Cinema as Transcendence: Annihilation And A Cinema Of Environment And Tone

By Alci Rengifo

Contemporary cinema is dominated by fast cutting and bombastic visual spectacle. Attuned to the fast times of the present, mainstream filmmaking runs at the pace of its audiences. It is a curious phenomenon considering the average blockbuster is actually quite long. Your typical Marvel film will run to about 2 hours and 15 mins. The recent, magnificent Black Panther features a sharp screenplay and visually rich vistas, yet it is engaging as a work of visceral energy. It rushes headlong through its vision and achieves the feat of making two hours feel like fifteen minutes. Alex Garland’s Annihilation arrives with a different approach, preferring to transcend its genre with a tone that is meditative and focused on creating an environment.

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Cinema as Transcendence

In a sense, Garland is attempting to achieve a cinema of transcendence, in which the elements of filmmaking are utilized to evoke rather than tell, reaching for an effect that is almost akin to cinematic reverie. It is no surprise the film has struggled at the box office. Cinema that seeks to create psychological landscapes requires a mood alien to our fast-paced age. It is hard to imagine films like Last Year at Marienbad finding wide box office audiences today. The poetry of Terrence Malick finds itself adrift even amongst specialty theaters, while filmmakers like Nicolas Winding Refn are obsessed with the hypnotic qualities of an imagebut with a coldness that stands apart from the emotional or spiritual. Annihilation approaches its themes as a cathedral of image and sound, even its elements of horror are meant to conjure ideas as opposed to merely being used to disturb. It is unnerving, but in the same way that a nightmare culled from an amalgam of memories and private thoughts can be jarring…

To read the full analysis of Alex Garland’s Annihilation, go to Riot Material magazine:

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