Ex Machina director Alex Garland’s second sci-fi feature, Annihilation, has just arrived in theaters to rave reviews. Based on the novel of the same name by Jeff VenderMeer, Annihilation stars Natalie Portman as Lena, a scientist who ventures into a mysterious and highly dangerous phenomenon called the Shimmer, on a mission to find out what happened to her husband, Kane (played by Oscar Isaac) when he went on a previous expedition.
The events of Annihilation are not presented in chronological order; the film opens with Lena being interviewed after she has returned from the Shimmer. She is asked individually about each of her teammates, and says that each one is either dead or missing. The following timeline of events reorganizes the film to present the story in chronological order, from before Lena enters the Shimmer all the way to the film’s conclusion.
Related: Annihilation Film Review
Before the Shimmer
If the story that Lena tells is true, Lena and Kane meet during her time in the army. They get married, and she becomes a professor of cellular biology at Johns Hopkins. Kane, however, continues working as a soldier, and goes on long, classified missions. It is unclear when Kane begins working for the Southern Reach in particular.
Lena cheats on Kane with Daniel, a married colleague, which Daniel attributes to Kane’s absence and inability to connect with Lena on an intellectual level. When Lena ends her affair with Daniel, she tells him that Kane knows about the affair; presumably this means that she ended the affair before Kane leaves for the Shimmer. Kane is forced to leave for the Shimmer a day early, and his morose goodbye could be related to Lena cheating on him or the possibility that he may never return.
Kane in the Shimmer
Kane enters the Shimmer around a year before Lena does, and while not all of the parts of his story are clear, it’s possible to piece together what happened to him. While in the Shimmer, Kane and his team camp at the abandoned site of the original Southern Reach base. They take turns scouting the parameter. The team members become aware that the Shimmer is affecting their minds and bodies, and they record footage of Kane cutting open one of his team mates to show how his intestines are snaking and moving inside of him. The teammate appears to have flowered into a hybrid human-plant. Kane and any remaining team mates leave the video recording in a plastic bag for the people who come after them.
Kane eventually makes it to the Lighthouse, and there meets his doppelganger. Inside of the Lighthouse, he has his doppelganger film him, and tells the doppelganger to find Lena. Then, Kane kills himself using a grenade.
The film’s first flashback shows Lena around one year after Kane’s mission into the Southern Reach. Daniel invites her to a barbecue, which she declines, and he tells her that being social isn’t disrespectful to Kane’s memory. Because the scene happens early in the film, the viewer may not realize that Daniel and Lena previously had an affair, creating an additional layer of tension between them.
At home, Kane’s doppelganger returns to find Lena. She is elated, and then concerned when he does not seem to be acting like himself. He struggles with words, and then begins bleeding from his mouth. The Southern Reach intercepts Lena and “Kane” in an ambulance, and “Kane” is stabilized at the Southern Reach facility.
Lena is interrogated by Dr. Ventress, a psychologist, for information about Kane, who is the first person to return from the Shimmer – or at least, so they think. Lena stays at the facility to watch over Kane, and she learns from Cass Sheppard, Anya Thorensen, and Josie Radek that they are preparing to enter into the Shimmer to go to the Lighthouse that is “ground zero” of the strange transformations. Lena convinces Ventress to allow her to come on the team, telling Ventress that she “owes” Kane – it’s not explicitly stated what Lena means, but she could feel that her affair drove Kane away. Lena does not tell Sheppard, Thorensen, or Radek that she is Kane’s wife.
Page 2: Lena in the Shimmer
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