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Aniara

May include Spoilers

I divide science fiction movies into two categories…there are the high-budget unapologetic Trashy Fun Action Adventures-- or others that lay claim, truthfully or not, to being Significant. Avengers: Endgame is planted firmly on the first list. Despite being a hypnotic extravaganza with A-list actors and cardiac-arrest action, it’s totally forgettable. Yep, I loved it, and can’t remember a thing about it.

The “Significant” sci-fi movies are the ones that make you think too much (uh oh!), they’re usually (God forbid) downers, and none of your friends want to see them. The characters have no spirituality to speak of, grace doesn’t exist and neither, eventually, does hope. An example is last year’s (2019) much-touted (but in my opinion repulsive) Claire Denis film, High Life, starring Juliette Binoche (as a deranged doctor) and Robert Pattison (as a father trying to raise his daughter). All the hapless prisoners are on a ship headed into in the sun.

Another recent “Significant” sci-fi film is Aniara, (2018 but getting released last year). It’s the only film I know of based on a poem. The nine-chapter poem Aniara (which comes from the Greek word meaning “despairing”) was written in 1956 by Sweden’s beloved Noble Laureate, Harry Martinson. With such inspiration, you’d assume the film would be epic (it is), beautiful (yes, often), meaningful (usually), quotable (yes, subtitled in English) and important (yes—but the question eventually becomes--who cares?) It’s also terrifying. As it should be--since Aniara’s theme is how insignificant are the yearnings of human beings compared to the vastness of space.

Even so, despite getting nightmares from the movie, you might, as I did, see it more than once. That fact is tribute to the talents of first-time Swedish writer/directors Pella Kagerman and Hugo Lilja who formed a superb creative team, so the cinematography, set design, efx, and music are all glorious. Less glowing is, honestly, the forlorn story itself, and the fact that, like the poem, it’s not the characters who drive the story, but chance—random, cruel, unforgiving chance.  Aniara thus becomes the kind of science fiction film that people who believe in the presence of Spirit should be familiar with--to know how to discuss it coherently, argue if need be, with those who are convinced that the future of mankind holds no memory or hope of salvation.

Global warming is destroying Earth and refugees are fleeing to Mars. Aniara is a colossal, luxurious transport ship on a 3-week journey to the Red Planet with 8,000 passengers. “Say goodbye to Earth,” a mother tells her toddler. Like a luxury cruise liner, Aniara has everything consumer-obsessed Earthlings could want-- 21 restaurants, an algae farm, fashion shopping, a bowling alley, an Olympic pool, video arcades, etc. etc.

It also has Mima, a narcotic-like image scanner that reads people’s minds and plays back beautiful memories of Earth. The gal who runs Mima is a Mimarobe, known as MR (Emilie Garbers), and it is her personal story that unravels the tale of the whole ship. MR has longings for Isagel, (Bianca Cruizero), a tall lanky pilot, who works on the ship’s command team under imperious Captain Chefone (Arvin Kananian).

Everything is hypnotically happy--then a piece of space junk no bigger than a nail pierces the ship’s hull and all the fuel is lost. At first there’s anticipation that in only two years they’ll run into a celestial body whose pull will allow the ship to get back on course. “Once the passengers get used to eating algae,” the Captain says, “we’ll go public with the situation…”

Then a few years later it’s the belief that that a rescue ship is on the way. More years later it’s confidence that the children, who have by now become trained scientists, might come up with something… and the ship floats on …and on, on and on…a godless sarcophagus.

Rated R for strong sexual content, graphic nudity, disturbing images, and drug use.

Color, 106 minutes, Swedish with English subtitles.

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