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‘Annihilation’ director Alex Garland will never dumb down

He doesn’t want praise for its prominently female cast, too
Natalie Portman in Annihilation
[Image: Paramount Pictures]

Annihilation is a defiantly original film.

It's not just that it has stunning visuals, a peculiar atmosphere, and it bravely deviates from Jeff VanderMeer’s source material, but it is proudly complex and has been widely praised for its prominently female cast, too.

Writer and director Alex Garland does not want to be recognized for casting Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, and Tessa Thompson as the scientists that enter an environmental disaster zone in search of the cure for a dying Oscar Isaac, only to be confronted by a series of psychological, monstrous, and indefinable obstacles once there.

Garland recently admitted as much over the phone to me, during which time he also discussed the unusual originality of “Annihilation,” its influences and revealed why he will never ever dumb down his movies.


How did you first come across Jeff VanderMeer’s novel?
“I was in post-production on ‘Ex Machina,’ and one of the producers, Scott Rudin, said he wanted me to take a look at adapting it. After I read it there were two things that I really noticed immediately. It was very, very original, and that in itself was unusual. Because most books and movies are usually in some way a repetition of other stories. It was unusual to find a one-off, and something that is only like itself. But what ultimately drew me in though was its unusual and powerful atmosphere, which had an immediate and lasting impression on me.”

Talk about adapting the novel, what did you want to bring to the big-screen from it?
“The fundamentals of the book are in the film. It is team of female scientists entering a sealed off area, and a trippy, dreamlike, and hallucinogenic environment. It’s got some structural differences. The book substantially takes place with the characters having made the journey. This is the journey. I knew that I needed to be true to the atmosphere. I wanted to try to recreate the feeling I had when I first read it. But you want to be respectful, because Jeff had done something so unusual and interesting.”

What was the appeal of its prominently female cast?
“The thing that I thought was most interesting was the absence of a conversation about the scientists being female. I’m steering clear of it to try and preserve the absence of the conversation. Because that’s where the point resides. It would be undermining the purpose to then start drawing attention to it.”

There’s a lot of science and jargon in “Annihilation,” did you ever consider dumbing it down for a wider audience?
“I am definitely not trying to make this for as big an audience as possible. I never think about that. And the box office for my films demonstrates that I think. I have never had a mainstream hit, and I can’t imagine I will. I had an accidental one years and years ago when I wrote ‘The Beach,’ which was trippy, druggy, slightly crazy and it somehow popped out into the mainstream.”

You can feel aspects of “Alien” and “2001: A Space Odyssey” when watching the film, talk about their influence.
“I think they are present just because I have seen them. And they are films that I really, really like. Are they going to be an influence? Definitely. But one of the films I was most conscious of when making it was an old Walter Hill movie called ‘Southern Comfort’ and ‘Apocalypse Now.’ Because that has a very similar structure. It is really a journey through countryside that is getting progressive more surreal and extreme as you get deeper in.”

“Annihilation” is released on February 23

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