Directed by Pella Kagerman and Hugo Lilja.
Starring Emelie Jonsson, Arvin Kananian, Bianca Cruzeiro, Anneli Martini, Emma Broomé, Jennie Silfverhjelm and Leon Jiber.
A luxury spaceship carrying human settlers to Mars is left drifting in space when an accident causes it to jettison its fuel supply.
Earlier this year, the film critic fraternity went thoroughly ga-ga for Claire Denis’ oddball space drama High Life, in which Robert Pattinson brooded his way around a space station while Juliette Binoche rambled on about semen. For me, though, this year’s best film about the doomed inhabitants of a stranded interstellar craft is Swedish-language sci-fi Aniara, adapted from an epic poem penned by Nobel laureate Harry Martinson in the 1950s.
The film begins with footage of the Earth being ravaged by natural disasters, cutting to a group of settlers travelling from their ancestral home up to the Aniara – an opulent cruise ship in orbit – which will fly them over to Mars in just three weeks. That is until Captain Chefone (Arvin Kananian) reveals that the ship has been forced to jettison its fuel to avert a crash and, subsequently, their journey may now take up to two years until they pass another celestial body and can use its gravity to get back on course. Naturally, this goal proves optimistic and the months soon turn into years.
Our entry point into the plight of the Aniara and its inhabitants is a character referred to only as Mimarobe (Emelie Jonsson) – named for her job as the keeper of the Mima. She controls a seemingly sentient VR machine that allows passengers to relive their memories of Earth at its most verdant and vibrant. Initially, this is a pretty thankless job but, once the predicament worsens and the years pass, the Mima becomes vital for many passengers in order to avert panic attacks and troubling thoughts – one scene darkly reveals a suicide rate of 48 people in a single month.
The increased pressure on the Mima – which itself begins to sicken and warp – is just the beginning of a tragic spiral that sees fake news spread, sex cults form and hope become rarer than a raindrop in the Sahara. The overriding feeling behind the film – written and directed by duo Pella Kagerman and Hugo Lilja – is that of humanity’s first extinct being towards exploitation, overuse and, inevitably, eventual destruction. When Anneli Martini’s sardonic astronomer refers to the Aniara as a “sarcophagus”, she captures the nihilistic mood of the story very well.
With such a feeling of gloom permeating the movie, Aniara benefits from the rich humanity of its central performance. Jonsson is a caring, pragmatic woman in the midst of a system that clings to bureaucracy even as society crumbles, with Kananian’s stoic, cold captain so committed to the company line and to getting results that he’s prepared to twist reality as much as the scenario requires. Jonsson’s performance is complex and sensitive, with MR positioned as someone who really feels everything that’s happening and has a sincere desire to make things better – a contrast to the simplistic optimism or pessimism espoused by just about every other character.
The film is told with a somewhat loose sense of pace that won’t be for everyone and there’s a deliberately disorientating sense of time passing at different rates throughout the narrative. Regular flash-forwards are illustrated by on-screen captions – as well as perfunctory and oblique chapter headings – and quicken as the desperation intensifies. The pacing means that certain details and events are sidelined rather too swiftly, with some of the most interesting sideplots left on the cutting room floor rather than feeding into the overwhelming feel of an inexorable slide towards doom.
Aniara is a compelling study of human nature, which never shies away from condemning the ways in which mankind has scuppered its own continued existence, and will continue to do so even when it does consider a move into the stars. Despite the optimism and heart of Jonsson’s central performance, Kagerman and Lilja’s film tells a story of a human race that has lost its humanity, ending with a final shot of bitter, twisted irony that makes the film’s viewpoint clear once and for all. We’re all doomed, and it might be too late to stop it.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Tom Beasley is a freelance film journalist and wrestling fan. Follow him on Twitter via @TomJBeasley for movie opinions, wrestling stuff and puns.