Review: ANIARA Is Unapologetically True Sci-Fi That Gets Muddled At Times

FIRST IMPRESSION

While delving fully into its sci-fi roots, the film falls flat too often by only showcasing certain dilemmas on a surface level, rather than giving every instance equal spotlight. Still, it is very intriguing throughout its runtime, and poses many thought-provoking questions.
Writing
Directing
Acting
Technical Merit

It’s always refreshing to witness a film that is unapologetically true to itself, and Aniara most definitely fits into this category. This Swedish sci-fi film isn’t watered down for general audiences, but instead, it revels in its dark outlook on facing the inevitable. It doesn’t hold back in its terms of pacing, which is crucial for a film with a premise like this. When a spaceship transporting countless humans from the dying Earth to Mars is knocked off course, the terrifying question arises: what now? And Aniara does a great job at highlighting just a few of these infinite possibilities. Made up of a variety of vignettes, as the ship remains stranded, the film constantly unsettles its audience and locks them in for an introspective look at humanity itself.

With a premise that feels like a blend between The Matrix and High Life, it’s important for Aniara that its presentation differs greatly from both films. For example, the earlier chapters of being stuck on the ship revolve around MIMA, a simulation that transports its users to memories of Earth in the past. It is used as a therapeutic escape for the passengers, and as time progresses, more and more flock to the MIMA chambers. Yet the deeply unsettling prospect of turning off reality for a virtual landscape is highlighted greatly. When countless individuals are shown laying face down, secluded from the real world, it incites a sense of dread comparable to looking at a sea of people buried in their phones. And the unsettling dread of the film only increases as the ship drifts further into the unknown.

A still image from Pella Kågerman and Hugo Lilja’s ANIARA.

So which would be better? A simulated existence in MIMA, or the reality of endlessly drifting into nothing? What’s great about the film is how both views are examined, and both sides have equal repercussions when all is said and done. And as the film shows, everyone must eventually embrace the inevitable, and the later chapters are when the true grim reality of the situation fully settles in. As cults begin forming and suicide rates rise, hope is a rare commodity in Aniara. This film has so many interesting aspects to dive into, and while many are explored, some uninteresting elements seem to be expanded upon a bit too much. In this regard, the film can feel as if it bouncing all over the place. Fortunately, when Aniara dives into the more interesting questions about humanity, it truly delves into the many layers of answers.

Emelie Jonsson as MR in Pella Kågerman and Hugo Lilja’s ANIARA.

From a technical perspective, Aniara has standout moments but reverts back to normalcy rather quickly. Some beautiful editing allows for moments within MIMA to feel transcendent, just as the device itself is used for the passengers. A humming score makes way for tense and alarming emotion as cults begin forming on the ship. And while the cult moments are arguably the highlight of the film, one craves more. While the imagery is definitely alarming, the cults are only shown on a surface level, leaving much to the imagination. However, any sci-fi that is halfway decent should elicit some deep thought on the matter at hand, and in this regard, the film succeeds. But in times of bland direction, it’s second nature to desire a bit more from the already ambitious film.

Aniara is based off a poem of the same name, so instead of being a full adaptation, the film creates a narrative surrounding the themes touched upon. The recurring idea of hope being lost is the crux, but there’s no short supply of other concepts. Aniara succeeds in its attempt of painting a larger picture than what is occurring on the ship itself. Going farther into the unknown than any other living being should be massive, but for those aboard, what was the cost? As hope is regained, and subsequently lost, time and time again, minds begin to crumble. Humans have always been a small part of an infinitely massive universe, and Aniara finally puts this into perspective for its characters. The message comes at a bit of a cost for the film as a whole, but overall, Aniara is unadulterated sci-fi, and cinema needs more of it.

Magnolia Pictures will release Aniara in theaters on May 17, 2019.

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Alex Papaioannou
Alex Papaioannou
Born and raised in New York. I've always loved all things pop culture, but my true passion lies within film. And the only thing that I love more than watching movies is writing about them! Some close runner-ups are: food, the Yankees, and hip-hop.

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