In the final scene of Annihilation, Natalie Portman’s biologist character Lena enters a mysterious lighthouse. She plunges into the dark cavern to find her expedition leader having an Invasion of the Body Snatchers moment before she explodes into a series of floating lights that transforms into a technicolor floating orb that looks like the eye of Sauron. After a drop of Lena’s blood falls into its orifice, it magically gives birth to her doppelgänger, a life form with no eyes, mouth, and nose that has shimmering green, blue, and purple skin. Lena runs to the centre of the lighthouse, but she cannot escape from her terrifying double. Whether she takes a step to the left or the right, backwards or forwards, it sees her every move and always copies her. When Lena tries to attack her alien doppelgänger, it slaps her back, causing her to (rather elegantly) fall onto the hard ground in a slow motion shot. This strange modern dance also reminded me of Portman’s Oscar-winning role in Black Swan, where she pirouetted against her darker half—the pure goodness of the white swan clashing with the nefarious black swan.
The choreographer of this spectacular scene is the Israeli-trained dancer Bobbi Jene Smith. Smith attended Juilliard with Oscar Isaac, who co-stars in Annihilation as Natalie Portman’s estranged military officer husband. As Danielle Burgos points out in her Bustle piece about Isaac’s wife Elvira Lind, Smith and Isaac collaborated on “a dance without any movement” called Arrowed. It was filmed by Danish documentarian Elvira Lind, who was Isaac’s girlfriend at the time. In Arrowed, Smith interrogates Oscar Isaac with both simple (“Do you smoke?) and deep (“Are you an anchor or an arrow?”) questions, like a good cop/bad cop scene. That same year, Elvira Lind began work on the documentary Bobbi Jene, which follows Smith as she struggles with her decision to leave her Tel Aviv performance troupe for New York City and maintain a long-distance relationship with her boyfriend. It won the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival Best Documentary Feature Award. “I had wanted to do a project about a woman for a while and when I met Bobbi and had seen her work, I knew there could be no other. . .She has an incredible life force and amazing energy,” Lind told Explore Dance.
Smith’s dance specialty (or “movement language”) is called Gaga, which was founded by Ohad Narhiran. One of Smith’s most evocative dances in the documentary, where she writhes and pushes against a concrete wall, bears a striking resemblance to the final scene in Annihilation. Lena tries to exit the lighthouse, but the alien, fearing abandonment, runs up to her and slams her into the door, smothering Lena so much that she can barely breathe and falls into unconsciousness. Smith says, “Gaga gives you keys that you didn’t know you lost. It helps you connect to your pleasure and pain and your effort. It connects you to your weakness, fragility and to your immense power.” The aesthetic of Gaga can certainly be seen in Lena and the alien’s violent yet passionate face-off. Lena’s doppelgänger represents her weakness—her infidelity, her depression, her self-destructive nature—and she fights against that with all the power she has. There is pleasure, or something good, in their confrontation because it marks the first time Lena truly wants to live. Without Bobbi Jene Smith’s amazing full-body, almost primal, choreography, the ending of Annihilation would not be nearly as captivating.
by Caroline Madden
Caroline hails from the home state of her hero, Bruce Springsteen. Some of her favorite films include Dog Day Afternoon, Raging Bull, Inside Llewyn Davis, and The Lord of the Rings. She has an MA degree in Cinema Studies from SCAD and her writing also appears on Fandor, Reverse Shot, IndieWire, and Vague Visages. You can follow her on Twitter @crolinss and Instagram @crolins