Annihilation is a movie that gets off on asking questions, then leaving you whistling dixie when it comes to the answers. It completely works when you're watching and are as lost in the lush confusion of Area X as the characters, but you'll come out desperate to know more. If you think you can head to the original Annihilation novel, or its sequels, for answers you can think again. This is more of an inspired by situation than a straight adaptation, and director Alex Garland wrote the script for his Annihilation before the follow up novels were even finished. Here are some of the questions that have stayed slithering through my brains since since the credits rolled. Spoilers ahead people, big fat spoilers.
1. That's definitely human Lena at the end, right?
When Lena (Natalie Portman) gave her shimmer doppelganger a fiery send off in the climactic lighthouse scene I was 100% sure she had finished it off. Cut to the final scenes though and her eyes have the same, strange, shimmery glow that her definitely fake husband has. Does that mean that she is, somehow, the doppelganger, or just that her infected blood means it doesn't matter anyway? An early version of the script suggests we're not meant to know - "there is no clear indication as to which LENA lived, and which LENA died" - and I wish the lighthouse scene in the movie was more ambiguous too.
2. What really is the shimmer, and is it sentient?
We know the shimmer was caused by a meteor crashing into the earth (creating Area X) and at first it has all the hallmarks of some sort of virus. It gets into Lena's blood, it deforms things, but the final scenes - and the creation of fake Kane - suggest that some sort of sentience is at work. Or is Kane just a by-product of its growth and mutation? Is he just a really handsome mould that happens to have grown a brain? If yes, I need to get myself a grow your own Oscar Isaacs kit immediately. Another theory is that it's some version of terraforming, created by an unseen alien race to make the earth more habitable ahead of an invasion, but what kind of race is really big on nightmare death bears?
3. Are the snake tattoos significant?
No one ever mentions it, but one tattoo design in the film seems to appear on multiple characters, with no explanation. The tattoo is a snake eating its own tail, a classic symbol of infinity, but it appears on the unfortunate soldier in Kane's squad, Lena, and squad member Anya Thorensen throughout the film. Time is a treacherous beast in Annihilation, but Lena doesn't seem to have it in the flashback bedroom scenes. Does it relate to the way the shimmer "refracts" DNA, recreating the same design or Anya, Lena, and Kane? Maybe, but - unless I failed to read the small print when I was getting my tramp stamp - surely tattoos don't imprint on DNA? Other members of the squad, Dr. Ventress and Josie Radek, don't seem to develop the same mark, but there's no clue as to why.
4. Is the world doomed or is the shimmer gone?
The film ends with the shimmer apparently disappearing, and Kane thing and Lena sharing a big old hug, but their glimmering eyes let us know that they're busting at the seams with shimmer germs. Either they're going to be kept in the research center for all time, or they're going to be let out into the world where - surely - the shimmer will continue to mutate them, their potential offspring, and the natural world they come into contact with? Again there's a clue in Garland's original script, with the movie ending with shimmer laden meteors crashing into the earth.
5. Seriously, what happened to Josie Radek?
Tessa Thompson's Radek is my favorite character in the movie and while her final scenes are poetically beautiful they didn't deliver any closure. Is she just a beautiful bush now? Can she still think and feel, transferring some of her personality to whatever she morphed into (as was discussed earlier in the movie in reference to the nightmare bear) and does that mean she's just trapped, voiceless and disembodied in a field? What does the end of the shimmer mean for her? Seriously Mr Garland, I'll be happy with a DM on this. I need to know.
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