annihilation oscar isaac

The Mission

Alex Garland’s film sets up a specific reason for Portman’s biologist Lena to cross into Area X (or The Shimmer, as the film calls it). Portman’s husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) mysteriously returns home after having vanished for over a year, and is instantly taken sick. Kane ends up on life support in the medical bay of a military base, and Lena then gets a crash-course in Area X/The Shimmer. Lena decides to join the next mission into The Shimmer with the hopes of trying to find a way to save her husband’s life.

The book contains the similar scenario of the Biologist’s husband returning home mysteriously, but the husband character dies quickly after. He doesn’t end up on life support, and the Biologist doesn’t venture into Area X with some hope of curing him. The Biologist’s reasoning for joining the mission is a lot more complicated – she herself doesn’t quite seem to understand it.

Annihilation Jennifer Jason Leigh


Hypnosis plays a big part in the novel, but never comes up in the film. In VanderMeer’s book, it’s revealed that crossing over the border into Area X is too traumatic for the human mind, and the team needs to be hypnotized by the Psychologist beforehand. In the film, the characters simply stroll on through.

Later in the book, the Biologist discovers the Psychologist has been using hypnosis on the team throughout the whole mission, in a sense forcing them to do things they otherwise wouldn’t do. The Biologist becomes impervious to the hypnosis, and is able to resist the Psychologist.

The Psychologist imploys hypnotic suggestions through words or phrases. This is where the title comes from – “Annihilation” is the hypnotic phrase meant to force the team to kill themselves should something go terribly wrong.

The Tower

Early in VanderMeer’s novel, the team discovers a structure going down into the earth. While the bulk of the group thinks of this as a “tunnel,” the Biologist continually refers to it as a “tower,” though she can’t quite say why. This isn’t a naturally occuring anomaly – it’s clearly a man-made structure buried into the earth, as the characters find a staircase within.

The team ventures down into the tower, where they find strange words written on the wall – “Where lies the strangling fruit that came from the hand of the sinner I shall bring forth the seeds of the dead to share with the worms…” Upon closer examination, it’s revealed these words aren’t merely written on the wall – they’re actually formed from a plant-like material. Spores from the plant-formed words infect the Biologist, and cause her to begin to change.

Garland’s novel almost cuts the tower entirely. Late in the film, Portman’s biologist character arrives at a lighthouse. Inside the building, there is a hole in the wall that burrows into a strange, unearthly cave. One can assume Garland drew on the book’s tower for inspiration for this, but it’s vastly different here than its novel counterpart. 

Annihilation ending

The Ending and Beyond

Without spoiling the entire ending of Garland’s film, let’s just say that the Annihilation movie ending leaves very little room for a sequel. VanderMeer’s book, however, is the complete opposite. After all, it’s the first book in a trilogy. The Annihilation novel concludes in an open-ended manner, with Area X still very much thriving and the Biologist’s fate left open. Garland nixes most of this for a more conclusive, but also haunting, finale.

In other words, don’t hold your breath for a sequel. 

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