Annihilation — The Art of Self-Destruction

Hi, I’m Michael. This is Lessons from the Screenplay. Every genre brings with it a set of expectations that shapes the kind of stories it can tell
and the themes it can explore. And as Alex Garland, writer/director of Annihilation
says, science fiction is perhaps the best genre
to openly explore fundamental ideas of existence: “When I first started, I always felt like
I had to smuggle ideas into the stories. And, I realized increasingly that in science
fiction you have permission for big ideas. You didn’t have to feel embarrassed about
the idea, in fact it’s almost encouraged.” So today, I’d like to investigate how Annihilation
takes biological, existential concepts and translates them into narrative elements… …to explore how these are expressed in every
element of the story, from the characters, to the environment, to the monsters that inhabit it… …and to examine how subverting one of the
fundamental elements of character creates an experience that is truly alien. Let’s take a look at Annihilation. On the surface, Annihilation is about a group of scientists
trying to understand a strange phenomenon. They venture beyond an otherworldly border
called the “Shimmer,” into which teams of researchers have been
sent before, only to never be heard from again. But this premise serves to explore the deeper
ideas of duplication, self-destruction, and mutation, which are directly introduced at the beginning
of the film through a brief lesson in biology. “This is a cell. Like all cells, it is born from an existing
cell.” We’re shown how a cell creates new life
via duplication. But this cell isn’t a normal cell. “The cell we’re looking at is from
a tumor.” This is a cancer cell—a product of our own
bodies that may eventually kill us. Self-destruction. And as Lena says later in the script, during
a flashback to this moment: “We can describe cancer as a mutation that
causes unregulated cell growth. It changes us.” Mutation. These concepts are inspired by the fundamental
elements of life itself, so how do you explore them in a narrative? In Annihilation, the design of the characters is used to express
the theme of self-destruction. Every character in Annihilation is dealing
with self-destruction. “We’re all damaged goods here. Anya is sober, therefore an addict. Josie wears long sleeves because she doesn’t
want you to see the scars on her forearms. I also lost someone. A daughter. Leukaemia.” Ventress, who leads the expedition, is using
the mission as a kind of suicide. “Ventress had cancer, she was never coming
back.” And Lena, the protagonist, volunteers as a way to try to atone for her
self-destructive actions. Over the course of the film, we learn that
Lena had an affair, which is part of what drove her husband to
enter the Shimmer in an earlier expedition, eventually leading to his own self-destruction. Each character represents a variation on theme
of self-destruction. Demonstrating theme through character design
is a technique found in all genres, but science fiction is particularly good at expressing abstract ideas through the story
world. In Annihilation, the story world is used to
express mutation. The setting of a story can be a powerful way
to express ideas and reflect the hero’s journey. In Annihilation, the story is set inside the
Shimmer, a place of constant mutation. “More mutations.” “They’re everywhere.” “Malignant. Like tumors.” This is one of the advantages of science fiction— the writer can imagine a story world that
embodies an idea. What if the DNA of all life in an area was
being mutated? What kind of environment would that create? What kind of animals might one encounter? Embracing the science fiction genre allows the concept of mutation to become literal
in a row of beautiful flowers… …or a terrifying monster. “Sheppard!” In one of the most memorable scenes of the
film, mutation is used to create a new twist on
a classic horror scene. Thorensen is losing her grip on reality and has tied her fellow team members to chairs, when she suddenly hears the voice of Sheppard— who was killed by a bear earlier in the film. “Help me!” “Help me!” “Cass?” But… “It’s not Sheppard. It’s the bear-like creature that killed
her. Mutated jaw. Hairless, strangely pigmented skin. Lesions. Then the Bear opens its jaws, and a human-like
noise emerges.” (distorted human noises—“help me!”) But the Shimmer does more than simply mutate
