Tsunamis, wildfires, and hurricane winds all ripping across the Earth’s surface while a pod races up from the Earth’s atmosphere towards a looming spaceship. This is how Pella Kågerman and Hugo Lilja’s Aniara starts. Based on the existential Harry Martinson poem of the same name, Aniara follows the cruiser ship Aniara – think Virgin Trains in space – that transports humans from a dying planet Earth to newfound colonies on Mars. Shortly into its voyage, Aniara collides with manmade debris orbiting Earth and is sent spiraling off course. The ship is unable to steer its way back on track and is left drifting through space for years waiting to find another ship to latch onto.
Photo © Aniara
Amongst the chaos, is hopeful MR (Emelie Jonsson) who is desperate to keep alive sentiments of planet earth. MR is not an astronomer or pilot, rather she works amongst the therapeutic Mima faction of the ship. Mima is an omniscient, mind-reading, earth simulation unit used to soothe the existential clambering of passengers. When passengers have panic attacks about the futility of living out their remaining days in a tin can in space, MR rushes them to lay face down under Mima so their minds can be engulfed with scenes of spawning meadows and rushing waterfalls. Mima is one of the film’s most intriguing concepts, blending science with an enigmatic celestial being who remains as the ship’s closest link to nature. Unfortunately, Mima’s presence is short-lived and she self-destructs due to stress. As soon as Aniara loses Mima, the film turns from an atmosphere of the sublime and fascinating to the mundane, fragmented, and bleak. Alike those panic-stricken passengers without Mima, Aniara’s audiences are left staring at a weighty, bleak, and hopeless existence.
Photo © Aniara
Unfortunately, cutting plotlines short and scrapping themes is a common occurrence in Aniara. Aniara is an ambitious venture and starts to cover some interesting ideas on global warming and what happens to the human soul when it becomes detached from nature and trapped in space. As a ship, Aniara is not limited on supplies or in critical danger – the ship produces enough sour-tasting Algae to last decades. The pilots of the ship instead try to propose the concept of making Aniara a lifelong home – a new planet almost. There are fun-filled bowling alleys, booming night clubs and lavish shopping districts. However, for some passengers living inside a spaceship shopping centre isn’t enough and many resort to suicide. It’s a discussion on whether or not humanmade distraction or invention can ever detract from the curling existentialism that comes when humans are displaced from nature. While Aniara might be a hub of safety that meets modern-day social needs, it can never replace the never-ending and unpredictable nature of living on Earth. As one passenger even says, ‘There are no possibilities here’.
Photo © Aniara
While ambitious, the covering of subjects like this seems to falter and fall short of Kågerman and Lilja’s highflying intentions. General topics of global warming, human transgression, and emotional unnerving feel thinly covered and underdeveloped – as soon as Aniara sinks its teeth into a plotline, it abandons ship and skips forward a few years. While the film hopes to give a wide-lensed insight into how human life copes for many years after initially being lost in space, the time intervals feel short and rushed. Instead of developing a firm storyline or arch, Aniara jumps from idea to idea – leaving the whole film feel thinly-spread and hollow. The film does try to pack some real heat with some shocking scenes but ultimately their appearances feel underwhelming. Perhaps this is because of the film’s low budget production, shaky cinematography and limited soundscape – or perhaps it’s down to the fact that said scenes have little anticipation or development built up beforehand. Instead of a series of developed realities, it feels like a slideshow of disconnected events that are had to grip onto.
Aniara has a very poetic and interesting premise – it’s evident that it’s a film that wants to focus on human behaviour above everything else. It also opens up the doors to some interesting discussions on how humanity flares with a connection to nature. Nonetheless, it’s lack of focus and lack of depth makes for an elongated and draining watch.
Written by Abi Aherne