‘Oxygen’ (original title ‘Oxygène’) is a French-American collaborative sci-fi movie. Directed by Alexandre Aja, this single-location movie’s protagonist and only active character, Elizabeth (Mélanie Laurent), wakes up to find herself locked in a cryogenic sleep pod. With no memory of how she got there and her oxygen supply slowly running out, Elizabeth’s only option is to dig within her own mind for answers before her fate is sealed.
The claustrophobic movie effortlessly shifts scale from cramped to cosmic, taking viewers on a (literally) breathless journey that slowly uncovers the protagonist’s past and the reasons behind her being trapped in the pod. If the ending of ‘Oxygen’ has left you with questions, worry not! We come bearing answers. SPOILERS AHEAD.
Oxygen Plot Synopsis
‘Oxygen’ opens with Elizabeth waking up in a sealed cryogenic pod. Tearing herself out of the organic cocoon wrapping her, she realizes she is trapped inside the pod with a dwindling supply of oxygen. The pod’s AI assistant, the Medical Interface Liaison Officer or MILO, informs her that her oxygen level is at 35%. After her panicked calls to the outside go unanswered, she attempts to contact the police using the pod’s central communication line.
However, since she cannot remember her name or where she was last, the authorities have a difficult time locating where her pod might be. In the meantime, using MILO’s access to information, Elizabeth finds out her name and the fact that she is a researcher. She also figures out that she is healthy, which she finds strange since cryogenics is primarily used to preserve terminally ill people. The police captain eventually calls back and informs her that they are attempting to obtain the codes that will allow her to open the pod from the inside.
He asks her to hold the line. However, when the line gets cut, Elizabeth is unable to control herself and begins to panic, thinking she’s been buried alive. As her thoughts and reality begin to merge, Elizabeth experiences hallucinations of a man and a woman together. She realizes that the man is her husband, Leo. However, when she is able to contact the police captain again, he says that Leo is a figment of her hallucinations.
Beginning to suspect the intentions of those on the phone with her, Elizabeth tries to contact her husband Leo but is rudely cut off by a woman. Sometime later, the woman calls Elizabeth back and tells her that she must go back into cryogenic sleep if she wants to live. When Elizabeth asks why she can’t be let out of the pod, it is revealed to her and the audience that the pod she is in is currently 42,000 miles from Earth en route to a distant star system named Wolf 10-61.
Oxygen Ending: Who is a Clone and Who is Real?
As Elizabeth looks out at the cosmic landscape in front of her that has so far been obscured from view by her pod’s UV filter, MILO informs her that she is in one of 10,000 pods carrying “bioforms.” The ship, carrying them to repopulate a distant planet, has been in an accident in the early stages of the mission and has collided with an asteroid. MILO also informs her that out of the 10,000 pods, 9,567 of them are still functional, but that she is the only one awake.
Realizing that Leo might be in one of the other pods, Elizabeth scans through them until she finds him. However, seeing that he is missing the scars on his face that she has always known him to have, it slowly dawns on Elizabeth that he, and she, are clones. With her oxygen under the crucial 2% mark, she almost gives up hope but is suddenly struck with the idea of using the oxygen from the other pods around her. MILO informs her that it will take considerable time to transfer the oxygen into her pod and puts her into cryogenic sleep.
In the closing scenes of ‘Oxygen,’ we see Elizabeth and Leo reunite on a distant planet, having successfully made it there alive. The bombshell revelation that the protagonist is a clone answers some crucial questions but raises others. We now know that she is a clone of a younger version of Elizabeth, whilst the real, much older Elizabeth is briefly seen at a scientific conference. To avoid confusion, we will henceforth prefix “Real” or “Clone” before a character’s name to specify their origin.
Once we realize that the Elizabeth we see in the pod is a clone, it explains why Leo, who is in an adjoining pod, has seemingly healed scars on his face. He is also a clone. Hence, the Leo and Elizabeth that we see in space are both clones, whereas the older Elizabeth we see on Earth, as well as the Leo suffering from the virus, are both real.
Is Leo Alive or Dead? How is He Involved in the Mission?
Clone Elizabeth realizes that she is not real after she sees a perfectly healthy-looking Leo cryogenically frozen in one of the pods. Earlier seen to be dying of a virus that is inflicting humanity and threatening to end it in 2 generations, the appearance of Clone Leo reconciles the confusion as to whether Leo is actually alive or dead. From multiple clues during the film, including seeing Leo severely ill and Elizabeth’s mother mentioning that she lives alone, we can infer that Real Leo is dead.
