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Warning! Spoilers to follow for Annihilation. Come back later if you haven't seen it yet.
With hints of Kubrick and Tarkovsky, Alex Garland's Annihilation is a serious mind-trip of a movie. It has a high concept plot -- a group of scientists enter a mysterious zone to discover the origins of a strange phenomenon -- but by the end of the story it successfully bends your brain into a pretzel. In a purposeful way, it's a movie that is meant to inspire debate about its meanings and themes, but as I recently learned from the writer/director, audiences will get a lot more out of the movie on a second viewing:
There's things I don't think one could see on a first viewing that would give a different perspective on a second viewing. I mean, just one very simple example is a conversation that happens between Natalie Portman's character of one her university professor colleagues at the bottom of the flight of stairs very early in the film. And the second time you watch the film, that conversation is then loaded with other meanings, and you realize they're not having the conversation they appeared to be having. It's a completely different thing.
This was just one example that Alex Garland tossed out when I had the chance to speak with him and Annihilation star Oscar Isaac earlier this month during the film's Los Angeles press day. I asked the two men if the movie was specifically designed so that audiences will get new readings in repeat viewings, and Garland said that that is absolutely the case -- adding that there are things that movie-goers won't notice until the second go-round.
After discussing the conversation between Lena (Natalie Portman) and Daniel (David Gyasi) at Johns Hopkins at the start of the film, Alex Garland namedropped two more little mind-blowers that you may not have seen in Annihilation this past weekend:
You might notice the tattoo on Oscar Isaac's character's chest. You might notice the physical construction of the house that they find inside Area X, and the house of the family home. All sorts of just odd little filament lines that can be drawn together.
Having now seen Annihilation a second time personally, I can confirm that these are two very cool details. For starters, the tattoo that Oscar Isaac's Kane has on his chest is a bear (y'know, the creature in the movie that screams like a human and winds up tearing Anya's face off). Also, the house that they discover at the end of the second act -- the one with all of the flower people -- has an interior that looks exactly like Lena's house.
Oscar Isaac also offered his thoughts on the question, comparing the movie to his previous collaboration with Alex Garland: 2015's Ex Machina. He pointed out that not only are there little plot threads and Easter eggs in the film, but that there are certain character moments that have a different kind of emotional resonance when you understand the larger context in which the movie puts them. Said Isaac,
[There's] also scenes where you can sense that there's a heaviness, but you're not really sure why. On the second viewing they take on much more significance in a way. Ex Machina had a lot of the similar things where you have one experience watching it, and when you go back to watch the second time after you know everything that's going on it's a very different experience - very exciting and interesting too. But all these different things become, you know, get revealed.
As a person who absolutely loved Annihilation, I was excited to return to the film after getting this recommendation from Alex Garland and Oscar Isaac, and I did not leave disappointed. The movie is a truly fascinating piece of work, and I'd highly recommend returning to it when given the opportunity.