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Garland, Alex

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author, Film, Game.

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(1970-    ) UK screenwriter, Videogame writer, director and author, son of the political cartoonist Nicholas Garland (1935-    ). His first works of interest were fiction, beginning with The Beach (1996), a tale inconclusively understandable as an exercise in implied Fantastika: its protagonists, having been given a map to an unknown Pacific Island, find there a secretive Utopian community, an aliquot sample of Homo sapiens which soon implodes in a cannibal frenzy; echoes of William Golding's Lord of the Flies (1954) seem deliberate. The Tesseract (1998), like its predecessor, implicates Drugs as a disorder-inducing solvent. The protagonist of The Coma (2004), a short novel illustrated by his father, suffers what may be irreversible brain damage in an attack on the London Underground; but awakens to find his Perception of the world has been radically altered: he may be perceiving an genuine uber-reality; or not.

In the meantime, Garland began his central career with the screenplay for 28 Days Later (2002) directed by Danny Boyle; the cloistral darkness and compactly transfigurative use of Horror in SF Clichés that mark this film became recognizable signals of his presence in the field. His next screenplay, for Sunshine (2007) directed by Danny Boyle, carries darkness to a point glumly close to the apocalyptic, as a Climate-Change-doomed Earth attempts to restore the cosmic balance by sending a space mission to bomb the Sun. But a Mysterious Stranger – the captain from a previous mission, whose wrecked ship has been discovered – sabotages the new endeavour, while attempting to turn the complex suicidal passage sunwards into sad metafiction. Garland's script for Never Let Me Go (2010) directed by Mark Romanek is based faithfully on Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go (2005), and adroitly makes explicit, through the new medium, the novel's implacable knowingness, even though at points the protagonist's utterly clear foreknowledge of her fate is dutifully scumbled over in order not to upset film audiences.

After the relatively unchallenging Dredd (2012) directed by Pete Travis, Garland both wrote and directed Ex Machina (2015), which dodges some (perhaps studio-inflicted) traditional naiveties in the depiction of the Villain and the AI, climaxing in scenes proleptic of the end of Homo sapiens as actors on the stage of the world. His screenplay for and direction of the film Annihilation (2018), based on the Annihilation trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer, was similarly challenging in its austere closedness of focus, but compromised through a limited ability to render human complexity in his protagonists. All the same, like Garland's earlier work, Annihilation answers most of the arduous challenges he sets himself. It is increasingly the case that his work needs to be seen as a whole, a perspective likely to give needed additional salience to the eight-part Television miniseries Devs (2020), for which he served as scriptwriter and show runner, and over the course of which similarities with Ex Machina may be noted. These include a domineering CEO with a bee in his bonnet, and a young researcher increasingly appalled by the implications of the eponymous Quantum Computer, which is capable of creating veridical video images both of the past and the future (see Prediction). The industrial wooded-glade California setting is as tastefully filmed as any luxury corporate Keep. [JC]

see also: Enslaved: Odyssey to the West.

Alexander Medawar Garland

born London: 26 May 1970


  • The Beach (London: Viking, 1996) [hb/]
  • The Tesseract (London: Viking, 1998) [pb/]
  • The Coma (London: Faber and Faber, 2004) [illus/pb/Nicholas Garland]

film scripts and novelizations


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