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Crossing over into Area X is a suicide mission. Teams of military men, strong and capable, never returned, and never returned. Everyone, from the leadership of the Southern Reach to the four woman team, knows what happens in the end. For all the questions this movie asked, none have stuck with me more so than this: why?

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The audience has a presumption of redemption.

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They, from a million billion thousand stories, have been trained to believe that if the whip strikes the flesh and the flesh bleeds, we can make up for the mistakes of the past. But redemption, regardless of what Lena tells herself, is not what she’s after. She, at the start of Annihilation, sees the splitting and growth of cells as not life, but cancer. Two people splitting apart and growing separately, as two lives, is intolerable. Growing apart is easier to live with than taking a knife to the connection.

But Annihilation is not about annihilation. It’s not about being subsumed, or giving in, or being taken apart. It’s about being changed, for better or for worse, and about living with that change. A shimmering, blackened creature, born from your fire and your blood, tries to become you; this thing, created in violence and without consent, tries to take control. Lena could’ve given in, just as her husband did. Faced with the same horrors as her husband, she decided to say no. Not just to the creature, but to herself. It would be easy to sit down and pop the grenade and burn alive. Harder was to go back, changed and alone, and figure it out along the way.

That’s not to say that suicide is a characteristic of the weak; far from it. Anyone who has been on the other side knows the strength it takes to live with, and the strength it takes to live with suicide weighing on your mind. But that darkness makes you think that it’s the better option. It’s hard to turn away from easy money, and that’s what the eternal darkness presents you. It beckons, like the lure of becoming a part of nature beckoned to Jodie. Come be with me, come join me, let me lead you to rest. But there is no safety in the darkness.

Annihilation asks it’s characters to face the fact that they must change to survive. They have to find a way past the pain and rage and guilt, and choose for themselves whether they want to live or not. And sometimes, that darkness wins. The change is too much. The doppelgänger says they’ll take your place and live your pain, as long as you fade away.

As dark of a story and as mean of a story and as wild and operatic and alien as this story is, at it’s core, it’s the simplest story ever told. It’s the fundamental question we ask of each character, and applied outwards, to ourselves: do we really, actually want to be change who we are? That is why Annihilation has stuck with so many people, despite the best efforts of those who want all stories to come watermarked with dollar signs.

Annihilation asks us who we want to be, and whether the change is worth the pain; and in the end, as Lena pulls the pin and walks free, amongst the collapsing crystalline, the answer becomes a resounding yes.

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