This survivalist space fiction is one of the most thrilling genres. That’s the feeling “Pandorum” can elicit in any film buff. Overture films, which distributed the film in North America, went bankrupt the following year. Considering the aestheticism of what Hollywood is, “Pandorum” was always going to be an experiment in failure. Cannibalistic humans, body horror, space delirium. It’s as if the makers of the film were doomed from the time the script was written.

Hollywood is a capitalistic enterprise that has a formula. These formulaic films all have their own codes. These codes are not for change. The reason is that throughout the years, the codes have been perfected. The market has been adjusted to ensure that only a certain kind of aesthetic survives. This is what led to “Pandorum” becoming a cult hit and a financial flop. The film’s USP lies in the fact that Earth was destroyed. That’s the conflict that creates whatever we see in the movie. The absence of the comforting atmosphere of Earth means the disappearance of morality and social and legal clauses that we have developed and perfected over the years. Now, let’s see in detail what unfolds aboard an interstellar ark in “Pandorum”:

Pandorum (2009) Plot Summary & Movie Synopsis:

What happens when Corporal Bower is awakened from hypersleep?

An interstellar ark called Elysium was built to carry Earth’s resources, and a population of 60,000 was sent to Tanis, an Earth-like planet, for simple colonization purposes after Earth’s resources had been heavily depleted. What may be a simple survival tale is also a tale of colonization. All passengers are placed in hypersleep for 123 years, the time required to cover the distance. The spaceship’s crew has been divided into many groups, and they are awakened biennially to maintain the ship.

The premise seems ominous enough when Corporal Bower (Ben Foster) is awakened from his hypersleep due to a systems malfunction, and so is Lieutenant Payton (Dennis Quaid). One of the after-effects of hypersleep and improper awakening is partial amnesia with the onset of Pandorum, a form of psychosis. As they wake up and start remembering what they are supposed to do, they realize that the nuclear core, which is supposed to power their ship, is not functioning properly, and because of this, they are not able to access the bridge. Payton stays behind to control the computer and guide Bower into the nuclear reactor, who makes his way through a vent.

Bower soon realizes that there is something very wrong with the ship. He sees a gutted body and then an unconscious crew member named Shepard (Norman Reedus), who gains consciousness. Instead of telling him what exactly is happening, Shepard covers himself with oil, which masks the scent from “them.” When Bower orders him to tell him what is happening, Shepard makes the startling declaration that there is no chain of command anymore. It’s every person for themselves. This commotion attracts these you-know-whos. For the first time, Bower encounters these cannibalistic golems attracted by sound and smell. Shepard is torn to pieces, and Bower somehow escapes.

Why does Gallo prevent the restoration of the ship’s reactor?

Soon, his search for the reactor leads him to meet Manh (Cung Le), a farmer who doesn’t speak English, and Nadia (Antje Traue), an environmentalist, along the way. Both of them are hostile as trust has broken down, and it’s every person for themselves. Bower summons all his strength and says fixing the reactor is the only way they would be able to survive. As they progress, they are met with a multitude of those humanoids. They fight off one and corner themselves into a barricaded area where they meet Leland, a cook. Meanwhile, Payton encounters Corporal Gallo, whom he helps descend from the vents. Gallo is skittish and tries to prevent the ship’s reactor from being restored. Payton keeps trying to reason with him and prepares a sedative that would help Gallo, as he feels that Pandorum is setting in for Gallo.

Leland has survived in the barricaded chambers by eating whatever water has poured in and algae and, of course, resorting to cannibalism. He had drawn murals on the walls to keep a recorded history of what had happened. He feeds the group and encounters how, eight years into the trip, a message played that Earth is gone, and all that’s left is the Elysium and the 60,000 people. Corporal Gallo killed his entire crew and induced Pandorum in the rest. He did experiments on them and introduced a tribal, violent culture, and he went into hypersleep. The enzymes that were there to help the people adjust to the environment in Tanis turned the people into monsters. Along with the story, Leland gasses them and prepares to eat them until Bower convinces him otherwise.

What does Bower do next?

Bower, Leland, and his other crew mates head into the chamber where a colony of these mutated descendants is seen hibernating. As he tries to make his way to the reactor, the gangway breaks, and Bower has to wade through the populace of cannibal humanoids. With great difficulty, he resets the reactor, killing the population, and makes his way to the bridge. While making his way to the reactor, Bower tries to find his wife but remembers that she never made the trip to the Elysium and almost gives up.

