Warning! Spoilers to follow for Annihilation. Come back later if you haven't seen it yet.
Writer/director Alex Garland has long been one of the most fascinating sci-fi storytellers in the film industry. He was brought into the medium when Danny Boyle adapted his first novel, The Beach, back in 2000, but he has since left an indelible mark with scripts for movies like 28 Days Later, Sunshine, Never Let Me Go, and Dredd. In 2013 he made his fascinating directorial debut with Ex Machina, showcasing an ending that still has us talking today, but now he has stirred up a whole new conversation among cinefiles with his sophomore effort, Annihilation.
The new film is an adaptation of the novel of the same name by author Jeff VanderMeer -- but Alex Garland has notably taken some liberties with the source material, particularly with the end of the story. There are many things that go down in the third act of Annihilation that are not only very different than the book, but have the effect of changing how you see the events in the first two acts. So what is The Shimmer? What is the ultimate fate of Lena and Kane? That's exactly what we're here to break down today.
What Happens At The End Of The Film
The beginning of the end starts at The Lighthouse. After a long journey through The Shimmer, Lena (Natalie Portman) is the only remaining member of her team, and goes into the ground zero location by herself. Upon entering, she sees a charred body propped up against a wall, and a video camera pointing directly at it. Hitting play on the recording, she watches what she eventually learns are the final moments in the life of her husband, Kane (Oscar Isaac). After a few shots of the area surrounding The Lighthouse, the video has the Army sergeant talking about losing his sense of self in The Shimmer, and telling a figure off-camera to find Lena. He then pulls the pin on a phosphorous grenade and kills himself -- leading the off-camera figure to reveal itself as Kane's duplicate.
At this moment, Lena realizes that her husband never actually ever came back from his mission -- but she is determined to complete her own. She finds the hole that was created by the crashing meteor that brought The Shimmer, and follows it down into the ground. It's in a cavern that she finds Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh) sitting and muttering to herself. When the team leader notices Lena's presence, she asks about the last thing they discussed: needing to know what it was that was inside The Lighthouse. Like Kane, Ventress has lost herself within The Shimmer, recognizing the deterioration her body and mind, and dubs the spread of the extraterrestrial force, "Annihilation." Before Lena's eyes Ventress' form comes apart, and we see the energy that remains absorb blood from a cut on the protagonist's face. With this DNA a new form is created, featureless and reflective. Scared, Lena fires her gun into the creature, but it appears to have no effect.
Lena crawls back up to The Lighthouse, but is shocked to find the alien already there waiting. She attempts to escape, but finds that her efforts are thwarted by the being mirroring her every move. When she begins to understand the pattern, it begins to morph into her duplicate, but it's a process that is interrupted. Lena gives the entity one of the remaining phosphorous grenades, and it explodes after she leaves -- leading the duplicate to set fire to the core of The Shimmer and destroy it.
Back in the present, Lomax (Benedict Wong) wraps up his interrogation with Lena, trying to grasp the details of what happened in The Lighthouse. Lena can't speak to what the extraterrestrial force wanted, but notes that it wasn't destroying anything; it was creating something new. She is told not only that The Shimmer is gone, but that Kane has stabilized and that she can see him.
Lena goes to Kane's room in quarantine, but she approaches him like a stranger. "You aren't Kane, are you?" she asks. "I don't think so," he replies. "Are you Lena?" Without answering, Lena embraces the duplicate of her husband, and we see in his eyes that the Shimmer has not entirely gone away -- still left floating in his irises. He is not alone, however, as it's revealed that the Shimmer is still present in Lena's eyes as well.
So what does this all mean? What exactly happened? Let's dive in...