The 2018 cinematic adaptation of Annihilation, written and directed by Alex Garland, received criticism for changes it made to the narrative of Jeff VanderMeer’s 2014 source novel. However, change should not be surprising as both works are concerned deeply with the impact of change and, specifically, change that is perceived to be deviant.

Through this paper I will use both versions of Annihilation to investigate:

  • The Inconstant Self: The constancy with which we view our own selfhood is an illusion that arises, like the illusion of film, from our inability to detect the slight changes between each version of ourselves. We flicker between now and then, this and that; we hover in a liminal state.
  • The Insular Self: Human society is built on communication and collapses due to the lack of it. However, as much as we want to reach out to others we also fear the collapse of the distinction between self and other – an osmosis that gives rise either to a tainted co-mingling or the manifestation of an uncanny doppelgänger.
  • The Invaded Self: The combination of these two attacks against selfhood – the refutation of constancy and the collapse of integrity – gives rise to the fear that we can unwittingly (or unwillingly) become something other than ourselves; a mixture of the weird piercing-in of otherness and an eerie absence of expected presences.

However, I contend that this unheimlich fear of the invaded self – unheimlich often being translated roughly as ‘unfamiliar’ but also able to mean ‘unhidden’ – is a fear rooted in the human tendency towards conservatism. Annihilation, I will demonstrate, illustrates how change is a permanent and necessary part of the human condition which, if fought against, leads not only to stagnation but to destruction.

About the speaker

Daniel Pietersen is an author of weird fiction and critical non-fiction, published in the likes of The Audient Void, Mycelia and Thinking Horror. An essay on the liminality of folk horror is pending publication in Revenant. Daniel lives in Edinburgh with his wife and dog.

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