Annihilation (2018) explained: Let's discuss that crazy ending

What does the encounter with the humanoid in the lighthouse really mean for Lena?
Annihilation (2018) - Official Trailer - Paramount Pictures
Annihilation (2018) - Official Trailer - Paramount Pictures / Paramount Pictures

Annihilation is an excellent sci-fi horror film that happens to be one of my favorite movies (and book series) of all time, so sorry if I'm a little biased! The 2018 movie, directed and written by Alex Garland, is based on the Southern Reach trilogy by Jeff Vandermeer. If you liked the movie, I highly recommend the books.

They're different enough that you can enjoy the film as a unique interpretation and still get plenty of surprises from the novels. But Annihilation is well-known for its perplexing ending, so let's dig into it. Spoilers ahead for the film.

What happens to Lena in the end?

Annihilation is one of those movies where a lot is left up to the viewer's interpretation. During the film's climax, Lena (Natalie Portman) approaches the spot where the meteor landed and enters the pivotal lighthouse at the center of the Shimmer. Inside, she finds Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh) again. However, it appears the Shimmer already has some kind of hold or possession over Ventress since she breaks down within seconds and transforms into a strange, silvery humanoid.

The humanoid approaches Lena and draws some of her blood, slowly beginning to mimic and turn into a Lena doppelgänger, just like what we can imagine happened to her husband, Kane. Before the mimicry begins, Lena discovers a videotape alongside Kane's remains. The video shows Kane igniting a grenade and killing himself in the lighthouse, with a doppelgänger of himself emerging, implying the version of Kane back in the present is the doppelgänger and not the real Kane.

Motivated by Kane's death, Lena slowly tricks the humanoid into lighting one of the extra grenades and igniting itself. Because the Shimmer reflects and refracts everything, the explosion soon takes hold of the entire area and seemingly destroys it.

Then, we return to the present, where Lena is under interrogation. This is where things really diverge with many viewers. Lena reunites with "Kane," questioning if he's really Kane or not, and "Kane" asks Lena the same question. She doesn't answer. The last thing we see is a close-up of their irises, now with a strange new glimmer. Based on my interpretation, it seems like both these versions of Kane and Lena could be doppelgängers, or, at the very least, Lena appears to be an amalgamation of the Shimmer now.

Throughout the film, we see characters, animals, and bodies mixing DNA and taking on traits of other beings. Maybe Lena is still Lena, but she now has some of the Shimmer's essence inside her, meaning even if the Shimmer is gone, it could be rebuilt or re-emerge from Lena and the fake Kane.

It's also worth noting that the expedition is told to us via Lena's perspective. It's very possible we could be dealing with an unreliable narrator here. Perhaps Lena is just a full-on doppelganger like Kane, and the real Lena ceases to exist.

Differences from the book

Jeff Vandermeer's book is the first in a trilogy, so obviously he couldn't destroy the whole of the Shimmer, or Area X as it's called in the book, by the end of book one. But there are definitely similarities between the film and the novel version. In the novel, the biologist (the characters are only referred to by their jobs in the book) enters the Tower, which is basically just the book's version of the lighthouse albeit a little different.

She comes face-to-face with an entity she'd been seeing throughout the book, one she dubs the "Crawler." The film's ending humanoid figure is definitely inspired by the Crawler. But instead of leaving Area X, the biologist decides to continue her journey and try to follow along the coastline, just like her husband attempted to do before her.

In short, the main difference in the ending is that Lena, or the biologist, does not leave Area X/the Shimmer in the book like she does in the movie and it doesn't get destroyed in the book either since it's revisited in the next two books of the trilogy.

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