Explain To Me What Happened at the End of the Movie LIFE
No, Life isn't Alien, but it made Alien about as real a possibility as it can get. Which turned the dial to 11 for me. I loved this movie. Everything about it. Just a fun ride. https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1orgWfCAyS70EqOXkbZhVKlng_8nNWtTfwB0xqFnkuzM/edit#gid=1430812887
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Good movies worth discussing have really been a rarity of late. Sure, we’re having a ton of fun looking at Triangle… and we turned up our noses at Kong, but really? Fun movies that were worth peeling back and discussing? Nope. Not a lot of that going on right now. And I promised you, at the turn of the new year, that I’d spend more time on better pieces than continuing to waste extra time on numerous meh pieces.

But! But! Have you seen the movie LIFE yet? Oh please tell me you’ve gone to the theaters and watched this one. Because holy goodness and light my friends, did I enjoy that ride. Think back to the first time you watched Alien. The greatness of that experience? Yeah, totally and completely fell head over heels for this one. But what is it, for those of you who have just accidentally stumbled onto this page out of complete ignorance. Life is a movie about the crew of the international space station receiving a satellite, returned back from Mars, that was looking for Life on that planet. And it was also about how that sort of an encounter could go horribly and completely wrong.

See? Great Golly Gobsmacked that looks like a fantastic movie. Makes me want to head back to the movie theater and watch it all over again. But the rest of this discussion is going to be highly, highly spoiler based. Like completely. I basically want to run through the high level events of the movie, just so we can talk about what happened at the end, and what it might mean for the LIFE movie franchise, if there is one. Ok? So, if you haven’t seen it yet… shew.

LIFE Movie High Level Overview

The concept of the movie Life is your standard horror movie/monster movie. It begins by the head of the house inviting the monster in… which, is requisite for any horror movie of all time. We say to the big bad guy… please, do come in and destroy our house. You think I’m kidding? Look back through all the Aliens movies and any other monster movies you can think of. It’s a requirement. And that happens here as well. And in an amazing 5 minute long opening, single cut sequence we not only get introduced to the space station, but also decide to allow the monster in across the threshold.

When the soil of Mars is analyzed and dissected, the International Space Station’s resident expert on Life, Hugh Derry, notices that they’ve got a single celled life form that is in stasis. So Hugh starts fiddling with the cell’s environment to see if they can jumpstart the little horror, I’m sorry, the little cell, back to life again. One of my favorite quotes of the movie was from Ryan Reynolds’ character, RoryAdams:

Hugh: “Bringing temp up…”
Rory: “This is some awesome Re-Animator shit.”
Miranda: “That’s an obscure reference.”
Rory: “Not if you’re a nerd.”

Had me laughing out loud. Re-Animator if you don’t know, is an 80’s… no. I’m not explaining the joke to you. Here’s a link instead. So, moving on, after Hugh (who, importantly, also happens to be handicapped) adds some glucose, increases the CO2 in the atmosphere, and jacks the cell around a bit, the cell begins to move. And once the cell is awake, this is when the fun really begins to happen. (Which, I think happens at around the 20 minute mark? 25 minutes in? Pretty soon after the movie begins.)

Death, Your Name Is Calvin

Once it is announced back on earth that we have incontrovertible proof of life from other planets, the Earth goes crazy. And a child gets picked to name it. And she names it Calvin, after her school. Which would be sweet if this life form didn’t turn out to be a homicidal maniac.

Very quickly things go to hell in a handbasket, all kinds of pear shaped. Calvin connects to Hugh’s glove. And basically attacks him. Next thing we know Hugh is unconscious and Calvin is loose in the ISS pod. Rory makes a critical mistake and heads in to get Hugh out. Which, he succeeds in doing, but ends up stuck himself. And after a fantastic scene involving flame throwers and Alien-esque flashbacks, we watch as Rory gets his insides liquefied. Which is a totally awesome decision by the screenwriters, Rhett Reese, and Paul Wernick, to kill off, arguably the biggest star in this movie within the first 30 minutes of this film. Then, after feeding on Rory thoroughly, Calvin gets significantly bigger. And the shape and consistency of this particular alien is more octopus like than anything else. Which, is a fantastic choice for the weightlessness of space.

