Category Archives: Film

Everything is Headed Toward Annihilation

Film review by ­­­Matthew Skolnik and Christine Skolnik

Alex Garland’s latest film, Annihilation, loosely based on Jeff VanderMeer’s best-selling and critically-acclaimed novel by the same name, explores creativity and self-destruction as well as the fuzzy boundaries between the human, natural, and alien worlds. The advancement of Area X diminishes the role of “barrier islands.”  The rest will be history.

Area X, the mysterious and amorphous antagonist and setting of the film, also known as “The Shimmer,” creates beautiful, disturbing, and at times terrifying hybrids from the raw materials of the natural world.  This creative aspect is recognized by the researchers and rendered aesthetically in the film’s hybrid landscapes.  Flora, fauna, and “the elements” are all exceedingly strange, colorful, and in some cases terrifying. Though generally surrealistic and often moving as well as striking, some of the landscape elements might come across as a little kitsch.  Intentional or not these seemingly false notes disturb the otherwise hypnotic dream-state of the film.

The characters and the environment are also destructive.  Destructive and self-destructive.  Garland’s version gives each main character a motivation to self-destruct.  Portman and Isaac excel at intimating the creative and destructive complexities of committed relationships.  Portman’s character says about her husband’s mission, “The silence around it is louder than usual,” but silence is as much a cause as an effect of their marital struggles.  On one level the various character motivations are psychological clichés; on another level they are intellectually provocative and moving. The film has an “organic” quality in the sense that inter- and intrapersonal conflicts mirror the larger environmental and cosmic drama.

“It’s not destroying.  It’s making something new.”

The female ensemble cast is interesting to reflect on in terms of creation and destruction.  While “the feminine” is typically stereotyped as creative, the fact that members of the all-female research team play different roles and are all strong, “masculine,” and “destructive” in various ways, undermines mythical structures and social stereotypes.  And while science is presumed to be inherently destructive in the sense that science kills in order to understand, the Garland narrative suggests, through language as well as action, that the irrational urge to destroy may be a cause of intellectual curiosity.

The larger forces of environmental destruction in the film seem alien, throughout, but on the condition that we imagine the cosmic as an outside of “nature.”  And perhaps, more pointedly, when we ignore our own alien and hostile behavior.  The permeability of the self and the internalization of destructive drives call the distinctions between the human, natural, and alien into question throughout the film.  Is alienation an external or internal problem?

Another creative aspect of the film is the manner in which it subverts the common dystopian science-fiction tropes of mega cities or desertified environments, in the Blade Runner movies or the Mad Max series of films, for example.  These environments are staples of various literary, film, and now graphic novel genres.  The tropes of unbridled urban expansion and desertification are here replaced by an environment evolving into a variation of itself—a “neotropical” realm.  Left to the will of “The Shimmer” post-evacuation, abandoned buildings and military bases become home to strange and beautiful incursions, while still retaining elements of brutality.  Thus the dance of creation and destruction is accelerated and heightened.

Garland owes this alternative dystopian vision to VanderMeer whose novel is not only a descriptive master piece but also a kind of manifesto for the natural world.  In the novel, Area X is not only setting and character, but alternately antagonist and protagonist, depending on one’s perspective which VanderMeer seems to manipulate. Some of this Escher-like quality is lost in the film, in which Area X is primarily an existential threat, though the sheer aesthetic quality of the best set elements and special effects also recruit us over to the other side.

This could even be the case with some of the most horrific elements.  One might think a screaming wolf-bear could only be an antagonist, but in this context the creature can also be conceived as a product of an environment rebelling against the invasive behaviors of mankind.

The same can be said of the various familiar and yet strange facsimiles of nature.  If humans as a product of nature are destructive, then their familiars and antagonists may conversely be creative.

