Why Pop Culture Links Women and Killer Plants

There’s an early scene in Annihilation, Alex Garland’s cerebral sci-fi-horror drama, where the biologist Lena (Natalie Portman) examines a cluster of kaleidoscopically mutated flowers. “They’re growing from the same branch structure, so it has to be the same species,” she mutters to her all-female squad of researchers. “You’d sure as hell call it a pathology if you saw this in a human.” The team, led by Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), is tasked with exploring the Shimmer: a sinister dome of iridescent light that has consumed the Florida coastline.

In this realm, Lena and her crew encounter anthropoid shrubs, luminous deer, and houses overgrown with brightly colored moss. As the film goes on, they realize that the Shimmer’s fauna and flora are encroaching upon them and threaten to consume them entirely. But the Shimmer’s plant life is also a visual metaphor for the women’s psychological wounds—their grief, anger, and loneliness. Annihilation notably refuses to fall back on the predominantly male worldview that underlies many sci-fi classics, including 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner, and Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris. Unlike in these films, where women are primarily defined by their relationships with and duty to men, Annihilation’s female characters mostly seek to interrogate the purpose of existence itself.

It’s no coincidence that Annihilation is both a feat of feminist storytelling—for exploring how its characters question their humanity beyond the fixity of womanhood—and a major step forward for killer plants as a pop-cultural symbol. Lethal vegetation has long been a metaphor for female disobedience, in Western mythology and in society at large. This concept has developed over time across two main trajectories. In the first, dangerous botany embodies patriarchal anxieties over female access to education and wisdom. The tale of original sin, for example, implicitly cautions against curiosity in women: Eve’s act of eating a fruit from the tree of knowledge sets the stage for all evil on earth. In Greek mythology, the goddess Hecate was seen as a morally ambivalent figure because she protected families from harm, but was also associated with poisonous herbs administered in witchcraft. Such stories offer an allegorical warning that women can’t be trusted with knowledge, lest they use it to bring disorder to mankind.

Killer plants have also served a second narrative function: They offer a vision of how masculine aggression can be countered with weaponized domesticity. Consider some of the most compelling female characters to appear recently on the

Source:: The Atlantic – Culture


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