Calvin and the Game of Cat and Mouse

From here on out, Life is one big game of cat and mouse. Calvin finds his way into the venting systems, then a space walk is needed to repair comms with earth. Next Calvin is killing outside the space station. Which then means it needs to find a way back into the space station. Calvin finds a way in through the thrusters, which are dangerously low on fuel, and could cause the space station to fall out of earth orbit if they aren’t careful. So, they allow Calvin back into the space station, but decide to vent most of the station’s oxygen in order to send it back into stasis.

While the survivors are sitting and talking Hugh apologizes to them for bringing this chaos to life. And then he flatlines. When this happened, I was certain, GUARANTEED CERTAINTY, that Hugh was going to be a breeding ground somehow, someway, for another Calvin because he had had contact with the alien early on. But that wasn’t it at all. Calvin had been inside his pants feeding on Hugh’s leg and he didn’t know it because he was paralyzed. Brilliant writing there.

About this same time, Earth, which had heard their distress call, but not much else, sends up a Soyuz capsule. Everyone on the ISS believes they’ve sent a rescue…. but actually the pod from Earth is actually attempting to send the space station out into space. Which, I have to say, seems the most dubious bit of writing in this entire movie. There’s no way that a single Soyuz capsule could have enough fuel to send the ISS out into space, never to come back again. No? I mean, I’m not a rocket scientist by any means. But hello?

The Three Firewalls of the Movie Life

Apparently, before this mission to find Life on Mars was started, they had decided ahead of time that there would be three firewalls put in place to protect earth.

“Firewall 1 was the box.
Firewall 2 was the lab.
Firewall 3 was the station.”

Which basically means that everyone on the the space station is doomed. Earth cannot allow the risk of contaminating our planet with a hostile alien. And since the initial box is breached, the lab was breached, and now the space station has been breached, earth must send them out into deep space, never to reach earth again. Miranda understood, and signed off on the fact that, even before she left earth that she would never return if the life form ever left the firewalled zones allowed.

The Chaotic Few Minutes of Life

Amongst the final few minutes a lot happens all at once. During the Soyuz thrust out towards space, Sho – the crew member hiding in the sleeping chamber – made a break for it. Sho was mindlessly flying from locked down compartment to compartment. Sho’s major glitch? He was opening portal after portal. Calvin takes a bead on Sho and fights him, and eventually overtakes him. But during the fight with Sho, the Soyuz’s throttling goes all wrong and crashes and bounces through the middle of the International Space Station. (No, I cannot give you a good reason why this happens. If you know, please(!) explain in the comments.)

Once the chaos subsides, David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Miranda sit and read Goodnight Moon as the realization that the ISS’s orbit is degrading and that they only have another hour and a half before they begin entering the Earth’s atmosphere. And that is when David and Miranda realize they are about to run out of oxygen in the next thirty minutes. And so David comes up with a plan…

Explain To Me What Happened at the End of the Movie LIFE!?!

Alright, so the ending of this movie is clever. But could be fairly confusing to some. The plan that David came up with was to use a set of oxygen sticks to lure Calvin into an escape capsule and then to launch into deep space with it. David had decided to sacrifice himself. And so off he went. And, surprisingly, everything worked according to plan. David pops oxygen stick after oxygen stick and leaves them as bait to lure Calvin along. And Calvin follows – devouring the sticks as it moves closer and closer to the escape pod.

Eventually, David pops an oxygen stick and dives into the escape pod. And Calvin jumps in after. David then shuts the door… and launches the craft. David’s hand is on the stick for controlling the manual override, and he is intent on launching them out into space. Simultaneously Miranda launches her escape pod as well. And we watch as both escape pods travel near each other for a bit, and then one heads down towards the earth’s surface, and the other out into space.


