The Girl With All The Gifts Movie Review and Explanation
The Girl With All The Gifts is a cleverly insightful, inside out Zombie movie that avoids playing to the standard tropes or predefined assumptions.
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The Girl With All The Gifts Movie Review and Explanation

I have fantastic news for you all.  The Girl With All the Gifts is the best Zombie movie/book that’s come out in a while. It is tres good. I even told you about the book a forever ago, so I don’t want to hear it from you. No, shttttt. Stop. Anyway, it is so good that I’ve been dying to get my hands on the Glen Close movie that was filmed in England and released this past September. But I’ve struck out pulling in favors with the Queen to send me a copy until yesterday. That’s right, I finally snagged a copy to watch yesterday. And so today, I’m writing about my thoughts and insights on the movie and the book. And today (a different today than my today from a sentence or two ago) I’ve heard from Mike Carey, who has read this particular post and spoken from on high. Who’s Mike Carey? Only the creator of this fantastic book/movie. Ok? Great.

But better yet? I have news that The Girl With All the Gifts will be released on January 27th on DirectTV. There will also be a small theatrical run here in the states… which I will definitely be going to see if it gets within a state or two of my current location. Promise.

High Level Girl With All The Gifts Overview

Let me see if I can give you such a good spoiler free setup for this movie that you’ll be FORCED to go watch it.  Because, you know what? We can’t be friends anymore unless you watch it. See this list I have over here? I have a sharpie ready to be applied to your name. Crossed out. Nixed. Unless you watch it. Hahahha. Anyway, the movie starts with the book… at least for me it did. For Mark Carey, the writer, I hear it started with a short story called Iphigenia In Aulis. And then he wrote the screenplay and the book simultaneously. How one does this, I have no idea. Here’s Mark Carey on the process…

“The pitching process was very unusual, because I was working with Camille Gatin on a completely different project, and we’d got quite a long way forward in that development process. Then the rights were entailed away from us, and we couldn’t proceed any more. So there was a point when Camille turned to me and said, “Well, what else could we work on?” I said, “Maybe something post-apocalyptic?” She said “yes”, so I handed her my short story Iphigenia In Aulis. The short story was the pitch for the movie, just as it was the pitch for the novel. Everything flowed from that.”

So apparently, Iphigenia In Aulis was the elevator pitch, the screenplay draft, and the manuscript draft simultaneously. Once Mark – who has been a comic book writer forever – and Camille had decided that they were going to work on this story as their next movie, Mark began work on earnest on both the screenplay and the book. The story itself is clever in the extreme, it tells the story of a Zombie apocalypse that has crossed the globe. Beacon station is a research facility that has been going out and capturing some of the The Hungries in order to vivisect their brain’s and study the fungus that has attacked their nervous system. But in their comings and goings they have found a bunch of children that act like humans, but are still infected. And the scientists believe that maybe they could be the key to the cure for mankind. Maybe the trailer is the best way for me to show best what the book and the movie are all about.

And obviously, since it’s a zombie movie, everything goes to hell in a hand basket. And fairly quickly too. Thus the goodness that is Girl With All The Gifts… but for now, if you haven’t seen the movie, or read the book, I would highly advise you to leave now as I will be delving deeply into the internals of how the movie works and discuss the controversial ending. So yeah, leave now, or be ruined for this great movie that is soon coming to America… you’ve been warned.

The Girl With All The Gifts Book/Movie Storylines

I believe I have told you guys about the book here before? If not, I’ve been completely asleep at the switch. Oh yeah, just looked, definitely asleep at the switch. What is going on around here? The ‘Royal We’ definitely needs to step it up. The storyline of this idea is fantastic. So fantastic I would argue that it probably works well in either format first. Whichever you prefer.

But basically, as you saw from the trailer, the story is about a post apocalyptic London. The world (we think?) has been pretty well wiped out by “The Hungries” which are infected people, zombies, that live in a state of standing coma until the smell or hear something that sounds or smells like food. And then like a crack, they are off to the races. And yet, that isn’t how the book starts though. We start in the basement of a compound where scientists are holding classes with children that make the military handling them, extraordinarily nervous. We have no idea why. Because they interact like normal children, save for being all tied up and living in solitary confinement.

Soon it becomes clear that there are two groups working with these children. The several teachers that are being asked to learn from the children, and the scientists that are vivisecting and researching the children’s brains in search of a fungus. So that is the horror that is unfolding at the kickoff this story. And as story launches it’s one of the best. We obviously have a girl here… with lots of “gifts” of some sort… but what exactly? We don’t know. And she’s nice. And protective. And yet, everyone is carrying loaded machine guns around these children. What is going on? Well what learn is that Dr. Caldwell is on a search for a cure to the fungus and this facility? This entire outpost? Is studying these anomalous children who are infected but seem quite normal in some respects, in order to find a cure for this fungus. But soon the research facility is overrun by Hungries and our questions get put on hold.

