do if your life is in perfect harmony. We’re all damaged goods here. [proceeds to recount the specific life problem of each member that explains her acceptance of a “suicide mission”]

Having established that each member of the all-female group is “damaged goods” who volunteered for a “suicide mission”, the following exchange frames their common disposition as that of “self-destruction”:

Lena: Why did my husband volunteer for a suicide mission?
Dr Ventress: Is that what you think we’re doing? Committing suicide?
Lena: You must have profiled him. You must have assessed him. He must have said something.
Dr Ventress: So you’re asking me as a psychologist?
Lena: Yeah.
Dr Ventress: Then, as a psychologist, I think you’re confusing suicide with self-destruction. Almost none of us commit suicide, and almost all of us self-destruct. In some way, in some part of our lives. We drink, or we smoke, we destabilize the good job… and a happy marriage. But these aren’t decisions, they’re… they’re impulses. In fact, you’re probably better equipped to explain this than I am.
Lena: What does that mean?
Dr Ventress: You’re a biologist. Isn’t the self-destruction coded into us? Programmed into each cell?

Metamorphosis by ‘Annihilation’

While human self-destructiveness ordinarily denotes an unequivocally bad state of affairs, Annihilation ultimately suggests to the contrary after first establishing the theme by (the above quoted) psychological explanation of Dr Ventress. Distinctly diverging from most apocalypse stories, Annihilation uses visual beauty and enigmatic narrative to present a philosophical and subtly optimistic variation on the typically disaster-focused theme; indeed, it does not at all feel like one is watching an apocalyptic story, despite that it clearly is one.
    Deriving its philosophy from the scientific realm of biology, Annihilation recontextualizes the ‘human propensity for self-destruction’ as a necessary element in the evolutionary process, intimating that self-‘destruction’ is actually evolutionary transmutation—and thus spinning the typical bleakness of this trope towards a more encouraging suggestion of potential apotheosis. In other words, then, Annihilation cryptically suggests that the propensity for ‘self-destruction’ actually represents the catalysation process of the human species evolving into the next iteration of higher lifeform: hence, it is ‘destruction’ only in the sense of metamorphosis.

Lomax: It came here for a reason. It mutated our environment, it was destroying everything.
Lena: It wasn’t destroying. It was changing everything. It was making something new.
Lomax: Making what?
Lena: …I don’t know.

Hence, both in fictional and in technical/political forms of media, the theme of transforming society and humanity typically accompanies that of Man-caused apocalypse and indeed, often serves as its bottom line. This conjunction of apocalypse-threat with re-Order imperative is chiefly represented by the prominence of utopian/dystopian themes throughout the realm of fiction—be it novels, films, television series or video games.

‘Annihilation’/28 Days Later

Long before directing Annihilation (2018), Alex Garland wrote the script for 28 Days Later (2002), a film that instantly became the landmark viral post-apocalypse film for the post-millennium. Essentially, this grim vision of civilization decimated depicts the aftermath of an ‘annihilated’ society by way of the base struggles of its remnants, as they try to survive and form a new kind of society. Thus both Garland films posit that an ‘annihilation’ of contemporary civilization perforce involves the “changing [of] everything into… something new”, as Lena put it. However, as a counterpoint to 28 Days Later, Annihilation presents the polar opposite perspective on the destructiveness of apocalypse: from annihilation-as-desolation to annihilation-as-creation.

The Lighthouse

The alien presence in Annihilation arrives on earth by a meteorite crash-landing into a lighthouse, the symbolism of which is significant. Light symbolises illumination, in the sense of knowledge and wisdom: enlightenment. A lighthouse can thus represent a beacon of knowledge by which to cultivate wise thought and action. Upon crash-landing into the lighthouse, the alien presence begins to mutate the surrounding environment, this exponentially expanding phenomenon being named The Shimmer. In the context of Annihilation, this symbolic meaning of the lighthouse relates primarily to Humanity and Civilization and only secondarily to particular individuals*, in that the apocalyptic implications of The Shimmer are stated from the outset and serve as the catalyst of the plot.

*As opposed to in, for example, The Lighthouse (2019), in which the symbolic meaning of the lighthouse is related primarily to the main characters, and only by implication to the present state of Western civilization.

Thus, the arrival of the alien presence represents the arrival of Postmodernism at the very site of modern enlightenment: the lighthouse of Western civilization—which it immediately proceeds to ‘deconstruct’. The salient effect of this hence represents the advent of Nihilism: the socio-cultural prism that refracts the enlightenment and civilization endowed by Modernism—as it rapidly spreads its transformative influence throughout every aspect of civilized life: the social, the cultural, the ecological, and the psychological. The effect of this refraction is the conversion of the original ray of light into a rainbow of colours: the refraction of Western civilization, including its expansive spread across the globe—diversification that implies (no less demonstrates) divisiveness: the increasing fragmentation all that was once (relatively) solid, and the expansive intermingling of all that was once separate and distinct.

Concluding Thoughts – The Significance of Annihilation

In almost all apocalyptic fiction, the story depicted does not conclude with the literal annihilation of Mankind (or ‘Mother Earth’ a.k.a. Gaia, for that matter); rather, the denouement posits the rebuilding of the decimated civilization into what now necessarily must be “something new”. Annihilation not only conforms to this convention but emphasizes this feature by making destruction-as-creation the central theme of the film. Moreover, it almost exalts this theme not just by telling exchanges in the dialogue, but by the lushness of the mutated environment within The Shimmer; as well as the enchanting theme in the film score, which affects a mysteriousness that resolves into a utopian sense of expectancy.
    This optimistic tone was also symbolized near the end of the film, where Lena enters the lighthouse to discover a tunnel leading to a chamber, in which she finds Dr. Ventress waiting there in a confused state (as that of Kane when he returned home inexplicably). Once Ventress states that she “had to know what this alien presence was, something begins to destabilize her physiology at which point she begins to describe the experience to Lena—the revelation that Ventress was desperately seeking:

“It’s not like us… 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.”

