By Francis Aiello
A Swedish Ship Heading Nowhere Forever
Rarely does a movie cause me to change my everyday thought patterns and overall worldview. It’s also a rare film that can hold my abnormally short attention span for half of the usual 80-minute length. Aniara, which is nearly two hours long, not only kept me interested for its full runtime, but this Swedish-made film has further helped me add another piece to the puzzle that is “life’s purpose,” or lack thereof.
The film opens with the camera focusing in on a shuttle full of passengers heading away from the once verdant Earth. Burn victims and an overwhelming sadness are present on the shuttle. Here is where I got the first glimpse at the main character, known only to the audience as the “Mimarobe,” played by Emelie Garbers. The “Mimarobe” and all other occupants exit the shuttle to board “Aniara,” the “state-of-the-art transport ship that would take you all the way from Earth to Mars in three weeks”. As an employee of “Aniara,” the “Mimarobe” manages what is known as “MIMA,” an advanced AI device that replicates the emotions and physical feelings associated with the Earth’s natural beauty as it once was within the minds of its users. MIMA’s significance, other than the fact that it plays a major part in the movie’s plot development, is that it gave me much greater insight into the science-fiction characteristic of the film and provided an effective analogy that instilled in me the hopelessness that the passengers experience throughout the movie.
While the theme of hopelessness is present from the beginning of the film, this emotion was initially ingrained in my Aniara viewing experience after the ship made contact with space debris, setting it off course forever. The initial graphic images of passengers screaming and crying in panic along with the chaos of the captains of the ship trying to salvage an obviously futile situation is what really sparked my interest in the film. This allowed me to make it past that elusive 45 – minute mark present in all of the films I watch. All imagery aboard the ship, which was previously comparable to a mall combined with a hotel around Christmas time instantly changed to a much darker and slower tempo as Aniara’s passengers begin to escape their panic and traumatic experiences by seeking refuge in the “MIMA” device.
Normally with movies, if any aspect of the film is completely inaccurate and inconceivable in real life, the movie is completely ruined for me. For example, I was never able to suspend disbelief in the Wizard of Oz, because the odds that a girl can get spit up out of a tornado and survive are virtually zero. In Aniara, it was clear that the directors, Pella Kagerman and Hugo Lilja, paid immense attention to make certain that as the film’s timeline progressed, revolting algae based food was required to keep people sustained, there were fewer and fewer people aboard, and the ship looked more and more like a 1970s New York slum. It was these small details, which are often overlooked, that make this science-fiction film believable, thus keeping the message of the movie relevant.
While Aniara is clearly a science-fiction film, there is an uncharacteristic focus on the characters and their development over their years of confinement aboard the ship. Another science-fiction film that I had previously watched, Snowpiercer, had the same exact theme of a group of people trying to escape a post-apocalyptic world by traveling a self-sustaining circumnavigational train, however this is where the similarities end. In contrast, Snowpiercer focused primarily on the main characters staging a rebellion against the armed guards who were enforcing segregation between the rich and the poor within the train. While action isn’t present in Aniara, this is for the best, since we get a film that fills us in on the events of each character’s life as hopelessness increases. Stories of romance, loss, death, addiction, and even the development of cults provided a more interesting viewpoint of the dire situation’s effect on the various characters. While there are glimpses of this in Snowpiercer, Aniara evoked emotions to a much greater degree, forcing reflection rather than distraction from the real world for a few hours.
If you are like me and struggle to pay attention to movies in general, prefer plot lines that are more focused on characters rather than action, and aren’t opposed to some nudity in your movies, then I highly recommend this movie. However, if you are also like me and are anxious and tend to overthink even the most simple daily occurrences, then I would recommend this movie with some slight apprehension, as the allegorical message in Aniara will cause seemingly endless and somewhat painful pondering about the meaning of life.