Earth is fucked. We all know that, and Sci-fi is increasingly interested in how to deal with how fucked we are. Aniara, from directors Pella Kagerman and Hugo Lilja, is an epic human-centric look at post-Earth life.
Aniara starts off in a well-worn futuristic world where humanity is slowly being evacuated to communes on Mars via colossal space craft. Emelie Jonnson plays a tired and socially anxious Mimarobe, whose sole purpose aboard the ship is to run the Mima; a state of the art piece of technology which lets human enjoy a simulation of Earth’s pre-pollution landscapes. Not long after setting sail the ship veers off-course, hurtling into space with little chance of course correction.
Out of all Aniara’s sci-fi treats, the Mima is a gorgeously realised piece of future-tech. A stunning, near supernatural device not dissimilar to a particularly invasive virtual reality. At the start of the film, the Mima is a relatively ignored device; its visitors are dubious and few. Once the ship goes haywire and careens off into the abyss of space, the device is all of a sudden in high demand. Crowds of increasingly desperate humans queue for a brief moment of escape from claustrophobia and depression. Interestingly, the machine has a symbiotic relationship with humans, feeding off their emotions to supply intimate dreamlike trips. But it was never built to withstand the full depressed fury of the panicking human race. Its eventual self-destruction, essentially a suicide, throws the ship into further chaos. Suddenly our panicked central character faces isolation and frustration from the entire ship.
Split into chapters which jump at an alarming and savage rate (Hour One, Week 2, Year 3, Year 5), Aniara isn’t much of a character piece; it’s a film trying to prove a point about longevity and the responsibility we each have in the long-term to our species. Each chapter comes as a surprise and the impact of the previous chapter’s problems is played out. Society crumbles at a geometric rate. But it also develops new weird ways to survive. Cults form. Socialism and Capitalism play tug of war with the souls of the last humans. Relationships erupt out of horror. Murder, mutiny, and entropy flourish when hope slips further and further away.
Aniara is a gorgeous film, cinematically and ideologically descended from Kubrick’s 2001, without ever feeling like a second rate hark-back. Its questions go beyond its runtime, and its characters deal with problems we’ve seen arise in fiction since time memorial. They just do it in a microcosm we’ve never seen before. The steady decent into darkness has whiffs of Joseph Conrad about it, articulated well but not solely by Arvin Kananian’s increasingly single-minded Captain Chefone.
Lilja and Kagerman are not nihilistic by nature, clearly since so much of Aniara comes from hope, love, and ingenuity. Its final point, a severe and near-black comedy reveal, is more of a scathing review of our current trajectory, as opposed to a depressed commentary. The Swedish directors don’t see us as innately screwed, just held back by our own historic pettiness. By the credits, the message is clear and concise, if we only value our own personal lives and lifetimes, humanity is without a doubt doomed.
One of the stand-out films of Edinburgh International Film Fest 2019, Aniara is a fresh, must-see slice of contemporary sci-fi. Not to mention a scathing parable of our current global predicament.
Dir. Pella Kagerman & Hugo Lilja
Stars. Emelie Jonsson, Arvin Kananian, Anneli Martini