ANIARA, directed by Pella Kagerman and Hugo Lilja, is a sci-fi film based on Harry Martinson’s Nobel Prize-winning poem about a spaceship stuck in space with a cargo of passengers. Though I might add that the Swedish poet was on the Nobel committee when he nominated himself and his co-writer for the prize — a fun fact to consider while waiting for the ANIARA screening.

ANIARA is a grounded, well-made sci-fi drama about the realities of modern life, but in space. The passengers are traveling to a new colony on Mars but there’s an accident that causes a delay. The captain (Arvin Kananian) informs the passengers that the three-week trip may actually take two years…or ten years. But secretly, they might never arrive. Their destiny is to float in a Ramada Inn spaceship, forever. The spaceship is equipped with instruments that can grow algae and isolate oxygen so the inhabitants can survive for a long time, if needed…but do they want too?

I’d imagine that the inside of spaceship might be fantastical, an incredible work of art that highlights the ingenuity of an enlightened civilization. But the future presented in ANIARA is deliberately realistic: the inside of the spaceship looks like a mall. And not just a mall — imagine a mall, stuffed with an airport, an office, a motel, a gas station, a gym, and a doctor’s waiting room. It’s Ikea In Space, with Applebee’s food on the menu, and a Disneyland Dance Disco for Friday nights.

No wonder some of the passengers go mad, though you’d think that one or two of them might use their time wisely. If lost in space for an indeterminate period, you might as well learn something? Or create something? But nobody on the ship seems interested in doing anything…besides consuming. Or dreaming about earth.

The lead character, Mimaroben, played by an agile Emelie Jonsson, runs MIMA, a virtual-reality simulator that immerses players in a simulated reality of earth. Many of the passengers are homesick or perhaps: space-sick. Seasickness is a thing, so why shouldn’t space-sickness be a thing, as well? I’d imagine it’s the inverse of seasickness: if a person is in space, surrounded by night for a long period of time…they’ll start to go crazy. They’ll never adjust to the vastness. People weren’t designed to live in the infinite darkness, even one lit by stars.

Aniara heading to Mars

The passengers need MIMI for their sanity, it seems. So, it’s not a good sign, when MIMA breaks down during the trip, leaving the passengers without an escape simulation. Mimaroben tries to fix MIMI — a substitute for a substitute, her roommate sneers at her, before she too, kills herself. Apparently, space sucks!

Mimaroben has goals though — she fights with the arrogant captain about MIMA, she kicks him in the groin and runs away after a confrontation, and yet…there doesn’t seem to be consequences for this. I thought she was going to jump overboard…into space and implode, but that doesn’t happen. Nothing happens, really. She’s assigned a job that is worse than the one she had before. That’s it. She doesn’t end up in space-jail, but then again: how can she end up in jail, when she’s already in jail? Everyone is in jail. This is when people start to kill themselves. They’d rather die…than think.

People party with each other at the hokey bar provided by the spaceship, in celebration of the spaceship’s orbit, possibly being corrected; but even that feels strangely…empty. Everyone smiles and talks to each and acts like they like each other. But they don’t. They don’t have the heart or the guts to like anybody. Liking people takes energy and discernment. You have to discern people to like them. No one connects to anyone in ANIARA. Only the self exists. The future that Aniara presents is an isolated society of consumers: and it’s terrifying.

I was surprised to find space so boring. It’s not space that’s boring, it’s the people who are boring; with nothing to do on the ship: people eat, drink, shop, work, dance, fuck, form cults, and kill themselves. No one on board talks about anything. No one on board does anything. People have sex and cry when their lovers kill themselves…and yet, it all feels so hollow.

I wanted a villain, but there are no villains. No heroes and no villains. Just consumers. They exist, they consume. They eat they fuck. They’re ghosts, not people with souls. Perhaps it’s a dark reflection of society. But there’s hope: I bet the people who made it to the colony on Mars are having a grand old time. Loving, hating, risking, creating, building, interacting, fighting, and evolving.

The culture that’s presented on board in ANIARA is a dying one, devoid of connection or creativity, but don’t despair — a new one is being built on the colonies of Mars. ANIARA is a thoughtful film about a spaceship, lost in space; but ultimately, it’s about a lost society.

ANIARA opens in limited release on May 17, 2019.

Tiffany Aleman
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