ANNIHILATION Theories: Is (SPOILER) Human or Not?
In my review of the new science-fiction film Annihilation, based on the novel by Jeff VanderMeer, I said one of the positives of the film was that the ending of the movie was ambiguous. There are spoilers after this paragraph, so if you haven't seen the movie yet, don't keep reading. In fact, I'll plug in an image of the movie poster below so you don't see anything by accident.
In the climax of the film, biologist and military veteran Lena (Natalie Portman) finds a burned corpse in a lighthouse that's the epicenter of "Area X," a region of rural Florida that's being warped by an alien presence known as "the Shimmer." There's a camcorder set up in front of the corpse and when Lena begins watching the video, she sees her husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) commit suicide on-camera after telling someone else to "find Lena." That someone else is revealed to be another Kane. That means (or could mean) the being that showed up at her home and soon became sick and had to be transported to the hospital wasn't actually her husband, but some kind of alien clone.
Soon afterward, Lena encounters the alien force at the heart of the Shimmer that transforms into a double of her that she's able to trick into committing suicide. When she returns to the military base built to watch Area X, she finds that her dying husband has returned to full health, but when she asks if he's Kane, he says that he doesn't think so. The two embrace and both their eyes do this weird iridescent thing, implying that neither of them is human, at least fully.
I said that the ending was ambiguous, and here's why. A case can be made that the being who came home a year after her husband left was an alien creature masquerading as her husband, but a case can also be made that it really is Kane, just seriously messed up by his experiences within the Shimmer. Here goes...
*This is the most straightforward explanation. Kane lost his mind in the Shimmer and committed suicide, but not before establishing some kind of rapport with his alien doppelganger. There's still enough of him left to want Lena to not be left alone, so he tells the doppelganger (which has enough of his memories that it could conceivably play the part) to find his wife before he ignites himself.
*One of the podcasts I listen is The Geek's Guide to the Galaxy and in the episode dedicated to Annihilation, they say that when Kane returns home, he's looking at the pictures on the wall (I can't remember what they were, but they might've been him and Lena, their unit back when they were in the military, etc). He doesn't know what they are, implying that he's some other being wearing Kane's face.
*When Lena asks Kane if he's Kane, his response is that he doesn't think so.
*The Geek's Guide to the Galaxy crew thought that the way Kane embraced Lena at the end seemed more like someone needing reassurance. If Kane is an alien intelligence of some kind, he's the last of his kind on Earth and he's in the hands of people who could very easily kill him. His only possible ally is Lena.
*When Lena burns her double, the flames spread through the lighthouse and all the various alien growths begin catching fire, even alien structures well beyond the lighthouse. When Lena is being debriefed after returning from Area X, the scientist interrogating her reports that an expedition has been to the lighthouse and there's no trace of the Shimmer left. We then learn that Kane, who was dying when she went into Area X, has recovered.
If Kane isn't actually human, he would have died along with the Shimmer. Instead, he recovers from the brink of death as soon as the lighthouse goes up. That would imply that he might have been in the process of mutating and dying (like the other soldier whose belly he cut open to reveal writhing, eel-like intestines), but Lena's destruction of the Shimmer aborted whatever was being done to him before it was terminal. Lena herself experienced a similar process--she samples her own blood and sees her cells are mutating--but it's her who came back from the Shimmer, not the alien doppelganger. Although the eye-thing indicates neither of them is fully human anymore, neither of them isn't human either.
*The man that commits suicide with the phosphorous grenade speaks in a very thick Southern accent. In the flashback scenes with Lena and Kane before Kane leaves on his secret mission, Kane doesn't have a Southern accent. Although it's possible that one of his teammates who DOES have a Southern accent was being "refracted" into him, we don't see interpersonal "refraction" among Lena and her team--Josie (Tessa Thompson) begins sprouting leaves from her scars like a plant is being "refracted" into her and the alligator that attacks Josie earlier in the film has a shark-like mouth, but it's not like the women suddenly adopted each other's personality traits, accents, etc.
*I'm not the only one who has reached a similar conclusion. In the WMG page of the TVTropes for the film, someone else suggested that the man who kills himself is an alien doppelganger who absorbed a lot of Kane's memories, but since may be the first time it has fully mimicked a human being (the members of the other investigatory teams might've been killed by wildlife or mutated to death before reaching the lighthouse), it went insane.
*Kane doesn't recognize the photos in his house because he's suffering amnesia as a result of his exposure to the Shimmer and the mutations his body is undergoing.
*Kane says that he doesn't think he's Kane, but the Shimmer may well have done a number on his mind. To make a Star Wars analogy, from the moment Darth Vader arises from the operating table after being burned on Mustafar and rebuilt as a cyborg, Palpatine is trying to cultivate "Darth Vader" as a distinctive personality from Anakin Skywalker. In Darth Vader #1, Palpatine tells him that Anakin Skywalker's lightsaber belonged to "someone else, a Jedi" and in one of the old Expanded Universe comics, when Vader confronts Palpatine about the Empire practicing slavery, Palpatine says that "Anakin Skywalker" and "his mother" had been slaves. The trauma of the events of the previous expedition and his near-death might have caused something similar to happen.
I admit I prefer the second option because despite the horrifyingly cynical things I say sometimes I'm a hopeless romantic. Furthermore, as a Christian I believe in the sanctity of marriage--I'd like to believe that despite Kane being amnesiac and possibly experiencing an identity crisis, Lena having cheated on him due to his long military absences and the growing intellectual distance between them, and them both now being partly alien, their relationship can still be fixed. However, sometimes there are downer endings and I recognize there is such a thing as Confirmation Bias. However, a strong case can be made that Kane is still human and the other stuff is a bunch of red herrings.
What do you all think? Feel free to comment, discuss with each other, etc. below.