Aniara is a one way ticket
Aniara is a pure science fiction film, in that it is as concerned about the challenges of the future, and specifically about how technology can influence the trajectory of a civilization. The debut feature film from Swedish directors Pella Kågerman and Hugo Lilja is an extended riff on that idea, while touching on life in space and artificial intelligence.
Much of the film is told through the eyes of Mimaroben (Emelie Jonsson), a passenger onboard a massive spaceship that is knocked off course en route to Mars. The context of how dire the situation is is revealed over time, as we check-in with the residents of the ship over a period of years. Mimaroben’s primary responsibility aboard the ship is monitoring use of an artificial intelligence called Mima that seems to be used to relieve people’s anxieties and fears.
Eventually, the system shuts itself off after hitting its maximum tolerance for negativity. The loss of this technology is key to understanding the trajectory of the ship’s passengers over the course of time. It functions both as relief and as a form of religion. And things get more unsettled as time goes on.
When watching Aniara, it reminded me of one of the most haunting novels I’ve ever read, Seveneves by Neal Stephenson. Most of the time, “realistic” near-future science fiction has a somewhat optimistic outlook, but Seveneves is so convincingly bleak that there were a few times I was so disturbed I had to take a break from reading. My brain associating the plot of Aniara with that novel is a blessing and a curse, however. It definitely twisted my expectations a bit, and it wasn’t until after I watched the film that I learned it is based on a poem from the 1950s, which predates the more recent novel.
Basically, this is one of the few times where the story feels like things could have gotten worse. This isn’t quite the dystopia of life onboard a giant cruise ship like in Wall-E, but without scarcity of physical resources it isn’t far off. This makes it seem like the focus should shift to the characters, but it doesn’t. Aniara mostly feels like a dramatization of facts rather than telling a story. Which it does well! It’s fine for what it is, but having that expectation going in would have likely made for a more rewarding experience.