Annihilation ending

Annihilation may not have been a box office smash over the weekend, but it’s certainly a film that has people talking. Those who’ve watched Alex Garland‘s weird, disturbing adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer‘s novel have come away with questions; particularly in regards to the film’s ambiguous conclusion. An earlier draft of Garland’s Annihilation script, however, reveals a an alternate Annihilation ending that’s far less mysterious. Spoilers follow.

If you’ve yet to see Annihilation, here’s your last warning: major spoilers for the film follow.

At the end of Annihilation, Natalie Portman‘s biologist character Lena, deep in the heart of a mysterious, ever-changing zone known as The Shimmer, encounters a shape-shifting alien creature that essentially mimics her in every conceivable way. This nightmarish creature eventually assumes Portman’s exact form, becoming her mirror image. Portman is able to get the upper hand and destroy the creature and return home.

Or does she?

Alex Garland‘s film is deliberately vague, and it’s not 100% clear which Portman returns home. The way I interpret the scene, Portman does manage to kill her doppelgänger, but the person who returns home is still not the same exact person who left. Before the encounter with the mirror-image creature, Portman watches an old video recording that reveals her husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) killed himself, and the person back home, outside the Shimmer, is a doppelgänger. Once Portman is reunited with him, she flat-out asks him, “Are you Kane?” “Kane” replies that he doesn’t think so. He then asks her, “Are you Lena?” Portman’s character declines to reply. The two embrace each other, and Garland cuts to close-ups on their faces, revealing eerie, inhuman light shimmering in their eyes. Cut to black.

This mysterious, enigmatic ending is open to interpretation. As the film shows, The Shimmer has vanished, but it apparently still remains – inside Lena and Kane.

An earlier, un-dated draft of the script, however, has a far-less-ambiguous conclusion. For one thing, Garland flat-out underlines the fact that we can’t be sure which Lena is returning home – the real Lena, or her doppelgänger. After the confrontation that results in one of the Lena’s being destroyed, Garland writes:

“There is no clear indication as to which LENA lived, and which LENA died.”

Things get even stranger from there. After Lena and Kane embrace each other, Garland’s earlier script takes things even further, ending with an alien-invasion style ending that indicates Earth’s problems are far from over. At the start of the film, we see a meteor crashing to earth, setting the chain of events of the film in motion. After Lena and Kane embrace, Garland’s script features a scenario that recalls the opening of the film:

BEHIND HER –

– we can see through the window to the night sky.

And in that sky, we see a SHOOTING STAR.

Then another.

Then another.

CUT TO –

INT. LOWER ATMOSPHERE – NIGHT

– the shooting stars as FALLING METEORS.

As we saw in the opening images of the film. A hunk of rock, burning as it falls through Earth’s atmosphere.

And as the nearest meteor splits apart, we see in its core.

Something shimmering.

CUT TO BLACK.

I’m glad Garland opted to go with the current ending. Having the film conclude with a full-fledged alien invasion of earth changes Annihilation significantly. The haunting, ambiguous ending, where we’re left wondering what will happen next, is far more effective.

annihilation tessa thompson

Other Annihilation Script Changes

This earlier script is, for the most part, identical to the finished film. There are a few key differences beyond the aforementioned ending, though:

  • More scenes featuring Oscar Isaac’s character Kane: Garland’s peppers in a lot more flashback scenes with Lena’s husband, including lengthy sequences that show more of Kane’s disastrous mission into the Shimmer.
  • More Southern Reach: In the finished film, Lena’s scenes at the Southern Reach – the secret government agency monitoring the Shimmer – are brief. This script spends a lot more time there, and includes a sequence where Lena attempts to escape, only to find escape is futile.
  • No framing device: One of the only things I didn’t like about Annihilation is its framing device, where Lena is recounting what happened on her mission to members of the Southern Reach. This robs the film of some of its tension – we essentially know everyone but Lena dies before the film even starts. This script (wisely) doesn’t feature the framing device.
  • Josie’s death: Perhaps the most memorable, most haunting, and most effective scene in the film is the death of Josie, played by Tessa Thompson. Josie gives in and lets the Shimmer transform her body. She becomes a plant – her body changed to that of a flowering tree. It’s eerie and disturbing. The script has a far less effective sequence: Josie has been badly injured by the bear-like creature that attacked the team. Slowly bleeding to death, she asks Lena to inject her with enough morphine to knock her out, and then to shoot her. Which Lena does.
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