David, hand on the till, is doing his absolute best to force the thrust out into space, but Calvin forces his hand into a downward Earth directed trajectory. Meanwhile, on board Miranda’s escape capsule, something goes horribly wrong. The lights blink red. Alerts go off, and we hear her scream the scream of someone who knows her pod has just malfunctioned and sent her out to deep space to die. Meanwhile, on Earth, some fishermen push their boats out to investigate the capsule. They look in the window to see a still, barely alive David, shaking his head “NO! Don’t open it.” Sort of a shake.

Right? If those fishermen open that hatch, Earth is now endangered.

Rhett Reese – “We always wanted it to end in a creepy fashion that set up at least the possibility for future movies and but the script is very much a seesaw between Calvin having an advantage and the astronauts having an advantage. We always wanted them to be smart, but then a new problem present itself so when they got out of the frying pan they found themselves in the fire. And it just so happened that the last twist was that despite all their best intentions, Calvin was once again once step ahead of them at the end of the movie. It was very intentional and we just wanted to leave people with a real sense of goose bumps and anticipation of what might happen next.”

Reese, and Wernick, the writers for the screenplay on the movie Life, are also the screenwriters for the movie Deadpool, Zombieland (1 & 2), and so we currently sit, as of the ending of this movie, with two really capable writers who could take this moment and really run with it in a sequel.

Reese – “that Calvin can now possibly reproduce, I think, is an interesting idea. We’ve dropped him in a situation that is teaming with life to hunt and to eat. That being the ocean, or the coast of Indonesia or Vietnam or wherever we are saying he’s landed. So that opens it up right there. But just the idea of firewalls could extend to Earth in the sense that now they’ve failed to contain Calvin to the station. The question is, how would the Earth react? Obviously, this was an international effort, so there are a lot of countries cooperating. And again, they would be trying to contain this thing from moving forward and yet there might be more Calvin’s to deal with. To us, that screams interesting sequel.”

Well, I for one am in for a Life Sequel. Sure, there wasn’t a ton of thinking happening in this film… but I had a ton of fun and enjoyed it from beginning to end. What were your thoughts on the movie?

Edited by, CY

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16 Responses

  1. Lee Knigt

    I absolutely loved this film. I found it both a fun ride and a rumination on human nature and life in general. I believe it’s an incredibly thoughtful film, and I’m at a loss as to how anyone could fail to grasp that, especially if they’ve read interviews with the director re: Calvin’s relationship with the crew of the ISS.

    Calvin, quite clearly IMHO, is a product of his interactions with the crew. How would we feel if we were taken from Earth by creatures we’d never even seen and experimented on? Or, as it’s phrased in one interview, “poked, prodded, and electrocuted”? If Calvin is indeed a “homicidal maniac” (and according to the director and at least some of the cast it clearly is not) then it is only because we (as in, humans) have made him a homicidal maniac through our interactions.

    Consider the scene where Calvin first becomes aggressive towards the crew – it’s right after Hugh “stimulates” Calvin with electricity. From Hugh’s POV he was simply attempting to wake Calvin from a perceived state of hybernation using electricity. But from Calvin’s POV he was being electrocuted – how would the average human react after this happened to them if they had the ability to fight back? Same thing with the mouse — Calvin initially isn’t aggressive towards the mouse. He is almost caressing it at first, simply curious about its nature. Then the mouse reacts in the way that many Earth life forms do when confronted with something – it becomes physically aggressive because it’s fearful. It bites Calvin, and it’s only after Calvin is hurt that it becomes violent.

    As the director has pointed out in an interview I read, humans are the only animals that will wipe out entire species. We have historically reacted to the unknown out of a place of fear-driven aggression. Note that before Calvin was exposed to electricity (something that clearly triggers a pain response) he was gentle and purely curious. Then, through an error on Hugh’s part, Calvin’s environment is drastically modified and it goes into what Hugh describes as a type of hybernation. And because Hugh is eager to keep experimenting with Calvin he decides to bring him rapidly out of that state – not the wisest or (IMO) kindest decision. The are consequences when humans decide to “play God” not really knowing (or caring, in many cases) what ramifications that decision will have. We’ve seen this dynamic play out again and again throughout the course of human history on Earth, and this movie expands that dynamic into space and shows us how it impacts a completely foreign lifeform.

