Thursday, August 16, 2018


Last week, I watched the rather strange SF movie ANNIHILATION. (Spoilers ahead.) An anomalous phenomenon of unknown origin, labeled the Shimmer, has mysteriously appeared in the vicinity of an isolated lighthouse. Natural laws don't seem to work normally within its area of influence, and investigators sent into the zone don't return, with one exception (the protagonist's husband, who doesn't seem to remember anything, doesn't act like himself, and falls into a coma soon after his reappearance). Furthermore, the Shimmer is expanding. The protagonist, a professor of biology, enters the zone with an all-female team of scientists and emerges alone, four months later by outside reckoning but only a couple of weeks in her subjective time. Near the end, she's attacked by an amorphous entity that takes on humanoid form, at one point becoming a double of the heroine herself.

When debriefed after her return, the protagonist speculates that the Shimmer doesn't "want" anything and may not have even been aware of her presence. During her combat with it, maybe it was only mirroring her actions. At the conclusion, when she reunites with her husband, Kane (who has regained consciousness), she asks whether he's really Kane. He replies, "I don't think so." The film leaves open the possibility that she may be a doppelganger, too, rather than her original self.

We never learn whether the Shimmer has an extraterrestrial origin or has emerged from a rupture or portal between our reality and some other dimensional plane—or spontaneously evolved on the spot. And, as mentioned above, we don't find out what its purpose is, if there's any consciousness behind it at all. While it's realistic to leave these questions unanswered, since the characters have no plausible way of discovering the truth (maybe the scientists on the project will eventually be able to get some information out of "Kane"?), I felt unsatisfied, as I usually do with a story that doesn't have a definite resolution. I want to know what or who the alien intelligence (if any) is, where it comes from, and why.

Considering the random mutations of animal and plant DNA within the Shimmer, maybe the life-form at its center (if there is one) has only the "purpose" of evolving and reproducing, with no more conscious motivation than bacteria. It spreads, proliferates, generates copies of itself, and strives to maximize its exploitation of the environment by expanding its area of control. If, as the protagonist believes, it doesn't "want" anything, blind reproduction may be its sole "motive" for invading our world. It may be an example of the adage that a hen is simply an egg's way of making another egg, or as Heinlein puts it, a zygote is a gamete's device for making other gametes. The Shimmer life-form's only chance of evolving into a stable, more advanced phase may be to duplicate the human models with which it comes into contact.

This film raises the perennial science-fictional question of identity. If the doppelganger created by the Shimmer has absorbed the "real" person's memories and obliterated the original, is the doppelganger now "really" the person? One thinks of Dr. McCoy's qualms about the transporter on STAR TREK. If each transporter event essentially disassembles the traveler at the point of origin and reconstructs him or her at the destination, has the "real" person been replaced by a succession of duplicates? In the original film of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, the pod people sometimes talk as if they've absorbed the selfhood of the people they replace, as when they try to convince the protagonist that he'll be happier if he surrenders to the inevitable. In ANNIHILATION, does the doppelganger of Kane represent the first stage in an alien project to replace humanity, or is he/it merely a random byproduct of the "annihilation" of the original man?

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

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