The mind behind “Ex Machina” discusses his new film which weaves a story of a curious world inside our own
Based on the acclaimed novel “Annihilation” by Jeff Vandermeer, Director Alex Garland was in charge of bringing to life the story of a female-driven group of researchers and soldiers who embark on a mission to find out what is happening in a quarantined patch of land in the Eastern Coast called “Area X” in the book, and “The Shimmer” in the film.
This phenomenon is causing mutations in anything within its reach, which turns the landscape of the Shimmer and its biological inhabitants into an otherworldly and hallucinatory place.
Leading the cast is Natalie Portman, who plays Lena, a biologist and ex-soldier who is determined not only to find out the root of the Shimmer’s strange environment, but also to find out why her husband, a soldier part of a previous expedition, has become a shell of the man she knew.
Rounding out the cast is Oscar Isaac as Lena’s husband Kane, and the rest of the squad joining Lena on the expedition: Jennifer Jason Leigh as Dr. Ventress, Tessa Thompson as Josie Radek, Gina Rodriguez as Anya Thorensen and Tuva Novotny as Cass Sheppard.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with the Writer-Director of the film, Alex Garland, about what merits the novel had to make him want to adapt it, and what exactly the film entails in its surreal imagery and focus.
Thank you for your time Alex. To start off, what attracted you to the project of adapting the “Annihilation” novel?
It was two things really. It was the book’s incredible imagery, it’s rare that you find anything and it immediately be attractive and interesting, and its strange and unusual atmosphere, and the atmosphere really was powerful while reading it. It stayed with me after I finished it, and the originality and the atmosphere are great.
Once you focused your efforts on adapting the novel, how much did you take from the trilogy as a whole? Or did you just focus on the story contained within the first book?
Just the first book. Actually, at the time I was writing the script books 2 and 3 didn’t exist so it was really just the first book. But also, I’m not actually personally interested in working on franchises. I just want to work on something that is self-contained, a single story and it ends where it ends. That’s not to say I would have a problem with anybody else [adapting], it would be fantastic if other people worked on it. If anybody wanted to work on the franchise it would be cool, but for me, that’s not what I want to do. After two and a half, three years working on a project, I really want to work on something different.
How much of the film is directly translated from the book, or how much comes from original concepts you and your filmmaking team came up with?
It’s really hard to kind of quantify that, like a percentage of it. From the way I see it, everything in the film is inspired by the book, some of it is literally in the book, and some of it is just a version of the book or inspired by the book but I couldn’t really separate out how much of the film belongs to the film and how much belongs to the book. I think in a way it all belongs to the book.
The film deals a lot with mutation and genes and alien-like life, how much research did you do in terms of any real science behind what ended up in the film?
It was a mixture of doing a lot of research and a lot of talking to people, in particular a geneticist. I spoke to one a lot about aspects in this film. But then the other part of the film is really dream-like and hallucinogenic, it’s not really attached to anything rational at all. And so, it kinda varies a bit. It’s a mix of something that is kind of grounded in science and then just purely imagination of the group of people that worked on the movie.
Do you have a specific instance in the film that you personally find as a favorite moment?
Well I think to me the story was always leading up to Natalie’s character arriving at a beach and going into a lighthouse and what happens there, and in some respects that was the most difficult part of the film to do, but it was also in a way my favorite. I really enjoyed making that section.
Thank you for your time Alex. One last question. If you separate the film and novel, what is the core of your film about?
I think what the film is about at its core is something about self-destruction. I think it’s really a film about self-destruction and a look at how self-destruction is kind of difficult. It’s the way our cells self-destruct, the way a star will self-destruct, the way a body will self-destruct. Some of it is also human behavior, it’s psychology. It’s the way people dismantle aspects of their lives, or their sanity or stuff like that. So thematically and ultimately the film is about self-destruction, including the title.
Alex Garland’s film, “Annihilation” is in theaters now.
“the film is really dream-like and hallucinogenic, it’s not really attached to anything rational at all.”