Reviews | Written by Andrew Marshall 05/07/2019

ANIARA [Edinburgh Film Festival]


The Aniara, a spaceship leaving the ravaged wasteland of Earth for an ever-expanding colony on Mars, meets with an accident soon into its journey and is knocked off course and towards the inky and empty depths of space. With no hope of repair or rescue, the crew and passengers must learn to make the best of the only home they will have for the rest of their lives.

There is a great deal of potential available from any kind of setup where people are placed in a confined situation with no way of escape and their true characters begin to emerge. It could be especially effective in this case, where the opulence of the ship matters little when everyone was expecting to be aboard for only three weeks, so it would only be a matter of time before things come to a head.

Except things never do, not really. People’s despondency is initially kept under control by the use of Mima, a VR interface room that leaves users in hallucinatory tranquility, but any true reactions to developments goes unseen, as the necessary human responses all take place during increasingly lengthy time skips that lurch the story forwards like chapters in a novel that has chunks of pages intermittently torn out. It's impossible to get a proper handle on how life aboard the ship is progressing due to the inconsistency of people’s behaviour. One section of the film has them becoming addicted to the illusions of the aforementioned holodeck (which it later transpires is some kind of semi-sentient AI being slowly driven insane by the fear and anguish it’s increasingly called upon to blank out) only in the next for social mindset to descend into an orgiastic sex cult worshipping the need for relief from the black emptiness of space, which by the onset of the next section seems to have disappeared, instead being replaced by people become entranced by the swirling colours of interstellar gas.

Pieces of world building eventually start to niggle, such as a brief statement that life on Mars isn’t all that much of an improvement and that being aboard the ship is actually a better class of living, but there’s no confirmation of how truthful this actually is. It’s stated at the outset that communications will be cut off for the duration of their journey without being justified why, simply being a requirement of the plot for the ship to be unable to call for or receive any help. As for basic resources, self-sustaining food and oxygen is explained by algae farms, and likewise a mention of water treatment suggests the capability to repeatedly recycle it, but no mention is made of how the ship generates electricity despite its constant use with seemingly no risk of depletion.

Aniara is an assortment of ideas that never gel together into a single narrative, instead half-forming into a fractured tale that fails to connect with the human emotion it tries to portray. The existential dread the story attempts to impart is never adequately expressed or explored, leaving it, like the voyage of its titular starship, a meandering journey with no clear destination.

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