As humans, we love our freedom. We are also the people who created a cage, prison, and other boxes to rob those liberties. That’s the irony of humans. Today, we begin our lives in a cage (test tubes) and end up in a casket (if lucky). But can you imagine the horrors if you are locked in a capsule and with oxygen depleting faster than your sanity? That’s the kind of horror Alexandre Aja has depicted in his french film, Oxygen (Oxygène).
A middle-aged woman (Mélanie Laurent) wakes up in a cryogenic pod. Her body was covered with woven material (similar to Mummy) and attached to medical equipment from top to toe. An AI named MILO (Medical Interface Liaison Operator) alerts her that oxygen inside the pod is rapidly depleting. With her current estimated rate of consumption, she has less than an hour to live. The woman couldn’t recall her name nor any past incident. The only voice she can hear is of Milo.
Milo informs her that her name is Omicron 267, which freaks her out. However, through a DNA search made by the AI on her command, she finds out her real name, Elizabeth ‘Liz’ Hansen. With the help of Milo, she contacts the police but they couldn’t locate her pod location.
Elizabeth requests Milo to open the pod but it is locked by an administrative lock that requires a passcode. She requests the police to find her location or the passcode which is her only chance of survival. Trapped inside the pod, Elizabeth is hit with sudden memories of the past that shows her husband, Dr. Leo Ferguson. Lying in a constricted position, Elizabeth investigates herself over the internet with the help of AI. She figures out that she is a Nobel prize-winning biologist who designed this cryogenic pod. For a moment, she believes that she fueled her own death.
She is convinced that someone who was trying to kill her has trapped her inside the pod and left her to die, but soon shocking revelations turn her belief upside-down.
Major Spoilers Ahead
Where is Elizabeth ‘Liz’ Hansen?
In her exploration to find out about her husband, Elizabeth calls a number that disconnects the call as soon as she inquires about Leo. The attending officer assures her that she was never married and she is experiencing a psychotic episode in which a person creates fictional memories. However, she figures out that the officer is taking instructions from a background voice and suspecting him, she disconnects the call. The number on which she called to inquire about Leo, calls her back and a weary voice narrates the truth about her existence.
The voice tells her that she isn’t on Earth. She is some 40 thousand miles away on a mission to colonize a planet orbiting around Wolf 10-61 that is 14 light-years away from Earth. The mission would take 34 years and there the voice created this pod and the system to keep Elizabeth in hypersleep condition. But she abruptly wakes up, therefore threatening her own life.
Why was Elizabeth sent on a Space Mission?
According to the voice, a deadly virus killed millions of people on the planet along with Leo Ferguson. The human race will be extinct from the surface in two generations and looking for a future outlet was the only option. However, this information couldn’t be made public in order to avoid panic. When she called the police, they didn’t reveal the truth, because the ministry got involved and they were waiting for oxygen to get exhausted before Elizabeth calls someone else.
The voice requests Elizabeth to get into hypersleep again before the oxygen level descends below 2 percent or she will be dead forever. Before the voice can assist Elizabeth to initiate the process, the voice’s home is raided by some other voices. The calls gets disconnected leaving Elizabeth on her faith.
‘Oxygen’ Ending Explained
At 5 percent oxygen level, Elizabeth loses all hope. She tries to commit suicide by opening the pod and entering outer space. However, in the end moments, a memory strikes her, in which she remembers Leo’s body being wrapped up the same way she was wrapped for the pod. She plunges into the system further and finds out that there are 10 thousand Omicron (individuals) on the spaceship, sleeping inside their individual pods.
Milo shows the beautiful visual where all these pods are arranged in a bee-hive. The ray of sunlight and picture of Earth inflicts a new hope in Elizabeth. She tries to find Leo’s pod but when she finally looks at his face, there is a birthmark missing from his forehead. Elizabeth couldn’t’ connect the dots.
She finds a video on the internet where her older self is talking about Memory transfer and mouse experiment. All those dreadful mice mutation experiments in the lab and her own fear of the mice connect together when finally she concludes that she isn’t real. She is a clone to Elizabeth whose voice she heard on the phone. The real Elizabeth transferred her memory in the clone and sent it on a mission to inhabit a new planet.
According to Milo, the clone is 12 years old. And the voice told Elizabeth that it’s been 12 years since they have left earth. These timelines reveal that the cloned Elizabeth was created in a lab for the sole purpose of this mission, therefore, her name Omicron 267 is a serial number attached to her identity. A flashback memory also establishes that Omicron 267 was the form number given to Elizabeth when she opted to donate her DNA for the mission. All the loose ends finally connect together. The woman in the pod isn’t a real person, but a clone of Elizabeth ‘Liz’ Hansen. Dr. Leo Ferguson is dead as well and the man she saw in hypersleep was a clone too with Leo’s memory inside him.
Elizabeth is distraught. She quickly recollects her consciousness but it’s too late. The oxygen level is already below 2 percent and even hypersleep won’t be able to save her. But the promise she made to Leo is keeping her hopes high. Her brain runs faster and she asks Milo about the collective oxygen in other pods whose Omicron lost their lives due to a meteor attack. Milo informs her that transferring their oxygen to her pod is restricted and could take 14 thousand minutes to override. However, if she will be in hypersleep, Milo can still try to save her.
In the end, in a visually enriching shot, we see Elizabeth and Leo on a beach belt of the new planet Wolf 10-61 c, where the inhabitable area is on the border of day and night. Elizabeth fulfills her promise to meet Leo in the end. They spend their life on a new planet, together.
Oxygen (Oxygène) is a highly engaging and technical film. The majority of the film is shot inside the pod and brilliantly showcases the lead actress Mélanie Laurent. Her enchanting close-ups and outstanding performance keep you on the hook. At every second moment, the narrative delivers a new fact that demands its viewers, their uncompromised attention.
The symbolization of rats and their cruel usage for genetic experiments added a layer of depth to the film. However, the metaphor was not extensively explored. The film tried to lay down the fact that Elizabeth’s clone is nothing but a lab rat and our existence will soon be based upon that. Though, the subtext fades away too quickly and almost disappears by the end.
The film as a whole is captivating but the ride isn’t satisfactory. It fails to deliver the important message it once promised its viewers. For the same reason, the film misses its shot to be more impactful.
Oxygen (Oxygène) is a 2021 space thriller film directed by Alexandre Aja. It is streaming on Netflix.
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