In this episode of Book vs Movie I’ll be talking about Annihilation, written by Jeff Vandermeer, and the big screen counterpart. I won’t be giving too many details because both the book and the movie are incredibly hard to explain. But, you’ll get it if you’ve read the book and/or seen the film.
Jeff Vandermeer is called the “King of Weird Fiction” since his works lie something between speculative fiction, fantasy, and horror. His most famous works are the Southern Reach Trilogy, and Annihilation is the first installment of this trilogy. This trilogy focuses on an expedition to a place called Area X, a place in the United States, where nature has taken over. Scientists are sending people into this area to investigate, but either they don’t come back or if they come back they die of cancer not many weeks later.
Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer
The book is definitely very strange. It evokes a mood reminiscent of gothic literature at times, at others it’s more like a stream of consciousness that leaves you at best dizzy or at worst sleepy. It’s a book that reminded me of the frog in the pot of water, one that doesn’t realize it’s in trouble until it’s actually almost dead and there’s no way out. This book creeps up on you just like that, eventually you realize that there’s no turning back and you just have to keep on reading, even if no clear answers are offered in the end.
“Some questions will ruin you if you are denied the answer long enough”
So the book might not be the most enjoyable but it was definitely thought provoking. We follow four scientists who are never given names besides their specialties: Anthropologist, Surveyor, Psychologist, and Biologist. There’s a theme of the beauty and the power of nature, which rebels agains the humans after enduring the pollution, deforestation, and other abuses that it has endured for so long. The book doesn’t give a reason for Area X really, there’s no explanation of the origin, but there are some clues when the Biologist has flashbacks to her childhood, as she studies a microenvironment that thrives in the midst of the urban city. Also as she goes out of her way to find these small patches of nature in other parts of the city. The vision that the Biologist brings to the world is very important in the book and is the anchor that kept me reading.
Unlike the book, the film starts out by explaining the origin of Area X: a meteor. This immediately takes out the possibility of the changes in Area X being caused by nature reacting to human acts. Additionally, the characters are given names and our Biologist isn’t an expert in the transition of one microenvironment to another, she’s a cell biologist, specialized in cancer. The film focuses on an alien world that’s come and started interacting with ours in ways we can’t quite understand. There film is not only creepy, it’s outright gory, with bodies opened up and things crawling inside them. The film achieves the wonder of this alien world though, the beauty and the power in ways that the book lacked. The film is well paced even if it felt like they forced the expected Hollywood-esque plot as an attempt to make it less psychological and more explicit. There’s a heavy reliance on the Biologist’s, I mean Lena’s, life before the expedition, her life with her husband, even an affair! What does that have to do with Area X?
But honestly? I did enjoy both the book and the movie for different reasons. I loved the psychological thriller part of the book and I loved the visuals of the film. You could say that I loved the depth of the book while the film simply reflected the beautiful cover that made me buy the book. The plots of the book and the film are not very compatible so they can’t be compared. But they do complement each other.
Final verdict: It’s a tie! They even out because a bit more than half of the book was just boring, and only until the end did I get hit with all the complex themes and social commentary that Vandermeer was going for. Then the film was great visually but completely lacked depth of characters and plot that the book provided. The film had beautiful moments (and beautiful deaths!) all the way through which the book lacked.
What do you think? Which version of Annihilation did you like best?
PS. The next Book vs Movie that I’ll review is a movie that comes out at the end of this month, can you guess which one it is?