Payton’s prepared sedative to calm down Gallo leads to a stark revelation as Payton discovers that he is Gallo. He had put himself in Payton’s pod and had forgotten due to amnesia. Many such cannibals attack Bower and the crew, but somehow, they manage to reach the bridge. Manh kills a cannibal leader but hesitates to kill the small child and loses his life to him. As Leland reaches the bridge, Payton pushes the sedative and kills him. Bower and Nadia reach the bridge, and Payton tries to reason with them and opens the windshield to reveal that they are still adrift in space.

Pandorum (2009) Movie Ending Explained
A still from Pandorum (2009)

Payton argues with him and asks him to keep this society alive while Bower reaches breaking point. Suddenly, Nadia notices bioluminescent water life through the windows, and according to the computer displays, 923 years have elapsed since the mission started. They had landed on Tanis 800 years ago. Bower’s hallucination gets worse, and he envisions a mutant attack. He tries to break a window, but Bower and Nadia escape in a hypersleep pod as the bridge is about to be flooded. The mutants and Payton are killed as the ship is flooded. This triggers all pods to be ejected as they reach the surface of the water. The pods break open, and they encounter the beautiful skyline of Tanis, which is going to be their new Earth, along with 1200 other survivors.

Pandorum (2009) Movie Ending Explained

Who are the mutated cannibals?

“Pandorum” is succinct in its storytelling and ensures it doesn’t drift like Elysium or as we are led to believe. It also is a rich social hierarchical tale. Pandorum is a fictional disorder where hallucination sets in, and people become overly suspicious. A madman who is not able to comprehend is left to misconstrue what it means to be alive and creates things that he can’t control. Doesn’t it remind you of something? Social constructs were created in ways where some people would always be left for the dead. The others are going to reap the benefits of society. Religion, economy, race, gender, and any other social divisions and identities that exist have divided human beings like no other.

We have been led to a fragmented society. This society is not based on identities, as identities themselves have become fragmented. The cannibal humanoids are the physical manifestation of such fragmentation. This fragmentation does not always need to be negative. Identities have always manifested more representation. But in this situation, as the world is being fragmented for the greed of the few, identities have been utilized by the powerful to create a vicious human state—a human state that has regressed to its absolute primal form.

We create proxy wars and subjugate populations through various scenarios, enough to violate the minds of impressionable adults and confuse them about what truth actually is and whether anything that we read or see can be taken as truth. Constant paranoia is settled in our brains, and we project it onto our fellow individuals, thereby infecting them further.

What does the ending mean?

There are many telltale signs of narrative linearity, and any keen film observer would easily point out that Gallo is Payton and vice versa. But as you see the flashback through which the film begins, you can see that Gallo is vicious. He is vicious because he realizes that there is no hierarchy anymore. He is freed, and he understands human nature. That’s where Gallo becomes dangerous.

Any man who realizes that when the system (or Earth in this case) doesn’t exist, the rules and regulations that have bound human nature will erode over time. Human beings’ base emotions are that of preservation. Preservation can only exist through elimination. That’s the logical conclusion, and as Gallo understands this, he knows that the only way, in these 123 years, Elysium doesn’t become a ghost ship is by making sure that human beings are transcended back to a tribal form of human society.

But where people go astray is that genealogy is never going to remain the same. Mutation is a part of the evolutionary process. Eight hundred years of evolution on the ship with the help of an enzyme and inside water, where life first started on Earth, is a poetic assumption by the writers and the director. This is where humanity should revert back to the worst or, rather, how a rudimentary society should begin. Gallo knew well enough that humanity needed to be changed, but he was not able to comprehend how bad the mutation was going to be and had to put himself in hypersleep.

“Pandorum,” as a survivalist drama, supersedes all expectations. This was destined to become a box office failure because the aesthetics are that of truth, and Hollywood is not accustomed to so much truth all at once.

Read More: 10 Great Sci-Fi Movies You Can Watch on Hulu Right Now


Pandorum (2009) Movie Links: IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes, Wikipedia, Letterboxd
The Cast of Pandorum (2009) Movie: Dennis Quaid, Ben Foster, Cam Gigandet, Antje Traue, Cung Le, Eddie Rouse
Pandorum (2009) Movie Genre: Sci-Fi, Horror, Action | Runtime: 108 minutes
Where to watch Pandorum

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