Cut Scenes is Josh Wise’s regular column on the intersection between films and video games. This week, it’s Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture vs. Annihilation.
When Natalie Portman’s character, Lena, crosses the threshold into the shimmer, in Annihilation, there is a strong sense of what she’s leaving behind, and little of what lay ahead. Through that thick cascade of rippling refraction lay not just her fears, but an answer to her loneliness. Her husband, Kane, had ventured into the same territory before her, and part of her motivation for crossing through is to get near him again.
This desperation to be near someone – anyone – again, is all over Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture. It’s a breathy must that settles on everything like dust, a sense of what was – and only just moments ago – and of what isn’t and will never again be. As you play, there’s a gathering feeling of doom, as if you have come in at the last scenes before the end. You sift through sun-dappled Yaughton for traces of what’s been left behind.
The honest, grass-fed folk of Yaughton are isolated from the rest of Thatcher’s Britain, cocooned in a sylvan bubble, but, as we bore down into their lives, we discover their secrets and fears and anxieties – all knotted together in a clump of proximity. Annihilation’s team of scientists is one composed entirely of human pain: of grief, anger, and numbing loss. The enigmatic Dr. Ventress, who commands the team as they burrow deeper into the territory behind the shimmer, is the closest to the player-character in Rapture. Her motives are unknown, at first; she says as little as she can; and her stake in what’s happening is unclear.
The motive for playing Rapture is one that comes from the player. You don’t play as a character; you don’t have a physical presence in the game world. If you look down, there are no feet hitting the floor, no hands reaching out to grasp door handles. We only know a place of unnatural stillness and silence, of all-encompassing surcease outside the noise of time. Cigarettes burn forever in pub ashtrays, smoke purling upwards; doors are left open; cars are abandoned; it isn’t simply empty – it’s frozen still like a living photograph.
Annihilation‘s setting is far from still, but it is a place of unnatural separation and distortion. The Shimmer, a wall of glistening light that cascades like slowly dripping tree sap, is warping the life inside it. Creatures’ cells begin to refract, just as light does, and merging with other cells. A Crocodile merges with the leeches in the stream, growing teeth all the way around its mouth. The cells of plants mesh with those of people, creating eerie still bodies that recall the light in Rapture as it shapes scenes from the past:
One of the themes shared by Rapture and Annihilation is of the imitation and dissection of life by a force beyond comprehension. The entity that Stephen makes contact with is similarly unknowable to the one that Lena encounters; what it wants seems to be a simulation of life, a process of knowing through facsimile, through experimentation, and playing with genetic makeup. It’s the role you assume as the player – inscrutable, and isolated from those we observe. It’s mourning that Lena must overcome, and it’s pride and guilt that Stephen must reconcile. What binds game and film isn’t the enormity of the external situation outside; it’s the rapture that occurs within.