Some Wild Theories About What The Hell Actually Happened In ‘Annihilation’

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This piece discusses the end of Annihilation. That means spoilers!

Annihilation is currently streaming on Netflix, and as we’ve already proved, Australia is going nuts for Alex Garland’s trippy science-fiction masterpiece. People are also going nuts trying to work out what actually happened in the movie because the ending is… not clear.

Annihilation follows the story of a biologist (Natalie Portman) who volunteers for a mission to explore a top secret area affected by an unexplained, creepy and possibly alien event. Colloquially known as “the Shimmer”, it becomes quickly clear that the regular laws of nature are dramatically skewed inside its area of effect.

This leads to a lot of cool, sci-fi stuff for us all to enjoy (big undead bears, plant people), but it also creates a lot of ambiguous and somewhat open situations that are open to endless analysis and debate. What’s with that tattoo? How did Oscar Isaac make it home? What actually happened at the end?

We’ve compiled some of the best and most interesting Annihilation theories for your nerdy consumption.

What’s With That Tattoo?

Seen most prominently on Natalie Portman’s character of Lena, the snake tattoo is one of the most enigmatic mysteries in the film, and one that is never actually mentioned by the characters. Taking the form of a snake wound into a classic ouroboros symbol, the crazy thing is that throughout the story, we actually see it… move around.

Imagine if they’d all shared a tattoo of something lame like an anchor?

Not only is the snake tattoo seen on Lena, it’s also on a bunch of other characters including her husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) and Lena’s teammate Anya Thorensen (Gina Rodriguez). Furthermore, we can’t even be sure that Lena had the tattoo the entire time. In her early days in the Shimmer, Lena notices a mysterious bruise on her forearm, which we assume eventually turns into the tattoo.

If you look at Lena at the beginning of the film, you can’t see any evidence of the tattoo, however by the time she has entered the Shimmer it’s quite prominent.

This article in Bustle puts forward the theory that that the tattoo is the mark of the Shimmer itself.

“The ourobos is also believed to be linked to early observations of the Milky Way, which means the tattoo could be hinting at the extra terrestrial nature of The Shimmer in Annihilation. Finally, the ourobos signifies self destruction — a snake eating itself — which is another major theme of Annihilation.”

We’re told that the Shimmer refracts DNA — whatever that means. However, it could also be the case that not only DNA is being refracted, and things like tattoos are also being duplicated. Why? Because science I guess?

There’s also plenty of clues that the house in which the team fights the bear inside the Shimmer is actually Lena and Kane’s house from the beginning, showing that perhaps things like memories and concepts are being replicated as physical things inside the Shimmer.

What Actually Is The Shimmer?

Personally I think we should have called it “the spooky curtain” but I guess shimmer is fine.

In the film, we see a meteor or some kind of object from space crash into the lighthouse, which is information that nobody else in the film actually has. It makes it seem pretty clear that the Shimmer is therefore some kind of alien/ space business, rather than say a magic spell or just a weird part of the earth.

This article in Slate  puts forward a nice notion, saying “In that sense, it might be fair to say that the Shimmer’s origins are alien, but they might not derive from an alien.”

Honestly, that’s probably all we can adequately be sure of.

Is Lena An Alien At The End?

One of the biggest questions from Annihilation stems from the last scene, where Lena hugs Kane, and both their eyes “shimmer”. Clearly, Lena is no longer human, but that’s just about where the consensus ends. Is Lena an alien? Is it her double that escaped, and not her? Is it somehow the Shimmer itself taken form?

There are quite a lot of discussions, but this quite elegant explanation from Reddit puts forward a great theory that also seems very on theme with the entire movie.

“Lena escapes but, like her husband, is changed by entering the shimmer. Her dividing cells were completely changing in likeness, and even though she’s out of the shimmer she’s physically a very different person.”

We can all agree that Lena is definitely changed by the experience, but who wouldn’t be. That was all pretty traumatic and weird.

Did Kane Kill Himself In The Lighthouse?

Let’s be honest, by the time we get to the lighthouse, everything is majorly fucked up and very little makes sense. Virginia Woolf would have absolutely loved it, that messy bench.

“Yay my husband’s back, and he’s completely normal. Same handsome eyes, same handsome face, same handsomely bleeding insides…”

This one is still left pretty open, but it seems from a fairly straight viewing that Kane had a Shimmer doppleganger formed (which we see happening a lot, from the twinned deers to Lena’s creepy dance partner later on). The video in the lighthouse then shows the OG Kane blowing himself up due to reasons, most likely madness of some shape or form, which seems fair.

It’s then implied that the Kane that ends up at Lena’s house is a copy, rather than the original, which would explain all his memory loss, weirdness, and weird bleeding insides.

But why did he get “better” when the alien creature was set on fire? I don’t know.

Considering Annihilation was based on a book of the same name by Jeff VanderMeer, there’s a chance that we could actually find out the answers to some of these questions, especially by delving in to the sequels of the novels.

But I think some of the success of Annihilation lies in enjoying the questions it poses, and never being quite sure.

Annihilation is currently streaming on Netflix.

Patrick Lenton is an author and staff writer at Junkee. He Tweets @patricklenton.