the DNA of the life forms within it. It also makes copies of things, like a cell. Lena sees a strange copy of a deer in the
forest. The house the team stays in is a copy of Lena’s
own home. And the Kane that leaves the Shimmer and returns
to Lena is actually a copy of the real Kane who committed
suicide. But the most dramatic example is found in
the climactic scene of the film, which is designed around the concept of duplication. While genre can allow for creative freedoms, one of the challenges of working within genre
conventions is that you can find yourself in very familiar
territory. In the finale of Annihilation, when Lena finally
confronts the alien, Alex Garland had to find a way to provide
a unique spin on a well-worn sci-fi situation. “When we deal with aliens we often make
them like us in some way. Maybe they want to eat us, or maybe they want
our water, our resources. But these are all sort of human concerns. We are motivated by things, and we have agendas, and an alien might not have an agenda or might not be motivated. And so it was it was an attempt to create
an alien alien.” In Annihilation, the alien is unknowable. This is achieved by subverting the fundamental
element that drives every character in a story: desire. “It’s not like us. It’s unlike us. I don’t know what it wants. Or if it wants.” The alien lacks any definitive motivation, and this absence makes it entirely unpredictable. The physical form of the alien is also completely
unrelatable. As Ventress deteriorates, new forms begin
to emerge… “Then finally, the unfolding coalesces into
a new shape. Entirely non-human. At this moment we are seeing the Alien. Its actual form. A Mandelbulb creature from the world of visualised
mathematics. Infinitely complex, inexplicable in its movement.” Then, it becomes something more familiar. “It expands. Transforms. And resolves – – into a humanoid figure. Sexless. Featureless. Having the arms, legs, head and torso of a
human – man or woman. But nothing else.” A kind of duplication of Lena’s form. And this idea of a mirrored duplication is
expressed not just in the form it takes, but in the design of how the entire climactic
scene plays out. “Lena scrambles across the room – – towards the door to the lighthouse. But she doesn’t make it. The Humanoid simply appears in front of her,
before she reaches the door. It is unclear how it got there. A frozen beat. Then Lena strikes the Humanoid with all her
strength. And a moment later, in a mirror of her actions
– – the Humanoid strikes her back – but
with incredible power. The Humanoid is mimicking her. She is fighting herself.” In the final moments of the encounter, the humanoid shape mutates to become a literal
duplicate of Lena, and in the end, she is only able to escape by tricking it into doing what all the humans
in this story are best at: Self-destruction. Annihilation is a great example of how a film
can serve as an exploration of an idea. It embraces its science fiction genre, taking the fundamental process of how life
spreads and evolves, and expressing it in the setting of the story and the forces of antagonism that inhabit it… It unites all of this under the thematic umbrella of humans’ tendency toward self-destruction to create a powerful and intriguing cinematic
experience… And demonstrates how something new can be
created following annihilation. When Alex Garland adapted Annihilation from
the book, he used a unique approach. Rather than try to adapt the plot beat-by-beat, he decided to adapt it based on his memory
of the book. I think it made for a very interesting film, but if you’re curious to check out the original
text, you can download the audiobook of Annihilation
today for free with Audible. Audible has the largest selection of audiobooks
on the planet, and every month Audible members get one credit
good for any audiobook they choose, plus two Audible Originals from a changing
selection you can’t get anywhere else. So go to or text “lfts”
to 500 500 to start a thirty-day trial and get your first audiobook for free. Once again, that’s or text
“lfts” to 500 500. Thanks to Audible for sponsoring this video. Hey guys! I am up here at my parents’ house for the holidays, but I wanted to say thank you, as always to my patrons on Patreon and supporters here on YouTube for making this channel possible. I hope you had a very happy holidays, and have a wonderful new year. Thanks for watching, and I’ll see you next time.

