Addicted to Sharp Objects? You need to watch Annihilation

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The best show of the summer and the sci-fi drama are explorations of women’s pain — pain that manifests itself in self-harm and is projected onto others.

Played by Amy Adams, Sharp Objects‘ Camille Preaker is one of those characters, like Meredith Grey before her, who just cannot catch a break. Her younger sister died when she was a young teen, and she and her mother can’t stand each other. She’s a rape survivor, a cutter who has carved words into almost every inch of her body, an alcoholic and her roommate in rehab killed herself. When there are good things in her life, Camille can’t help but blow them up.

That’s an immense amount of pain for one person to inhabit, yet Sharp Objects never feels exploitative or as if it’s reveling in the characters’ misery. On the contrary, the HBO miniseries is a deft portrayal of the ways women, specifically women living with trauma and psychological wounds, express their pain. It’s reminiscent of Annihilation in that way.

That sci-fi drama sees an all-women expedition crew, led by Natalie Portman’s Lena, exploring the mysterious, possibly extraterrestrial-invaded area called the Shimmer. No other crew has completed the task before, and the only person to return from the Shimmer is Lena’s husband, who came back very ill. So, Lena and her crew are basically going on, to use their words, a suicide mission — and none of them seem particularly concerned about that.

Episode 4, debut 7/29/18: Amy Adams. Photo: Anne Marie Fox/HBO

They’re barreling through, just like Camille and the other women of Sharp Objects.

The ladies of Sharp Objects and Annihilation don’t talk much about their pain, but they obviously feel it, intensely. The only way they’re allowed to deal with it is by hurting themselves, or by lashing out at the people they love.

Camille literally takes her rage and sorrow out on herself by cutting. She suppresses the urge to self-mutilate by drinking vodka from a water bottle throughout the day. When things start to look up, as they do when she begins seeing a fairly decent guy, she self-destructs by sleeping with someone else — the 18-year-old prime suspect of the murders she’s reporting on.

Not that Camille learned this behavior on her own. She grew up in a small town where all the well-to-do women drink their problems and deflect their own hurt by gossiping about everyone, anyone else.

And then there’s her mother, Adora (Patricia Clarkson), whose behavioral disorder and fear of being ignored cause her to poison her own children. She had a difficult, abusive mother of her own; perhaps she thinks harming her daughters and other vulnerable young women is the only way anyone will notice her long-simmering mental anguish. People will pity her misfortune and she’ll trick herself into believing her pain has been acknowledged.

Lena and Co. cope with their own distress in similar ways. Each of them, like Camille, has an uncontrollable need to self-destruct. Lena cheats on her husband, even though she loves him and vice versa, and hates herself for it. Anya (Gina Rodriguez) is a recovering addict; Josie (Tessa Thompson) cuts herself in order to feel something; and Cass (Tuva Novotny) is a bereaved mother who’s decided she has nothing left to lose.

The most self-destructive of them all is Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who, unbeknownst to the rest of the crew, has terminal cancer. She has no intention of returning from the Shimmer, which she fails to mention to Lena and her fellow crew members. In fact, Ventress recalls Adora in that her desperation is so great, she’s willing to hurt others, or lead them into fatal situations, just for the possibility of catharsis. A part of her believes that is her right — she’s doomed, so why not them, too?

While both Sharp Objects and Annihilation feature an overall mystery or question that may or may not be solved, they’re actually about long-term depression and mental illness. Both stories’ women characters are haunted by something they’ve survived, witnessed or done, and how they’ve learned to endure it.

This usually involves talking around the source of their pain, if they talk about it at all. You’ll notice throughout both the series and the film that the women rarely speak directly about what ails them. They’ll vaguely reference it, or mention it briefly without elaboration, but there is no in-depth conversation. Talking through one’s problems usually makes things better, but for Camille, Adora, Lena and the rest, there is no “better.” Instead, the characters are convinced the pain has implanted itself into their DNA, permanent as the Shimmer working its way into the explorers’ biology in Annihilation.

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Yes, it’s pretty dark stuff, but it’s gripping, too. And there’s apparently a demand for it, if the internet chatter surrounding Sharp Objects is any indication. If you’re one of the series’ many fans, then Annihilation should be next on your watchlist.

Wind Gap might be a far cry from the Shimmer, but both are inhabited by women with literal and figurative scars, women who have limited options in terms of expressing their pain. Once Camille’s story has been wrapped up, trust me, you’ll need something to take Sharp Objects’ place. Annihilation is just the film to do so.

Sharp Objects’ finale airs tonight, August 26, on HBO. Annihilation is available to rent or purchase on Amazon, iTunes and other platforms.