I finally watched Garland’s ANNIHILATION and loved it. Let me talk about it, but let me go about it in a twisted long way, alright? Then tell me if it was worth it.
When I was about 16 years old I had my first deeper bouts with Philosophy. For a while I was fascinated with Descartes. Not his preposterous proofs of the existence of God, rather I was enthralled by the concept of the Doubt, his methodical doubt. What if we doubted reality? What if it was all a dream? What if it was an illusion? Like many other illusions we have.
Does a stone think? We actually don’t know. We know that it does not have a brain, but what if it has another way to think? Some way we are unable to access? There’s a lot we don’t know. So much, in fact, that if we stopped to think about it, we wouldn’t be able to do anything else. So we assume. We assume reality is unified, that we sleep, eat, make love, get drunk, laugh and cry. We assume that the Past we have in our memories was real (even though our memories are fallible) and that the Future we plan for will happen more or less how we expect (even though it never does). We pretend there are more moments than the absolute Present. We assume that even if we don’t see or touch the Egyptian Pyramids, they are actually really there. Or that even when we don’t experience the sea, it exists somewhere. There is no certainty of this, but we assume it because it supports our balanced lives and there would be no escape from doubt without a slimmer of belief. I’ve written a little bit about this in here, when I was speaking of ARRIVAL – check it out.
Well, after Descartes and some others came Freud and Lacan. Unlike Freud, Jacques Lacan wrote about the psychotic mind. Freud taught about neurosis, which manifests in the difficulty of managing relationships. A psychotic mind, however, has a true difficulty to perceive and manage reality as a unified concept. The reality gets ‘split’ in the mind and that assumption mentioned above about assuming reality in a pragmatic way becomes impossible. I love that sentence I think Freud said: ‘mental health is the ability to deal with ambiguity.’ In other words, being sane is the ability to live in uncertainty. Of relinquishing some control. Psychotics have some difficulty in doing this because the Doubt scares them to death. They rather believe in exotic certainties and conspiracy theories than deal with the doubt of existence.
So, for Lacan, reality is a construction of our mind, and there are three orders of thought: the Real is that which we can’t deny. If we drop an orange on the floor it will always fall down – not up, not to the side. Even if we doubt that it will fall down the next time, we drop it again and it falls – and it’s very difficult to keep doubting – that’s typical of the Real. Then there is the Imaginary, which is the part of us that, basically, if I recall correctly, is what we cannot share, what remains within us no matter what. It’s an area of ideas, images, impressions. Finally, there is the Symbolic, that culminates in Language and is the realm of the shared reality. This idea that Reality is a construction that can be somewhat illusory and revolves around these orders is very interesting and is the basis of what I call Narratives of Conscience (it’s just what I call them, there may be other names by other authors), which is a kind of narrative that has been very common in Scifi for some time. In Narratives of Conscience we are never very certain of reality. It could all be an illusion. We see it in films like THE MATRIX, INCEPTION, TOTAL RECAL, etc. In these movies, the protagonist is haunted by an elusive conscience of reality that may or not be real. The Doubt dominates the narrative. We can see it most in the stories by Phillip K. Dick, who, some say, was himself mentally ill.
But I have been recently spotting another trend in Scifi narratives. I don’t know what to call it except maybe: Narratives of Perspective. These do no center in the fabric of reality itself, as Narratives of Conscience, they don’t doubt the construct of reality, but they add to it. They impose on us a different, almost unreal perspective. As if we are obligated to think of reality in a different way. With an added perspective.
This is the case of ARRIVAL, by Villeneuve – even though it plays with our conscience of the facts, time and space, we never doubt as we watch it that we are watching a single unified reality. We can’t say that in the MATRIX, for instance, or in THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE, where there are multiple possible realities – who knows if true or illusory?
As in ARRIVAL, Garland’s ANNIHILATION plays with our sense of perspective more than our sense of conscience. To understand the alien invasion we need to perceive what it really is doing and not assert what is illusory or not. That is interesting, stimulating and thought provoking. I, myself, loved the movie. It’s no-doubt one of the best Scifi movies of the last few years and I absolutely recommend it.
This (new?) Narratives of Perspective seem appropriate for our times. Added Perspective assumes that we agree on some sort of plateau of reality. That we understand there is illusion sometimes, but that we are secure enough to communicate with each other in a balanced plain, and understand each other enough that we can actually act on what surrounds us. That seems to be what is lacking in the world today, with new virtual realities, cries of ‘Fake News’ and so many divisions in the way we all see reality itself. It almost looks like the world itself is schizophrenic. Maybe everything is an illusion. Some of us really don’t know. But that’s why it’s so urgent to find a Language, a Symbolic order, we can use to understand each other and balance the plain. Even if what surrounds us seems surreal, let’s add to our perspective, try to understand new views, instead of acting blind.
The Cartesian Doubt is all around us. It is, or it should be, inevitable. Certainties are very frail. But being sane means being flexible. Being intelligent means being determined to communicate: to listen, to accept, to be balanced. I like these Narratives of Perspective. I’m eager for more. Will you write the next one?