In transcript, Ventress’ last words seem apocalyptically dire. But the expression of these words, in the form of the scene in the film, conveys a mystifying sense of revelation that echoes the familiar genre trope: aliens arrive on Earth to help Mankind achieve its next iteration in the progression of Evolution (e.g. in a spirit similar to that of the 1997 movie Contact). Hence this ‘death scene’ is one of the most beautiful one is likely to see, both visually and aurally; while the reactions of the two characters notably lack a sense of horror, which is replaced by the impression that both ‘annihilated’ and witness are being overcome by a profound feeling of alien revelation. We also see Lena ‘infected’ by the alien presence, which is later implied to have transformed her – as Kane – into something ‘not Lena’.
    Finally, at the end of the film, Lena reports to the interviewer that “It wasn’t destroying. It was changing everything. It was making something new.”—a statement that epitomizes the ethos that underlies Annihilation’s version of ‘apocalypse’. Following this, Lena is reunited with Kane, who now claims that he is no longer Kane and doubts that Lena is still ‘Lena’—a possibility that Lena does not refute, apparently because she cannot affirm to the contrary. Thus, while feinting an ambiguous ending, the allegorical subtext of Annihilation concludes with an Adam-and-Eve re-Genesis myth to symbolize a New Age for Mankind, which involves the ‘annihilation’ of the Old Age and an ‘evolutionary jump’ for the human species; the next ‘great leap forward’: the Posthuman*.

*A title fittingly resonant with the word ‘posthumous’, which means ‘occurring, awarded, or appearing after the death of the originator.’—hence “self-destruction”; “annihilation”.

As with apocalyptic narratives in general, fictional or ‘factual’, Annihilation ultimately alludes to an eternally recurring process well known to historians: civilizational life-cycle. In other words, civilizations that ‘rise’ must inevitably ‘fall’ at some point, the process of which is nothing less than the disintegration of that civilization—an age in which nihilism necessarily reigns supreme. But while the civilization disintegrates, the society from which it had arisen becomes occupied with transforming its structure and ways of life into “something new”. More accurately, the civilization transforms itself into something it considers to be “new”, by way of apparent innovations (technological ones above all) that mask the historically repeating effects of Innovation. For, in essence, this transformation is a de-civilizing and neo-primitiveizing process that involves a time period of centuries, let alone generations. Meanwhile, all the other societies to which the civilization had spread (thereby having created a state of ‘world affairs’, followed by a ‘globalized world’) begin a similar process of de-pseudo-civilizing and re-primitivizing of their indigenous societies.
    Uniquely, however, Annihilation beautifies and mystifies the apocalypse theme, portraying (self-)destruction almost exclusively as (re-)creation—both of the human species and of their ecological world. In this sense, Annihilation can be thought of as an ode to Posthumanism and (what I would call) post-econaturalism, wherein the ‘new’ Lena and Kane represent the posthuman Adam and Eve of the post-econatural world; or perhaps more essentially, it subtly suggests and seductively promotes a new human era based upon bio- and geo-engineering.
    Considering Annihilation from the context of present day society and world affairs (i.e. 2022, which is four years after its release) reveals another dimension to the significance of this philosophical sci-fi film; namely, a subliminal prescience with regards to the ‘unprecedented’ global pandemic of late 2019-present. For in over two years of contending with this pandemic, the following themes have made themselves familiar to all peoples around the world:

  • Endless Mutation: of the virus strains.
  • Widespread Uncertainty: in no longer being able to really ‘know’ anything, i.e. concerning (previously) routine matters as well as newly developed exigencies.
  • Bioengineering: in the form of biomedical vaccines; and a general rise in emphasis of biotechnological solutions to current social health problems.
  • Self-Destruction: in the form of excessive countermeasures by authorities, widely considered to be ‘suicidal’ in terms of economic, psychological, and even epidemical effects; accompanied by the superimposition of the climate change narrative to the top of the social agenda, i.e. in which mankind is indicted as the destroyer of the world and must hence quickly reform (before mankind self-destructs).
  • The ‘Great Reset’ (in response to the pandemic): meaning a total overhaul of pre-pandemic society, i.e. affecting all aspects of life at the levels of the individual, the collective, and the international community.

Since these themes of the pandemic narrative were present within the film narrative (albeit some more saliently than others), the ‘viral apocalypse’ aspect of Annihilation can be considered a secondary dimension of significance in terms its timely cultural prescience.

In closing, I sum up my interpretation of the most significant meaning embedded into to Annihilation: that humanity is living through an age of nihilism that precipitates the destruction of the ‘old world’ in order to make way for the construction of a ‘new world’—hence the escalation of apparent chaos. And, like Kane having been infected and permanently altered by The Shimmer, people during this time will simply say “I don’t feel very well.”

Author: Simon Kanzen

I value reading substantial literature, enjoy thought-provoking entertainment, and above all, I think every day. With Stepping Stones, I develop my thoughts in writing and share references to relevant media, intending for other readers and thinkers to find these writings useful.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: