Alex Garland’s ambitious, haunting Annihilation had a pretty modest opening over the weekend, partly due to the fact that it deals with difficult, ambiguous themes and partly due to the fact that Paramount just kinda gave up on it. Apparently, the original ending of the movie was far less ambiguous than the ending Garland ultimately went with, the original draft of the script revealing a conclusion that answers a few more questions than the final version does.

I am going to spoil the ending of Annihilation now, so if you didn’t clock that that is what’s happening and haven’t seen the movie yet, click away from this article until you have. /Film did a deep dive into the original script draft of Garland’s Jeff VanderMeer adaptation, and discovered that it did away with a lot of the ending’s ambiguity — though I’d argue that, if you pay attention, it’s not ambiguous at all. At the end of the movie, Natalie Portman’s Lena comes upon an alien doppelgänger of herself, they have an altercation that’s half-fight half-interpretive dance, and Lena escapes, destroying the double, the Shimmer, and making her way back to the Southern Reach. She embraces her husband Kane (Oscar Isaac), though he says he doesn’t think he’s really Kane, and she leaves it unanswered whether she believes she’s still Lena. As they hug, the camera closes in on their eyes, which glow with a shimmering energy, suggesting that a piece of whatever is in Area X has come back to the real world with them.

In the original script, the Lena-double fight results in a trickier situation. As the script reads: “There is no clear indication as to which LENA lived, and which LENA died.” Which would make the shimmering eyes at the very end of the movie make more sense — that’s your indicator that the Lena that returned to the surface is the double, not the original. As she and Kane gaze up into the sky, meteors begin to fall, more and more, one splitting open to reveal a shimmering thing inside: whatever alien species created Area X has finished their reconnaissance and is about to launch their full-scale invasion.

In my opinion, the ending Garland chose for the movie is a lot stronger, and is in keeping with the themes of not only his movie, but also VanderMeer’s series. By the end, Lena has already established that just being inside Area X changes your biological makeup down to the structure of your very cells. It doesn’t matter which version of her gets free — she’ll bring some part of whatever is beyond the Shimmer back with her. And ending with a glimpse of a coming alien invasion cheapens the intimacy of the creepy, self-contained story Garland created. With a conclusion like that, it might as well be a Cloverfield movie. As it is now, it’s a lot more of a meditation on the nature of ourselves and how humans respond to inevitable change.

Annihilation is now playing.

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