Believe me: I’d love to write a movie review of director Alex Garland’s brand-new sci-fi flick Annihilation where I could address its retro-futuristic score, kaleidoscopic graphics, and thought-provoking ideas – but instead of judging the film based on its artistic merits, I’m forced to take a skeptical look at its politics.
Alex Garland had shown himself to be something of an ‘indie’ director with his debut film Ex Machina (2015), which was well-received by critics for its exploration of the subject of artificial intelligence. So I wasn’t expecting a radical departure from his independent cast of thought and an excessive amount of kowtowing to Leftist norms of representation in his next work. Indeed, Annihilation is not an explicitly political film: it’s genuinely engaged in pursuing themes of identity, self-destruction, unreliability, and the difference (if any) between annihilation and creation. In fact, it’s so committed to these ideas that its five core actresses appear rather lifeless and listless even when pursued by mutant animals of every possible configuration. This decidedly uninspired, un-terrified acting is one of the chief criticisms I could levy against Garland’s second directorial endeavor – but again, I’m not addressing artistic merit in this movie review.
What I’m addressing now, and what I couldn’t let go long after the end credits rolled by, was why the entirety of the main cast was female. A caveat: I am in no way opposed to the representation of women in cinema. What matters is the rationale behind it and whether or not this increases the artistic merit of a film. The movie’s chief star, Natalie Portman, has shown herself adept at fulfilling the visions of auteur-ish directors (think David Aronofsky and Black Swan), so her casting is not suspect. But taken as a whole, it is entirely surprising that the rest of the cast consists of relatively unknown actresses of color. Artistically, the relegation of all male actors to minor, supporting roles doesn’t seem to bear many fruits, considering the underwhelming performances of most of the female cast. What, then, could be the reasoning behind this conspicuous gendering?
Perhaps we can locate a clue in one response to the film. Annihilation is based off the first book in a trilogy produced by American fiction writer Jeff VanderMeer. Reportedly, there were complaints that the characters portrayed by Portman and Jennifer Jason Leigh (both of whom are white) were supposed to be Asian and Native American, respectively, in VanderMeer’s novels. Ah! So even here Garland has failed to satisfy the Leftist obsession with filmic “representation”! But this concession, if we may call it that, is hardly a concession considering the unusual gender and ethnic make-up of the cast. White males – the singular object of the Left’s hate – are entirely absent from the film, and as I said before, mens are relegated to minor roles with little screen time to boot. Moreover, women of color play the other female characters in the film, even though the ethnicities of these characters are not revealed in the first book of VanderMeer’s trilogy. Wouldn’t it have made more sense, from an artistic point of view, to include a sprinkling of the male sex in the main roles, given that they are all supposed to be military-scientists? Wouldn’t a more accurate representation of the United States military be achieved if a majority of the military roles were given to men? There were no strong themes of sisterhood depicted in the film – the ideas dealt with apply just as much to men as women.
Here, then, we see that an agenda is at work. The casting decisions could not have been made with an eye toward achieving an accurate representation of the United States military or scientific community, either in terms of race or gender. Nor were these casting decisions made, as I have shown, in an attempt to bolster the artistic merit of the film. Rather, Annihilation is just one more example of how far liberal orthodoxy has advanced in the Age of Weinstein. Hollywood’s motto: the fewer men, the better.
But perhaps Hollywood is already feeling the repercussions of choosing ideological dogmatism over the quality of its product. Maybe, just maybe, fewer men on the big screen will mean fewer men in theatre seats – even when it comes to the much-beloved, male-dominated genre of science fiction.