At one point in the film, the leader of the expedition, the venerable Jennifer Jason Leigh, in a complex, villainous performance comparable to her performance in Single White Female, remarks that the biologist is “confusing suicide with self-destruction.”  Though this statement, like most of the sententious dialogue remains unclear, the character also marks the ubiquity and unconscious nature of self-destruction.  Her comments oppose a programmed self-destruction to suicide as a willful, existential choice.  If self-destruction is a law, however, suicide is merely a rationalization or, more accurately, self-deception on all fronts.  Before the expedition the geologist says of Area X, “I watch it grow closer. There’s only so long someone can do that.”  However, on some level, it remains unclear whether the existential threat is ultimately external or internal?

“You’re confusing suicide with self-destruction”

One serious complaint is that the film loses track of itself in its penultimate act.  This seems an expression of either artistic hubris, or a kind of stress response of a creator overwhelmed by his creation, not coincidentally untethered from its original.  It also reads, for obvious reasons, as a unconscious performance of self-destruction.

Some fight, some are vanquished, some succumb, and some willingly become part of the alien landscape.  At the end of the day, however, the “choices” seem irrelevant, because there is no “outside” of our own, already alien human nature. In this Garland remains faithful to VanderMeer’s great novel.


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Film. Happening: A Clean Energy Revolution. March 6.

One Earth Film Festival Group Outing!

James Redford / 2017 / 71 min / Energy

Tuesday, March 6,  7 PM – 10 PM CST

Patagonia Chicago The Magnificent
48 E Walton St, Chicago, Illinois 60611

Tickets Available

Reception at 7 p.m.
Film at 7:30 to 9:30 p.m.
Admission $20, includes beer, water, and hors d’oeuvres*

OEFF After Hours Event. Doors open at 7 p.m., when you can relax with a drink and light appetizers in a chic and urban space. After the films, unpack what you’ve learned about clean energy with Jamie Ponce of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, Craig Sieben of Sieben Energy Associates and Reverend Booker Steven Vance of Faith in Place. Facilitator: Stephanie McCray Executive Coach, Executive Material.

Doors open 15 minutes before start time.
Arrive early to avoid lines and get best seats.

CHICAGO-AREA PREMIERE. FILM DESCRIPTION: When the issue of renewable energy comes up, it’s common to think, “that’s a future thing. It’s like sci-fi.” Well, this film is here to tell you, the clean energy revolution is happening right now. Director James Redford, an award-winning filmmaker … and, yes, Hollywood legend Robert Redford’s son … takes us on his personal journey into the dawn of the clean energy era as it creates jobs, turns profits, and makes communities stronger and healthier. “Reaching well beyond a story of technology and innovation, Happening explores issues of human resilience, social justice, embracing the future, and finding hope for our survival,” says Redford.

THE LOCAL SPIN: As the State of Illinois is poised to implement funding and resources through the Future Energy Jobs Act of 2017, we have our own clean energy and social equity ideas and stories to explore.

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Interstellar (Christopher Nolan, 2014)

by Michael Uhall, University of Illinois

Interstellar enlarges the anthropocentric vision of Contact into a full-blown anthropological myth of human dominion over nature that founds itself upon the primal self-creation of the human. It’s interesting to note the degree to which the film synthesizes vocabularies of popular scientism and deracinated Christian dialectics. The former occurs not only in the immense attention to technical detail evident throughout the film – largely employed to detail memorably elemental planetary settings, as well as to justify its denouement – but also in the plot itself, summarized as the need for humanity to abandon an exhausted Earth and apply itself to the exploration of space. The latter vocabulary provides the motive force of the film, however, contrasting the subtle evil of a deterministic, entropically saturated nature with the overwhelming power of love. Let’s see how this unfolds.

The film begins by contextualizing its setting. Earth is afflicted by a slowly escalating crop blight, the causes of which, curiously, are abstracted from any possible ecological reason. We’re in the domain of a Dying Earth narrative here, not a climate change apocalypse. The difference between the two is that the former isn’t anthropogenic. This matters in Interstellar because it warrants the disdain for earthly caretaking exemplified by engineer/pilot Joseph Cooper’s charismatic go-get-‘em libertarian space cowboy restlessness (contrast Cooper with the protagonist Allie Fox in The Mosquito Coast [Peter Weir, 1986], whose strikingly similar personality leads him into tyranny and destruction). It’s not that humans have damaged the planet – thereby implying that humans might be able to learn to adapt or mitigate the damage they have caused – but that planetary conditions ultimately have failed us. “You don’t think nature can be evil?” Cooper later inquires of Brand, surprised.

