Aniara (2018) ☆☆1/2(2.5/4): Space voyage of the Damned

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Swedish SF film “Aniara” is akin to watching a slow but inexorable progress toward utter despair and sheer hopelessness. Although it is often too clinical for us to care about what is going on in the story, the movie works to some degree as giving us some morbid but interesting moments to reflect on, and you may appreciate how the movie adamantly sticks to its phlegmatic attitude even when it solemnly arrives at its destination in the end.

During the opening scene, the movie succinctly establishes its futuristic background. As the human society crumbles more or more due to wars and global climatic changes, many people on the Earth decide to leave for Mars, and we see hundreds of passengers boarding an enormous spaceship ready to begin its three-week journey to Mars. As following our unnamed heroine who is one of the crew members of the spaceship, we look here and there around in the spaceship, and you will probably be amused to see how its interior looks like a big, luxurious combination of shopping mall and hotel.

As the captain of the spaceship guarantees a safe trip, everything feels fine to everyone on the spaceship, but, of course, there comes a very serious problem not long after the spaceship leaves the Earth. Due to its unexpected collision with some big space junks, the spaceship gets drifted away from its routine course, and, to make matters worse, it cannot re-position itself to the routine course as losing all of its nuclear fuel during that collision. The captain announces that they can still go to Mars, but he also notifies that they will be stuck in the spaceship for quite a long time until the spaceship reaches to a certain spot where it will be able to change its course via planetary gravitation pull.

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Our heroine, who works in a sort of meditation room where passengers are soothed by those happier memories of their life on the Earth, is a bit more optimistic than others, but her roommate, who has some considerable astronomical knowledge, is quite skeptical in contrast. At one point, her roommate argues that there is no possibility of turnaround for the spaceship from the beginning, and, not so surprisingly, she turns out to be correct when our heroine later happens to have a private conversation with the captain, who does not want any chaos and confusion resulted from that awful truth.

Anyway, the situation seems to be under control for a while thanks to the self-sustaining life support system of the spaceship. While the level of luxury understandably is decreased for everyone on the ship, the basic amount of food and oxygen is constantly provided to everyone thanks to an algae farm built within the spaceship, and our heroine continue to sooth and comfort many passengers whenever they get depressed about their current status.

However, as the spaceship and its crew members and passengers continue its uncertain voyage across the space, the circumstance becomes gloomier for everyone step by step. At one point, our heroine is unnerved by the increasingly frequent errors of the AI system controlling her meditation room, and she immediately reports that to the captain, but the captain casually ignores that because he prefers his passengers to be calmed and soothed as much as possible. In the end, a disastrous incident of malfunction happens, and that is certainly a big mental blow to everyone in the spaceship.

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After that point, everyone in the spaceship slowly begins to descend into more despair and, yes, madness. While the captain and his crew members try to keep everything in order, some of passengers kill themselves as the voyage becomes longer than two years, and many passengers come to join a religious cult. At one point, our heroine finds herself participating in an orgy-like ritual along with a female pilot to whom she has been attracted, and they become closer to each other as the pilot gets pregnant not long after that ritual.

The pilot and our heroine subsequently experience a bit of hope and joy after the birth of their child, but the circumstance remains depressing as usual. When it is discovered that a certain object is heading to the spaceship, everyone on the spaceship become a lot more optimistic than before, but, alas, they will have to wait for at least one more year before its arrival, and we come to have more fear and dread on that grim possibility from which they have desperately tried to look away.

And the movie continues to drone on and on. The screenplay by directors/writers Pella Kagerman and Hugo Lilja, which is based on the 1956 poem of the same name by Harry Martinson, is uncompromising in its dry, austere storytelling, but it eventually comes to lose its narrative momentum during its last 30 minutes, and it is also often hampered by its rather thin characterization, though its main cast members did a good job of filling their respective archetype roles as much as they can.

Intriguing and compelling at times as pushing its stark story premise as far as it can, “Aniara” can be regarded as a cautionary SF fable on our fragile existence in the universe, and I admire its technical aspects although I felt too distant to its story and character during my viewing. Yes, this is certainly not for everyone, but you may give it a chance if you want something different from usual SF Hollywood blockbuster films.

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