    And although I don’t agree with your description of Calvin as a homicidal maniac, I do think it’s an interesting comparison and worth nothing that human psychopaths/sociopaths are often a product of their environments, just as Calvin is a product of the ISS environment.

    • Taylor Holmes

      Oh I completely agree with you that Calvin is a product of its environment. Totally. We have created it to be the killing machine that it becomes. (Spoiler alert: you will come to a very similar conclusion if you watch Alien: Covenant.) I totally loved this story and the realism of the Alien concept. (International Space Station, Mars exploration research, etc etc.)

      Yes, Calvin is a homicidal maniac, because he was conditioned to be. Jeffrey Dahmer was a homicidal maniac, regardless of how he became such a thing. Let’s say he was abused (which he was), and neglected, and addicted to porn and other various S&M things… he still was a murderer. Yes? Calvin was a murderer. The results of its actions were murder. But how it became that way were as a result of mankind’s unintentional evil.

      In all horror movies, rule number one, the evil must be invited in. Always. Over a threshold, into the space capsule, etc. It has to be allowed in. And not only did they allow it in, but they corrupted it, and unleashed it. Such a good movie.

      Great points all Lee. I don’t disagree at all.

      • Tani J

        I have to disagree with both sides of these comments. Calvin had to EAT – and that is why it did what it did – it ATE. It did not just kill people. It ATE them.

  2. De Advocate

    Just watched this one last night. Definitely a fun ride to go on. It somehow lacks the weight of the films that inspired it. I think the firewalls would have been more significant given how much they thought about the eventuality. Especially the first one.
    Taylor, I think when the ship docked with them to push them out into space, remember that Sho opened the airlock between the two ships, because we see that door open and a suited astronaut is on the other side. Calvin eats him up and then that causes the thrusters to go crazy and spin it around and crash into ISS. It was docked to an arm of the ISS. Remember the ISS is made of super lightweight stuff, not structural steel, so bending pieces of it around would be pretty easy with wonky thrusters and ships and such.

    • Taylor Holmes

      You are apparently talking to a past tense version of me. Something I said, and have completely forgotten now, in the post. And so I will nod my head knowingly and say… “very true De… very true… poignant even.”

  3. De advocate

    It was answering a question you asked in the review under The chaotic few minutes of life header. Why the Suoyez crashed through the ship. Maybe I took it all out of context.

  4. Shaz

    This film was utterly captivating, even if it was a gory sci-fi horror movie. I have a fascination for alien movies (Arrival is another favourite), and everything about this seemed so *real*, especially Calvin. I remember being so transfixed watching Calvin whenever he appeared on screen, and it was a long 4 months before I finally got to sit in awe again watching Life on a digital platform when it was released. Furthermore the phenomenal CGI & music and the dark, serious tone of this film boosted its ‘This scenario is actually possible’ message – an alien film 9 times out of 10 can be quite silly or camp, or just have unrealistic expectations of aliens being all green human-like things, speaking English etc.
    I just have so many questions about Calvin, even to this day – I’m so fascinated by him. I’d love to talk to the directors or writers of him and ask questions about his evolution, especially at the end when he turns into this plant-like thing, and inquire the purposes in mind for it all. I also liked the idea of this being Cloverfield’s prequel, but they’ve ruled that out – so if there is a sequel to this, I just really hope they don’t lose sight of this purely artistic, pragmatic vision they have going on (they’d even have to come up with a better name than ‘Life 2’), and keep it as believable as this masterpiece was.

    • Shaz

      It basically feels like not enough people are discussing this movie, so I commend you for this thread!

  5. James Rai

    And that’s the last time I ever support space travel and bringing back Mars rock samples lol.

  6. bernie

    hi 🙂
    a fine specimen of how things can go worse than anticipated … if in search for an educatorial example.
    but what bothered me most was the stickiness to a single compact body – why doesn’t Calvin split into manifold parts, providing him more agency and keeping up its polluting task? here the movie is too much bound to commercial driven iconography (envisioning devilish draculatic monsters) … and misses the chance to convey that subtle threat, where no containment is sufficient.