Resentfully (“It’s like we’ve forgotten who we are, Donald. Explorers, pioneers, not caretakers”), Coop (widowed) works a farm with his stepfather and two children, Tom and Murphy. After encountering the remnants of NASA, Cooper agrees to pilot an exploratory mission to an artificial wormhole discovered in orbit around Saturn. On the other side of this wormhole, Professor John Brand informs him, there are potentially inhabitable planets, as well as three human scouts sent ahead to investigate. There are two options for mission completion: Plan A (Professor Brand will solve an equation he’s been working on, achieving the theoretical grounds for a gravitational theory of propulsion) or Plan B (Cooper and his crew, including the Professor’s daughter, Dr. Amelia Brand, will endeavor to colonize a viable planet with the cargo of embryos loaded onto their ship, the Endurance).

Cooper’s departure deeply aggrieves his daughter, Murphy, although Cooper promises to return. In the background of the narrative, there are a series of gravitational anomalies centered on Murphy’s bedroom (e.g., resulting in both the provision of the NASA base coordinates and the scrambling of nearby navigational computers), although no one investigates this thoroughly. The young Murphy wonders if it is a ghost, while Cooper and others dismiss her observations – including the spelling out of the word “STAY” when Cooper informs Murphy of his imminent departure.


The Endurance enters the wormhole, at which point Dr. Brand apparently makes contact briefly with a mysterious being residing therein. In the new galaxy, Cooper and his crew decide which of the three potential planets to visit first.

Continue reading here.

Note also a reading of Interstellar in Tim Morton’s Humankind, Chapter 5.

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Filed under Film, future, Tim Morton

“An Inconvenient Sequel” Screenings and Much More

See below information about “An Inconvenient Sequel” screenings, and various related resources for educators, business professionals, and concerned citizens.


From a New York Times review:

In a summer movie landscape with Spider-Man, a simian army waging further battle for the planet and Charlize Theron as a sexy Cold War-era superspy, it says something that one of the most compelling characters is Al Gore.

“An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power,” a follow-up to “An Inconvenient Truth,” Davis Guggenheim’s Oscar-winning documentary from 2006, is a reboot that justifies its existence — and not just because Mr. Gore has fresh news to report on climate change since his previous multimedia presentation played in multiplexes.

Read more here.

See trailer here.

Get tickets and find various resources here.











Image source: Occasional Planet,





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Awake, A Dream from Standing Rock



Awake, A Dream from Standing Rock.

Movie Screening,
Hosted by Chicago 350.

Wednesday, July 26,
7 PM – 9 PM.

Harold Ramis Film School,
230 W.  North Avenue, Chicago, Illinois 60610

See more information here.

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One Earth Film Festival, Chicago

See You March 3-12, 2017!

For more than 5 years, One Earth Film Festival has selected a slate of acclaimed environmental films paired with compelling, awareness-raising programs. On offer this year are 47 screenings of 30 films in 39 venues, including 10 universities/colleges, 10 churches, 3 museums, 3 mainstream movie theaters and more. This year, 15 filmmakers will attend 13 screenings, bringing their personal voices to post-film conversations.

Celebrate with us at our kick-off event: the Green Carpet Gala, on Friday, March 3. To learn about becoming a sponsor or donor, please contact To volunteer, please contact

Source and more info here.

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DiCaprio’s *Before the Flood* at DePaul


Monday, November 7th, 2016

6:00 pm – 9:00pm

DePaul University, McGowan South 107

See trailer here



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Filed under Chicago Climate Festival, Climate Change, Film