In the book though, the huge question of the introduction is, what is at the other end of that hallway? Why do some children head out through that door and never come back? Such great screenwriting.

The Characters of The Girl With All The Gifts

There are three core characters in this story. Though, I’m sure, some would try and argue four. But they would be incorrect. The most important character obviously is Melanie (played by Sennia Nanua)… the girl with the said gifts. Second, I would argue, is her teacher, Helen Justineau (played by Gemma Arterton). And thirdly, would be Dr. Caroline Caldwell (played by Glenn Close). And it is this triad that is what makes this story work. Melanie loves her teacher Hannah. Hannah is torn by her duty to humanity and her love for Melanie. And Dr. Caldwell sees Melanie as possibly the best hope for what is left of humanity in the world. We also have Sgt. Eddie Parks… but he is just along for the ride in my opinion, providing protection and muscle so that this triad can have the real battle that matters.

The Journey of The Girl With All The Gifts

As Dr. Caldwell, Hannah, Melanie, and company try to survive the book and the movie diverge a bit. The book has a pretty significant with Junkers that the movie doesn’t have at all. Mark decided to focus on the story of Melanie and the virals in the movie because there just wasn’t enough time to include the Junkers. But I do believe it is an important revelation to realize that not everyone on the planet are Hungries. And to see that the ending has a more significant impact than just to Sgt. Parks specifically. But some of the key encounters, like the child with the rat in the local five and ten, are straight out of the book. Holy crap that scared me to death when I initially read about it in the book. I have yet to read the short story, but I will be reading it as soon as I can get my hands on it. But I’m curious to know about the details that germinated there and made it all the way into the movie version of this story. But I’m pretty sure the baby carriage and the child with the rat were in the original story. Had to have been.

The Virus Fungus Cordyceps In The Girl With All The Gifts

(Mike chimed in here… thankfully, and reminded me that there isn’t a virus at all, but rather a fungus called Cordyceps. Which makes perfect sense. Glad he straightened me out.) One important detail that plays out through to the end of the movie is the evolution of the fungus. Only problem? It evolves differently in the book and in the movie. In the book we are told that the special children are created by two zombies mating. And in the movie, the children with the gifts (for lack of a better name) come from women that were pregnant when they were infected… and their fetuses eating their way out of their mothers. This is a really important difference, and I have asked Mark for a comment, but have yet to hear from him (cut the guy some slack, that was exactly 1.5 hours ago) on that topic.

The path of the fungus’ evolution is critical to understanding this movie, and it’s ending. If version one of the fungus are the Hungries… and version 2.0 is the children with the gifts, then version 3.0 is the stalks growing out of the Hungries bodies? Does this then bring an even better evolution of zombie? Why does Melanie light the stalk? WHAT IS GOING ON? Personally think that the fungus evolution path after reading the book and watching the movie twice now, goes something like this:

  1. Cordyceps evolves and infects & creates first Hungry (a)
  2. Fungus spreads via blood or bite
  3. Zombies that mate create children with ‘gifts’ (b)
  4. Eventually the fungus overtakes the hungries and kills them
  5. Stalks (c) and plants grow out from the Hungries’ body’s.
  6. Fire spreads seed from stalks
  7. Humans that breath the seed become Zombies (a)
  8. Children with gifts mate and create version 4.0 zombie (d)

I’ll explain why I think step 8 is important in my ending explanation. Mike spoke into this evolution in fantastic detail. Why don’t I just wholesale let him tell you how the fungus evolution works? (Yes, I know… it’s a fantastic idea.)

“Addressing the question, though: yes, I see this very much as a changing of the guard, like the one that occurred when neanderthals died out and homo sapiens became the torchbearers for sentient life on Earth. I’m assuming that future generations, born with the fungus already in their nervous system, will maintain a symbiotic relationship with Cordyceps. They’ll still feel the hunger (so Justineau will never be able to leave the lab) but they’ll have the same level of intelligence and the same emotional range as normal humans. And they’ll make love and give birth normally.

“But of course the humans who inhale the airborne spores after Melanie’s fire will NOT be second generation. They’ll be mindless hungries, unable to think or feel. Melanie is destroying what’s left of humanity in order to clear the field for her own kind. She doesn’t do this with casual brutality, she does it because she sees it as the only course of action that allows any hope for the future. Otherwise, she believes, humanity will wipe out the second gen children in the search for a cure before finally dying out themselves.

“One further point about the internal logic. If you catch the fungus from a bit or from an inhaled spore, you’re directly infected – first generation. If you catch it through your mother’s placenta you’re second generation, and I’m making the assumption that this will be true whether your mother was infected before or after conception.”

Mike even was good enough to chat with me a bit that I posted separately from here, but there are many relevant bits there that impact how we think about the film and the book and the various deltas and differences between the two.

The Girl With All The Gifts Ending Explained

So your understanding of what happens in the end depends greatly on how you think the fungus evolves and is transforming. (Thus my previous section). But basically, after the final conflict between Dr. Caldwell and Melanie we are left with Hannah and Melanie. And Melanie decides to head out to the massive Sequoia stalk and light it on fire. Now, in the book, it isn’t a single massive stalk, but rather a redwood forest wall barring their way in really every direction forward. And so when Melanie lights the fire she is actually lighting a global fire that spreads the seed around the world. I wasn’t sure if that would be completely clear from the movie version of events. One other detail that may not have been 100% clear is that there is quite a bit of discussion about different germination and spreading techniques in nature. And it was Melanie that realized that it was fire that was desired method for spreading the seed beyond the pods. So she wasn’t trying to kill the pods, quite the contrary, she was actively trying to spread the fungus throughout the rest of the world.

Now, why would such a nice Zombie do something so mean? Right, about that. I think there are several reasonable theories as to why the heck Melanie would burn the world down at the end of this movie:

Theory 1 – Melanie was Getting Dr. Caldwell and Humanity Back

This theory posits that maybe Melanie just had had enough of humanity and their crap. What with almost being vivisected multiple times, and used as a Zombie lackey, she was done. The only person she really cared about at all was Hannah. And she put up with the rest of the humans specifically for her. So at the end, this was just her having had enough of humanity. I mean, it’s no skin off her back to wipe out the human race. The world would probably be better off from her vantage considering.

Theory 2 – This is just a local event

Another possibility is that maybe Melanie’s lighting of the big stalk was just a local and not a global event. True, the book cast that in a different light, but maybe in the movie version of events this is just Melanie guaranteeing that she was protected from the humans nearby. Yeah, I’m not buying it either.

Theory 3 – Burning the Stalks as Defensive Measure

Maybe Melanie was attacking the stalks as a way to protect herself from that future? Maybe she saw it as a way to push back against her own inevitability of death at the hands of the fungus and stalks within her?

Theory 4 – Melanie was bringing about the age of Aquarius 

Ok, so, not so much the age of Aquarius, but rather the final version or evolution of the fungus. By spreading the fungus around the world, she was ensuring that more and more children of the zombies will be born before the zombies are overtaken by the stalks. And then, maybe, if the children with the gifts grow up and have children, maybe there would be a version 4.0 of the fungus? Maybe an infection resilient or infection embracing version of the fungus? Which takes the strengths of the fungus, and leaves behinds the mindless zombie-ness?

But for this theory to work, you have to have a clear vision for how this fungus is evolving and growing. And one argument against this theory is the fact that Sgt. Parks, when he turned by breathing the seed in the air, turned just like as if he had been bitten. So my theory of the evolution of the fungus assumes that the seed from the stalks would just create a normal Hungry. But it is from the hungries that come the children with the gifts, and that is where Melanie had the vision and the foresight for the future of the earth. She was looking downwind (pardon the pun) and seeing that the world would be in a better place if only the whole earth turned and then had children that were less susceptible to the fungus overall.

Thankfully, Mike Carey jumped in and helped to clarify my perceived discrepancies between the book and the film and helped me to understand that either way (the book’s method, or the film’s method) that the Children With the Gifts are created from zombies reproducing. Whether they were infected before or after inception. Which then means, that either way, these children at the end? They are the hope for all of humanity.

What are your thoughts on how the ending works? What is your read on Melanie’s lighting the stalk(s) on fire? I have a good friend who told me while I was reading the book… ‘it’s a great book… except for the ending.’ And when I got to the ending of the book I was expecting Hollywood Triteness. IE, the stalks would free the Hungries minds. Or some such drivel. (Because he hates Hollywood endings as much as I do.) But when Carey doubled down on the ending, and dove into the insanity of this world I immediately fell in love with the movie. And to be clear, I’m still unclear why he hated the ending. Maybe because all the humans die at the end? Bah. Cry me a river. hahaha. What did you think of the book and the movie?

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37 Responses

  1. Katie

    I could barely get through your post because of your writing style. You ramble on and on, and turn what should be a short sentence into paragraphs worth of useless filler. Reminds me of high school and having to make a paper a certain amount of words.

    Reply
  2. Victoria Blackwell

    I like happy endings.
    Our remaining species becoming monsters isn’t a happy ending. 😀 So I’d say this wonderfully written book isn’t my cup of tea.

