Adapted from the poem of the same name by Swedish Nobel laureate Harry Martinson, Aniara – co-directed and co-written by Pella Kagerman and Hugo Lilja – charters the aftermath when the eponymous spacecraft is knocked off course shortly after embarking on what was supposed to be a three-week journey to transport settlers from Earth to Mars. With the steering and engines in disrepair, the onboard community gradually descends into madness as they endlessly drift through the void and slowly realise the hopelessness of their situation. While the premise initially seems to be setting up Lord of the Flies in space with a touch of existential horror, the end result – much like the ship itself – is one that aimlessly drifts along without achieving anything along the way.
Although the overall experience of watching the movie is overall insufferably dull, the filmmakers do demonstrate a good deal of creativity in shaping the world of the Aniara. Sleek interior designs, somewhat reminiscent of 2001: A Space Odyssey, intriguing pieces of technology (including a sentient projector that allows users to relive memories) and brief glimpses into how they create their makeshift society all work together to inject interesting layers into the mix. The cast, too, do a pretty solid job. But that is as far as the accomplishments go.
Where the film fails so dramatically is in its pacing and structure. Divided into a series of chapters separated by sudden and increasingly large time gaps, each section is intended to explore either an area of the dystopian society or nudge the plot further along its trajectory. Taken individually, each chapter could theoretically work as its own short film, dropping viewers into its world when things have already gone awry; but when joined together, these chunks have no cohesion whatsoever. What’s worse is that many of the moments of crucial character development seem to occur during each time gap. A budding romance becomes a happy family, a cult rises and falls, and characters instantaneously hit a downward spiral. It’s not clear if the writers even knew what they were doing.
While intended to be a bleak metaphor for our insignificance within the sheer size of the universe, Aniara is instead a bleak viewing experience, devoid of any life or purpose of its own.
Aniara is released in select cinemas and on digital on 30th August 2019.
Watch the trailer for Aniara here: