Aniara review – a eerily mesmerising outer-space odyssey
With Aniara, the Swedish writing-directing team Pella Kågerman and Hugo Lilja deliver a cold, cruel, piercingly humane sci-fi parable that’s both bang on the zeitgeist and yet also unnervingly original.
In a near-ish future, the Earth seems to have been made effectively uninhabitable and everyone is moving to Mars. A massive spacecraft, as plushly appointed as any modern-day cruise ship with its buffet bars and play areas, sets off on the three-week voyage to the red planet. MR (Emelie Jonsson), a cheerful low-ranking shipmate, tries to entice passengers to experience the wonders of Mima, an artificially intelligent computer-projection-system-gizmo that taps into people’s memories in order to create an immersive, virtual-reality experience unique to each individual. It’s like the Holodeck in Star Trek, but controlled by a not entirely benign consciousness, akin to the sentient planet in Solaris or maybe Hal in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
No one is very interested at first, but then an accidental collision with some space junk causes the ship to veer off course and the crew eject the ship’s propulsion system in order to avoid a nuclear meltdown. Sadly this also means they will all be adrift for at least a few years until they can slingshot around a planet or moon, so suddenly everyone wants to use Mima, putting a strain on MR’s resources and the AI being itself.
That’s only the start of what evolves into a quirky, corrugated story that drifts, like the ship, into all kinds of eerie realms as the hitherto prim, eminently Scandinavian social order aboard breaks down. For those who thought the orgy scene in Sweden-set Midsommar was a bit coy, there’s an even more explicit shagfest here.
As time passes, cults emerge and the society aboard the ship turns into a quasi-fascist state run by the patriarchal captain. MR and later her lover, Isagel (Bianca Cruzeiro), must struggle to survive the new off-world order and resist the vacuum of despair. The narrative air gets thinner in the last third of the film, but there’s a neat little stab in the ending and the whole design and camerawork package is hugely effective given what must have been a comparatively limited budget. Jonsson, with her plain-Jane features that can go from dowdy to luminous in a snap, is mesmerising to watch.