“That’s us, a little bubble in the glass of Godhead.”
Aniara is a science-fiction film based on a poem (also about a spaceship that gets lost in space) written by Swedish Nobel laureate Harry Martinson in 1956 and it must be stated that anyone coming into this expecting aliens, lasers and space battles is going to have a bad time. Aniara is more a story musing on the human psyche; on what we do as a species when we lose everything, when all that is before us is the abyss of the unknown and behind us is nothing but fire, ash and pain.
The film opens at some unspecified point in the future. The Earth as we know it is a barren, uninhabitable wasteland, and humanity is fleeing to Mars to begin again. No specific details are given, the only hints given about the surface conditions are in flashes of memory, in news snippets of various natural disasters that play out during the opening credits, and in the disproportionately high numbers of characters showing burns of varying degrees.
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One of the transport ships is the titular Aniara, a literal floating city in space, doing a three week trip to Mars and then back again. Mere hours into the mission it has to try and adjust course to avoid a collision – with only partial success. The Aniara is hit and while the damage initially appears minimal the crew is forced to dump all their fuel to avoid a catastrophic explosion. Ship and crew are saved, but now they’re not pointed towards Mars any more and they have no fuel to navigate. All they can do is hope that they encounter a planet or star that they can use to slingshot around and get pointed in the right direction again, but that might take years, or even longer.
The story follows a character who introduces herself only as MR (played by Emelie Jonsson), a “Mimaroben” – a hostess or guide who looks after a virtual reality machine called Mima which allows people to relive happy memories of Earth before everything went to hell, helping them deal with the realities of being trapped in deep space. Over time, the passengers and crew become more and more dependent on the machine, but even with the help of Mima things start to fall apart as days stretch into months and years. The latter half of the film is a slow descent into chaos and anarchy, as society aboard ship breaks down, jumping forward years at a time to show the evolution of hedonism (and oh yes, the film leaves nothing to the imagination here; any potential viewer should consider themselves forewarned), borderline fascism, and religious fanaticism as ways of coping with this universe in a box they are all trapped within.
In this story the light at the end of the tunnel is the distant star that the ship is inching its way towards, slower than an air bubble migrates through glass. This is not a happy film, and while there are moments of joy, moments of hope and triumph, they are fleeting things, soon lost beneath the grinding onward march of time and distance.
The ending is definitely one that will polarise an audience, and the journey to get there can sometimes be as ponderous as the Aniara‘s march towards its eventual destination (and seriously, what was the point of that story arc midway through the film? There’s plenty of buildup and then it just sort of fizzles out and goes nowhere), but for fans of slower, more thoughtful sci-fi, the kind of stories which are as much about the human condition as they are about anything else, there’s a lot to like here.
Aniara is released in cinemas and On Demand from 30th August, and on Blu-ray 21st October.