    #LongLiveHomoSapiens

    Reply
  3. Sean Watson

    I watched it last night after getting a recommendation from a former student. I thought it was excellent. Melanie is clearly Pandora of Greek myth, the first female version of humanity and presented with a gift by each of the gods hence the title, “The Girl with All the Gifts.” Pandora also had a jar containing every problem that would eventually plague humanity. Melanie, therefore, has what humanity needs most and least. She could be the humanity’s savior or its ultimate destruction.

    Melanie’s humanity is the principle focus of the film, it seems to me. Everyone that encounters her seems to break down over whether she is or not. Most soldiers refer to her with pronouns like “it” or with affectionate monikers like “abortion,” so they have no doubts. Glenn Close’s character, I think, sees her humanity, but builds walls in her mind to push it off so she doesn’t feel bad about murdering her, like the line about mimicry, as if Melanie’s kindness is meant to simulate humanity.

    Ultimately, Melanie gets additional gifts from humanity. She witnesses their prejudice towards her, their ruthlessness, their self-serving nature, and I think she uses these to make up her mind at the end what to do about the evolving fungus. One wonders how she might have acted had she been valued by everyone as she was by Justineau. Unfortunately, Justineau was the exception rather than the norm, so when Glenn Close’s character was called on the spot by Melanie about her humanity, she couldn’t lie, and that gave Melanie the confidence to make the self-serving decision that her brand of humanity was every bit as valid as the original. In fact, since she could coexist with the fungus, her type was better suited to continued existence on Earth.

    She followed her Pandoran namesake by giving birth to Pyrrus (fire), and lighting the spores to infect all of humanity. Pretty thoughtful writing, that I need to continue to think about further. I enjoyed the film, but couldn’t really buy the positive spin thrown out at the end with a new school session since I couldn’t forget that humanity was doomed.

    Reply
  4. Jérémie L.

    It’s clear to me that Melanie wanted to spread the fungus throughout the rest of the world.
    1. Dr Caldwell stated that if the seed pods were to open, that would mean “the end of the world, probably”
    2. Just before deciding to light the fire, Melanie asks Dr Caldwell “Then why should it be us [the CwtG] who die for you [Humans]?”

    In my opinion, the life cycle has only three main stages in the movie version:
    1. Spore (at first, by mutation from another species)
    2. Hungry (fungus transmitted by inhalation or by bite)
    3. Stalk

    The CwtG are not a normal stage of the life cycle.
    They break the life cycle by becoming partially resistant to the fungus.

    I liked very much the movie. It looks like Day of the Dead turned into an “I am a Legend” adaptation. Also, it has strong female characters.
    And I liked the scientific feel of the movie, in particular the idea of the fungus.
    It is much more realistic than the usual living dead or alien seed pods, and more imaginative than an anonymous virus.
    Ophiocordyceps unilateralis is a real fungus, by the way, infecting ants (then called “zombie ants”), changing their behavior and destroying entire colonies.

    Of course, there are also many unrealistic, improbable or unexplained things (not that it bothered me that much.)

    Like Richard Matheson’s novel I Am a Legend, the twist is that “zombies” and “humans” are both capable of humanity and savagery. But can we put Dr Caldwell’s rational actions and the CwtG’s violent impulses on an equal footing?

    Apart from its philosophical central theme, there is one aspect of the movie that I found highly disturbing: the relationship between Melanie and Justineau.
    At the beginning, Melanie writes a story where Justineau is “the most beautiful woman in all the world” and where she (Melanie) saves her life, assuming the role of a charming prince.
    That a child has an Oedipus/Electra complex with their teacher is hardly surprising. But Melanie is entering adolescence (actress Sennia Nanua was 12 years old) and should begin to experience mature feelings.
    For her part, Justineau seems to take the story seriously. She sheds a tear and strokes Melanie’s hair. That’s not the most appropriate reaction for a teacher in this situation.
    Is it possible that the fungus represents the teenager’s burgeoning desires for her teacher? Note that Justineau is the only human who awakened her “hungriness”.
    If I follow this Freudian theory, Melanie gained maturity through experience (hunting for food).
    Then, Melanie unconscious motivation for lighting the fire was to keep Justineau in a box, for her alone. (Freud would have remarked that the movie ends with a gigantic ejaculation from a phallic shaped tower ^^’) Or it could be a way to repress her desires.

    Reply
  5. jackie

    The ending is simple, we really shouldn’t think too deeply.

    Melanie loves Justineau, she simply wants to keep Justineau with her. (Melanie is a kid! She should be think and act like a kid)

    At the end, Melanie said: “there will be alots of time”. That’s exactly what she wants, alots of time with Justineau.

    Reply

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