100 Replies to “Annihilation — The Art of Self-Destruction”

  1. Lessons from the Screenplay says:

    What is your favorite science fiction film of all-time?

  2. HandGrenades13 says:

    Thank you for sharing this


    Good god the first time I saw that bear scene I was shaken. It really put me in a sense of the uncanny valley. Twisting the human voice and form has always been unnerving or unsettling to me so that scene sent chills down my spine and really put the talent of the director in perspective for me.

  4. Vinsu Karma says:

    Im going to get an A++ at school with your fantastic job :-D.

  5. Sam Afshinpour says:

    Can you do Nocturnal Animals? Great work! Thanks.

  6. Kalki23 says:

    need 2 escape this fukashima media blockout. dont want to be no mutant

  7. kmanc says:

    this was one of the most idiotic films I've seen lol. It took itself so fucking seriously as well.

  8. Alex Cayer says:

    Do you think the slow shot of the water with little creatures in is an hommage to the legendary Stalker dream sequence by Tarkovsky ?

  9. thzzzt says:

    I love movies that explore the truly alien. If you think about it, movies like Star Wars are just Cowboys and Indians in space, really. Another movie that delves into the truly alien is "Under The Skin", which is even more inexplicable and open to multiple interpretations.

  10. Lyonheart501st says:

    the sound design is insane in this movie

  11. Antoine Morin-Prévost says:

    Great analysis ! The scene at the end when Lena meets the "Alien" (following Ventress's desintegration) is one of the most awesome science-fiction moment I have ever seen. The music, along with the strange, moving and fractal like liquid shape that is the Alien really resulted in a true unsettling and odly jaw-dropping scene.

  12. Antoine Morin-Prévost says:

    Oh and if you liked the shimmer visual effect you can check out artist Robert Venosa, very similar artisic style, to the point where I think the film's art director must have took him as a direct source of inspiration.

  13. S H says:

    love love love love love LOVE this movie

  14. AugustD. says:

    Characters where annoying and stupid but the movie was great

  15. maria says:

    i knew the monster bear was coming up BUT STILL I WASNT PREPARED

  16. Thorpal says:

    Some shots seem a bit derivated from Andrei Tarkovski's movies : Stalker and Solaris. And not only visually : some general and specific ideas too. And introducing the Alien life form as not a "human like thing" as revolutionnary, well… Seriously ??? I'm pretty sure it hasn't been already done, like 50 years before Annihilation. In a story of apes, monolyth, read eye IA and stellar baby, that took place around "Jupiter and beyond the universe" ? But I guess that's the inherent risk in all SF movies. Haven't seen Annihilation yet but I will consider. But from what I have heard and red elsewhere there's something more of a Netflix related hype than "quality" SF movie to expect. Great video by the way.

  17. José B. Junior says:

    Annihilation is one of the few films that understood the meaning of cosmic horror, we should have more movies with this subgenre of fiction.

  18. _Dot Connector says:

    1:34 "The deeper ideas of Duplication, Sefl-destruction and mutation…"
    Not really, the main concept is MAN"S SENSE OF SELF-IMPORTANCE and its encounter with another sentient life…
    The lower category would be the CAPABILITIES of the newfound sentient life to shape shift (duplicate/mutate) itself according to other intelligent life it has contacted and the response of the replicated life (self-destruction in some cases and survival on one case).
    Alien and Predator, among other movies, touch on the same subject.

    I will use Carlos Castaneda's words in regards to the main subject:
    "Man's ultimate opponent is NOT HIS FELLOW MAN ("our struggle is not flesh & blood" Ephesians 6:12) , but his own Attachments and WEAKNESSES, and his grand challenge is to compress the layers of his energy until they won't expand when his life ceases, so that his AWARENESS does not die."
    Book Encounters with the Supernatural (nagual) by Armando Torres

  19. Darth Akam says:

    this movie is so unrealistic like who cheats on oscar isaac lol

  20. Lynn Xie says:

    Amazing analysis!

  21. Stephan Zvodinky says:

    the ending segment song?

  22. Shapeless says:

    So you basically commented the scenes with a smart voice, literally describing what's happening on screen and stating obvious stuff,, and then pretend like you made a revelation to viewers. I still don't get it. It is a good intriguing film, but I don't understand why people call it so genius.

  23. Peter Smith says:

    I find these types of reviews an interesting study of the human condition. The movie metaphors are painfully obvious and there are several thematic issues, yet the movie is highly praised. I think this is a form of psudointellectualism resulting from a dumbing down of people who want to believe themselves to be smarter than they really are. I felt the same from Get Out. A film with lots of problems which were entirely ignored to a more lauded view; acting as if obvious metaphors were more cryptic and meaningful.

  24. Jonathan R. Smyth says:

    Annihilation sucked, no passive quasi academic analysis changes that.

  25. Kyle Frank says:

    2:36 Okay, I see what he's saying here, but as someone who has not seen this film in its entirety, isn't this pretty forced dialogue? Just having someone sit down with another character and rattle off what's wrong with all our protagonists?

  26. _ doomkr6ft says:

    Such a gorgeous movie!

  27. 22damian93 says:

    I like the film…but man this video is better than the movie itself! Very good stuff man. Subbed and thank you for the great work.

  28. Kelly Fillinger says:

    Great video! And one of my favorite recent movies.

  29. missjo5ie says:

    I didn’t see the movie just read the book, which was unnerving in itself, but seeing this video makes me really wanna see the movie!!

  30. elias rayz says:

    So interesting

  31. The.Salty.Sarlacc says:

    This movie is for true intellectuals only. Must have an IQ over 9000 to appreciate

  32. Black Mass says:

    This movie makes my head hurt.

  33. Tom Hahnl says:

    For me it felt very much like 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers', I liked it.

  34. Norberto Loza says:

    The key to Annihilation's meaning is HeLa cells.

  35. Katrina Marice Guia Maghirang says:

    Tarkovsky rip off

  36. Combat Wombat says:

    The bear in this was the absolute highlight for me. One of the best monsters in film and it went more or less under the radar. One of the most unnerving creatures on screen and it wasn't even the main aspect of the movie. It was in the film for, what, five minutes? And it stole the whole movie for me. It genuinely made me feel distinctly uncomfortable.
    Especially looking at it's design more closely. The skull of Shepard on the left of it's face, sharing the eye socket of the skull with it's own skull. The single, human eye, scanning around in fear. Her jaw bone inside the set of teeth the bear has.
    I particularly like that the designers stated the creature is itself terrified, aggressive and lashing out. With the fear left over from Cass, whatever was left of her consciousness in the bear, it really presents the creature as a phenomenally terrifying entity.

  37. sampea CAML says:

    This movie looks very much like some sort of Junji Ito work.

  38. Not Important says:

    it was a decent movie, but some of the flaws were so glaring they took me out of the movie and really, kind of ruined it for me…. i don't like when stupidity is used as a plot device

  39. See It 2wice says:

    The entire movie is outstanding, but the scene with the bear is one of the most frightening and disturbing scenes in sci-fi movie history.

  40. DeathbyPixels says:

    I haven’t even seen the movie and I ****ing hate that bear

  41. Jon Snow says:

    The Revenant: We have the scariest bear attack every filmed.
    Annihilation: Hold my bear.

  42. Tonatiuh Ayala says:

    I love that movie, is so complex in its forms

  43. swirlcrop says:

    This is such a good film.

  44. Vonder Gong says:

    Hey, Great videos keep it up!

  45. Relbl says:

    Just curious, but was there any particular reason they were all women? IE was it a plot device or just because why not or something else?

  46. Random Roadchhap Reviews says:

    make this movie cult classic guys so they make trilogy. the book is also a trilogy

  47. spychecker says:

    was surprised that this movie had nothing to do with lovecraft's "the color out of space" considering they have somewhat similar concepts. (alien entity falls to earth and begins to change and corrupt the land around it and leaves at the end)

  48. Laura Robjohns says:

    The bear was supremely disturbing but the most unnerving part for me was the video of one of the men's organs twisting and moving.

  49. Erich Von Molder says:

    I thought the movie sucked and still do.

  50. Steve Hoffman says:

    Great movie, good insight, many thanks.

  51. John Watson says:

    It subverted my expectation that I would stay awake in the theater.

  52. MaverickBull says:

    Nice video but the narrator's voice is too robotic and lacks personality.

  53. guitarman0365 says:

    this movie feels like the closest attempt at capturing lovecraftian horror. Just the design of the light orb, and mimmic scene just really gives me a feeling of otherwordly horror that you cannot even imagine. She does a good job of looking into while not showing any particular emotion other than she cannot even imagine what she is seeing. To feel like you are trully insignificant as part of the universe. Great movie. that score also greatly helps the ending as well.

  54. Liam Jacques says:

    The multiple scenes with the bear are the most viscerally disturbing yet most alluring scenes in recent sci-fi media. Compelling and convincing human screams from the mouth of a hideously mutated bear left me unable to look away and simultaneously shook me to my core. Annihilation in and of itself was a visual and narrative masterpiece from start to end.

