Ellen Rogers

Annihilation as Transfiguration

Annihilation as Transfiguration

I have an editorial in the current Suspiria Magazine, seen below... The words in this feature are by Rebecca M Farrar and modeling in the images here is Moth (from Moth & Rust)

Here are the orginal words I wrote below and some of the orginal images too, they are slightly darker than my usual works and I'm curious to know how they will be seen.



In the Buddhist or indeed most Eastern religious philosophies one is encouraged to allow their ego to die and in the Marxist sense one is encouraged to seek social reform that might decrease their alienation1. Both ask for death of some kind, both ask for rebirth. I saw my search as linear but it’s more serpentine, it’s an Ouroboros.

In the film Annihilation, directed by Alex Garland a type of cancer seems to affect a forested zone and it’s called the ‘shimmer’, it infiltrates the inhabitant’s DNA, changing those in contact with it permanently. Natalie Portman’s character (she is a scientist experimenting in this area) is confronted directly with the master of this shimmer (something that might resemble the ego or capitalism itself) and has a rare opportunity to ask her metaphysical foe what it wants? When she is interview about this encounter - her answer is that she simply doesn’t know what it wants, in fact her superior in command loses her life to ask what this entity wants, and her conclusion too is that – this ‘other’ this entity- The Shimmer, is simply not like us. 
As we know it, this substance is most closely related to cancer and we/they haven’t found a cure for it yet. Within this film, like us, with finding a cure to that which ails us, we are in a luminal space, without answers and without a clear sight of the future.
 Once one comes into contact with the Shimmer they are changed, but within the universe of the film we don’t know if this is for the better or the worse. This is a rare example of a horror movie that treats its ‘foe’ not as a villain but as a neutral, not as an ‘other’ (that say how the Lovecraftian model of horror might portray the other), but the other as something that might represent something within ourselves that we must overcome or find a cure for, I believe that is where the analogy for cancer ends and a political or spiritual analogy begins.

Many of the scientists in Portman’s group are themselves transformed into the forest itself, which according to Freud’s ideas in his essay "The Ego and the Id” we could interpret this to be a literal projection of the ‘Death Drive’ in his words, the death drive is “the hypothesis of a death instinct, the task of which is to lead organic life back into the inanimate state".("The Ego and the Id" in On Metapsychology (Middlesex, 1987)

Portman in annihilation is transformed by the end of the film. She looks the same but she is altered, as is her way of seeing, she has under gone a psychical and enlightened revolution.

Transformation is sexual and spiritual empowerment, in order for us to mature it could be said that society must also transform to mature too, else we could be stifled. In the ‘Communist Manifesto’ Marx declares ‘All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.’  I read this as the inevitable change of society unfolds as we rally against conservatism, our looking forward alone will help bring change. This also points to our sexual and political adolescent.

In the novella ‘Nadja’ by André Breton, he describes his elusive muse (who is a sort of proto Manic Pixie Dream Girl) as a Melusine. This is a female mythological figure who is part serpent-part woman. She is a strong sexual figure, a woman with phallic properties. I felt in part he saw her this way as she was likely dreamed up, a vision of perfection a vision of the future. She had the advantage of understanding what it was to be male and female and as such she portrayed equilibrium, for him she represented the revolution he so desperately wanted. The changes women undertake to become themselves are empowering- they are revolutionary, be it puberty, suffering an ordeal that leads to a life change, having children, major surgery or transformation itself for a transwoman etc. When we feel our potency we change, we fulfil our fate, but we don’t know why, we act on an instinct. The same can be said for our internal sexual maturity once we become our real selves, we can never turn back.


Within the realms of biblical art the ultimate representation is Christ’s metamorphosis as he dies and transforms for our sins, a strong symbolic gesture it represents amongst many things is a cycle of progress and strength in moving forward. I argue that within this time of spiritual and political adolescence; as artists and as women it is evitable and natural that we will be channelling the growing pains of progress.

In order to clarify what I am saying, I will propose that conservatism is conservationism; it’s an attempt to reinstate a view of the past and apply it to today’s matured people or society. The erroneous factor is trying to apply the rules of the past to a future that has out grown it. Contrary to popular views of conservatives that their anti progressive views are more ‘natural’, I argue that instead evolution is proven to be more natural. In order to progress naturally as we are, we too need to incorporate the inevitable representations of transformation into our art whilst we progress, we need to remove the shackles of past views and look to a new future for our spiritual and political survival.  We should identify our foes, our ego, and capitalism not as other but as natural stages that we will outgrow should we continue to mature in a healthy manor. I believe Annihilation is a horror film to fully understand the nature of progress and incorporate it into our Death Drive – in essence, into our entire being.


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