However, according to the status given by MILO, Clone Leo is perfectly healthy in his pod. Hence, it is Clone Leo that we see at the end of the film, whilst Real Leo is already dead. Before his death, Leo seemingly played an important role in the space mission as he is seen designing the pod’s reentry and landing systems. He is also seen in high-ranking military garb, meaning that apart from being married, he and Elizabeth were also colleagues.
The entire project itself seems to be Elizabeth and Leo’s brainchild, with both of them occasionally seen as key architects of the mission. Real Elizabeth was possibly motivated by wanting to be reunited with Leo, and living in a utopia with him, even if it wasn’t actually them but their clones. As we see at the end of ‘Oxygen,’ Clone Elizabeth is united with Clone Leo while their Real versions undergo a much darker fate.
What Happens to Real Elizabeth? What is Happening on Earth?
We see Real Elizabeth, who is much older than her clone, briefly at a scientific conference, talking about her breakthrough with memory transfer. It is later revealed that the mysterious woman who calls Clone Elizabeth and tells her about the space mission is Real Elizabeth. This is why the lady on the phone knows Clone Elizabeth’s name as well as the working details of the pod that she is in.
Just before she gets cut off, we hear men in the background threatening Real Elizabeth and telling her to get down on the ground. The men sound like the authorities, hinting at the fact that the mission itself is a clandestine and illegal one. Soon after hearing the voices, the line is cut, and we don’t hear from Real Elizabeth again. From what we can gather, it seems like the virus sweeping Earth is most likely going to end humanity. This is mentioned by Real Elizabeth in passing when she says that humanity has only 2 generations left to survive.
However, to avoid panic amongst the general public, only senior officials in the armed forces and possibly the government and scientific communities know about it. What remains a mystery is who is behind the daring mission to transplant humanity to another planet. Seeing as both Elizabeth and Leo are depicted working on the mission, and Leo is seen designing parts of the pod in their home, the mission is likely not an authorized one but one organized by a faction to give humanity some hope of survival.
This would explain why, upon the discovery of their mission, Real Elizabeth is apprehended by the authorities. Another possibility is that the mission is an authorized one, and Real Elizabeth is apprehended for telling Clone Elizabeth the truth about her mission instead of letting her suffocate and die, which is what the man posing to be the police captain attempts to do earlier. In either case, Real Elizabeth is in deep trouble for having committed a supposedly criminal or unethical act.
The fact that humanity is having to be transplanted also presents a bleak picture of the situation on Earth. In Clone Elizabeth’s flashbacks, we see the destructive effects of the virus on Leo and others. Since the flashbacks are memories belonging to Real Elizabeth, who is much older now, they depict a time many years in the past. This means that, most likely, the situation has deteriorated much more since then, and the state of humanity on Earth is dire.
How Old is Clone Elizabeth? What is Her Fate?
Once we learn that Elizabeth is a clone, it is interesting to regard her as a separate character and not the same as Real Elizabeth. Clone Elizabeth’s macabre flashbacks and hallucinations of suffering and mutilated lab mice show a contrast between the real person and the clone. Whereas Real Elizabeth is seen confidently performing experiments on the mice, her clone seems to have a fear of them, which is probably the result of deep-seated guilt (for hurting the creatures) that has been transferred from Real to Clone Elizabeth.
However, it is Clone Elizabeth’s age that is most interesting as we find out near the end of the movie that she is only 102 minutes old! Having been asleep for 12 years, Clone Elizabeth wakes up for the first time in the cryogenic pod. We essentially see her birth in the opening scenes of the movie, and subsequently, 102 minutes into her ordeal, she confirms with MILO that her age is, in fact, 102 minutes.
‘Oxygen’ steps away from similar sci-fi movies by having a decidedly happy ending. Clone Elizabeth is seen united with Clone Leo, something that she desperately tries to achieve in the latter half of the movie and almost gives up. The two are seen together on the distant planet Wolf 10-61c, healthy and very much in love. Their real counterparts on Earth are not as lucky, with Real Leo most likely dying from the virus (there is a small chance that Real Leo is cryogenically frozen) and Real Elizabeth apprehended for doing something illegal or unethical.
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