  55. Ben Quinney says:

    Willy Pete

  56. Maxim Motyshen says:

    I really dig this movie

  57. Robert Shields Jr. says:

    This has got to be one of the finest pieces of artwork that I have seen in a very long time.

  58. K M says:

    This movie showed that destruction doesn't have to be intentional, Ill motivated and cruel. It can be innocent, beautiful and gentle but consuming. Sad, terrifying and alien.

  59. Home Kitchen says:

    Sexless. Featureless. Having the arms, legs, head, and torso of a human – man or woman. But nothing else.

    So… a liberal.

  60. Anthony P. Ramirez ll says:

    One of my favorite films.XX

  61. C Levy says:

    One of the best book(s) to movie adaptations ever. Completely different. But I think that's a good thing. Love the sound in this movie. A lot of people didn't like Natalie Portmans acting. I loved it, she portrayed the character of the book perfectly.

  62. Jessica Ireland says:

    You should do some older movies. I keep having to skip your videos because I haven't seen the movies you're analyzing yet and I don't want to spoil them. Although, I do sometimes watch a movie just because you analyzed it, but still.

  63. Cheezeblade says:

    How did i forget that the main parasite is an rainbow magic energy balloon that speaks dubstep

  64. Tasteless Vanilla says:

    Interesting concept & great visuals, boring bland characters.

  65. Israel Ramthianghlima says:


  66. Stephen Atwood says:

    I love the Southern Reach Trilogy in which Annihilation is based on the first book. It's refreshingly short for a trilogy but it holds so many fascinating yet very difficult to grasp concepts but still impossible to put down.

  67. Brian Pan says:

    Lena referenced that the alien didn't want anything. Strip away desire, love, hate, morality, spirituality. Isn't life "something" that just keeps perpetuating itself? Is it a creative presence that directs? Malevolent? Or just infinite mitosis? I thought the movie was pointing at infinite, non-directed mitosis.

  68. Nefarion says:

    This entire movie is a commercial for hazmat suits

  69. S. Smith says:

    the movie was so cliche it was boring.

  70. Tom Norton says:

    Cool, Padme teams up with Ventress. 

    I'm kind of sad that Natalie Portman listened to the crap that the Star Wars Prequel haters spewed and grew ashamed of her role in those movies. She did a good job as Padme. Hell, the Prequel haters may be to blame for her siding with the feminazis because back in the day, she was proud that being a woman made her different from men.

  71. nym5qu17 says:

    this movie was fucking phenominal

  72. Michael Johnson says:

    I thought the subtext was about psychoanalysis

  73. Lytra says:

    My sister was watching this film the other day actually. All she said was “it has the most anti climatic ending”

    Ngl I just clicked on this vid bc I like this style of video rather than what it was about.

    Might check out the film for some context

  74. ecce lux says:

    So, every movie analysis now uses the word "subvert" as a primary driver.
    Fuck, not only are movies dead, so are analyses.

  75. Baby Tanya says:

    i guess the moral of this movie is that i need to find a dark hole to crawl in and die. aw! Xs are the bestest!………… note to all you future male victims out there if you wanna get out of a relationship get the girl to dump you or you will be paying for it for the rest of your life.

  76. elnubnub says:

    We have 38 trillion of cells in our body….one of them might start to act differently than usual, like all mecanical object, it happens, but a bad cell will reproduce into a twin and then the chain reaction starts, life is pretty amazing and stable, I meant when you think about it, the occurence is pretty rare

  77. pretorious700 says:

    Great effects, really stupid and aimless script.

  78. elnubnub says:

    The Problem with science fiction is the people who creates those aliens rarely thinks of evolution,,,,, an alien who can shape itself is not complex and not well thought, first, no one think of the ''cube law'' or why would a create would evolve like this, it would make no sense since the creature has no motivation has you said, how can it be complex yet evolve without motivation, it makes no sense, the only way this could happen, complex and unmotivated would be if the creature was a plant…. to me,…. Star Trek TNG is the only show that understands aliens, Watch episode 20 of season 6, The chase , I know star trek is a little shitty on the side but the …. i got tired of typing, no one will read this anyway

  79. DeRien8 says:

    Also, this film is a sneaky StarWars A.U.