  7. Frank

    Nope, Calvn doesn’t force David to push the stick to a downward trajectory. Calvin pulls David’s hand away from the stick.

    If Calvin knew the stick needed to go a certain way, Calvin could have done that himself.

    The ending was purposely made to be confusing in order to surprise the audience. It’s a tactic non creative people use – make it foggy.

  8. Ava

    This film was tense and horrifying at the same time due to the very real plausibility of this happening.
    No idea why the writers need him to multiply, he already is a single cell organism in a huge joined mass where if any of him breaks off there is simply another of him. Imagining him getting bigger and bigger as he consumes earth!
    All night through wakefulness and sleep, my mind has been trying to figure out how earth could survive such an invasion, my latest useless thought is a dome but we have to breathe so Calvin would enter nonetheless. What about firing on it from all sides and top and bottom so there is no oxygen after capturing it in an impregnable net aargh I think we have witnessed the end of mankind folks! :((((

    Sorry, great film, very real but definitely want nothing from Mars or other planets down here. lol

  9. Jim

    Just watched this on Netflix. At first it felt like an average sci-fi horror that was riding on the Alien premise. Then I found myself really liking the CGI… It felt like a lot of effort went into Calvin and he became quite believable. Calvin… What a name for the ‘baddie’!

    Anyway, the film still was generic in the ‘crew gets picked off one by one’ down to the finale ‘rescue’ plan. And that’s what got me thinking… It couldn’t be that generic could it? Earth is saved, the dead crew are heroes, the beautiful girl makes it back to earth. If it ended up that way, I think it would be a flat out average ho hum couple of hours that you might have spent better.

    This 98% generic plot, combined with the pods colliding when escaping had me thinking it won’t go as planned. And I wanted that too. What I hadn’t expected was how horrifying those last couple of scenes were. It’s a credit to the film that seeing Calvin ‘nesting’ in the pod was still genuinely a shock… Maybe because of the form change too. But to then snap to, what was for me the most awful moment, the scene where Miranda is hurtling off into space screaming… The screaming did it. Her black box recording never to be heard, she, never to be seen or heard from by anyone again. To top it off, that horn soundtrack was perfect to compliment the fear and dread in your chest as you realise what’s happened.

    If I had one gripe, it would be this. Miranda was prepared to die at the end; both resigning to running out of oxygen/freezing and then offering to go herself into space with Calvin. She also insisted on the firewalls that would mean they would all die anyway if number 3 was instigated. It got me thinking afterwards, would someone scream like that after being so accepting of her impending death before? Then I thought it didn’t matter… It enhanced the shock of the ending and it was one of many things that I was thinking about after the film finished.

    And it’s been a very long time since a film has been able to do that to me, and if a film leaves it’s mark on you, it’s normally a great thing

  10. Usque

    Jim, I feel like the reason Miranda was so disgruntled by her pod being sent into space was her dedication of stopping Calvin getting rob Earth. She created the firewalls in an attempt to plan for all possible scenarios, her failure and the knowing that the planet/human race could possibly face extinction would most likely produce the sort of reaction that was given. Although she was prepared to die in space, she wasn’t prepared for her failure and this ultimately set her “over the edge”.

  11. Wade

    Jim, I feel like the reason Miranda was so disgruntled by her pod being sent into space was her dedication of stopping Calvin getting rob Earth. She created the firewalls in an attempt to plan for all possible scenarios, her failure and the knowing that the planet/human race could possibly face extinction would most likely produce the sort of reaction that was given. Although she was prepared to die in space, she wasn’t prepared for her failure and this ultimately set her “over the edge”.

  12. Leen

    We must not forget that the reason Calvin got ‘angry’ and ‘evil’ is because he was poked and a bit electrocuted because he was passive at a certain moment. I’d be pissed of too.
    First movie ever that got me sick while eating a sandwich ( scene where Calvin squeezes himself in Jake Gyllenhale and eats him from the inside).
    Great movie!


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