  80. Kaito Amatou says:

    I really want someone to talk about the strange conceptual similarities between this movie and Tarkovsky’s “Stalker”, because I felt shadows of that film all through this one. The shimmer is The Zone, the lighthouse the room, the Shimmers strange ability to draw the self destructive is the Zone’s strange ability to only allow the passage of the hopeless. It’s something I feel worth an in-depth analysis

  81. Broc Dobervich says:

    So, did the copy of Lena escape the lighthouse or did the original Lena? The ending was so ambiguous.

  82. DPLawlorFilms says:

    I rewatched Stalker last night. It definitely has some interesting parallels to this films source material. Visually speaking I thought that Annihilation brought a lot to the table, but narratively it was lacking a great deal. Its interesting you say the director wrote the screenplay based off his memory of the story because he excluded some of the most powerful elements of the story, such as the increasing worries of deception and the unfolding of lies of the characters. Made for very dynamic moments while danger always seems to be around every corner…who can she trust, are the people more dangerous than the loud sounds she hears at night?

  83. Paper Plains says:

    I had reserves going in to watch this movie, because I'm not huge on scifi, but I was not disappointed! Great story, great cast, great visuals.

  84. bahemutking12 says:

    This movie was Garbage…poorly written,poorly acted..not to mention they ripped off S.t.a.l.k.e.r…lol

  85. Alan Carrasco Meza says:

    “The art of self-destruction” isn’t the best title /:

  86. Mattycakes says:

    I really like the design of the alien's initial form. Very cool description also. I never saw this in theaters when it came out and I seriously regret it.

  87. Angelika Krawczyk says:

    A film you only watch once.

  88. Austin Baker says:

    The shimmer is what I imagine the thinny looks like in the dark tower series

  89. one eyed man says:

    The only problem with this movie is the ending.

  90. jneiberger says:

    I really hated this movie. The book was pretty frustrating to slog through and the movie was worse. It could have been good, but I feel like nearly every role was miscast. I wouldn't mind seeing it remade in a few years.

  91. TravelClast says:

    I watch lit everything you produce, and across the board, its all fantastic, but this … this one is special … I saw this movie, and I consider myself an advanced filmgoer, studied film theory in uni, all that good stuff, but I really really didnt get this one, didnt care for it … I watch this and Im blown away … bravo Sir for shedding light in my darkness.

  92. Lordi Awa says:

    The movie didn't work for me. I regretted buying it, actually.

  93. Teatro Grottesco says:

    The movie was good. I just feel it should have been credited as inspired by Jeff Van Dermeers' Annihilation and let there be a true adaption.

  94. Randy White says:

    Top ten movie this Decade

  95. Bulmer says:

    Lessons from the Screenplay, please can you suggest some films for me to watch if I enjoyed Annihilation? I'm feeling a bit stuck and would honestly appreciate your (or other users within your comments) input here. I just want some things to sink my teeth into and 'discover'. Thanks in advance.

  96. Varinder Gill says:

    Wow! I read the book and watched the movie but your video was so much more understandable!

  97. Sidd Sen says:

    The digital artists responsible for realizing the unknowable beauty of the shimmer should be proud of themselves. Definitely one of the most imaginative works coming out of science fiction in recent years.

  98. Voodoe says:

    The "Small Beans" podcast covered this. I really loved their take as they are film buffs and writers themselves and are deeply passionate.
    They basically say that the shimmer is a prism for trauma, and Annihilation in itself draws in the question of if we are doomed to be flawed at our most base components. Annihilation in scientific terminology, means to convert matter to energy, and nothing in this film suggests complete and utter destruction, but almost like conversion … everything is melding into itself and being shaped by everything around it. It's a really fantastic metaphor for trauma. Great take, awesome movie. If you want a waaaaay more in depth and mind-opening explanation and interpretation, I'd suggest checking out "Small Beans". They really deserve love, they do amazing work.

  99. Tlot Pwist says:

    Hope Garland doesn't become the new Proyas (promising sf director gone bleh)

  100. crack head says:

    The bear scene is the first scene in a movie to actually scare me since watching horror movies as a child.

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