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by Kevin Taft
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Sunday May 19, 2019

It seems that a lot of sci-fi movies and TV shows lately center on the Earth dying and humans trying to find another planet to rest their heads. From "The Wandering Earth" to Netflix's "IO," the Dying Earth genre is a well-traveled one. With "Aniara," the Swedes have taken the trope and turned it a bit on its head to make a more esoteric study of the bleak nature of the situation rather than a hopeful vision for human's survival.

"Aniara" centers on Mimaroben (Emelie Jonsson) a scientist with no family who is one of many humans being transported to spaceships outside of the dying Earth's atmosphere that will carry them to their new home on Mars. Aniara is just one of those ships. Cleverly, the massive starship is like a mall/resort/hotel complete with multiple restaurants, shopping centers, pools, spas, and something called Mira. Mimaroben created Mira — a futuristic machine that can tap into people's calming memories in order to relieve their anxieties about leaving their home for a life on a planet that won't quite be the same as Earth.

However, a single piece of spacejunk — a screw — hits just the right section of the spaceship, poking a hole in a nuclear reactor forcing Captain Chefone (Arvin Kananian) to release all their fuel so they don't blow up. Because of this, they are knocked off course and can't turn the ship around. The plan is to wait until they pass a celestial body and use that body's gravity to push them back on course for Mars. What was originally a three-week journey will now be two years. Of course, panic ensues, and the people aboard the ship must come to terms with more loss.

Based on Nobel Prize-winning author Harry Martinsson's acclaimed 1956 novel, the novel has been translated into many languages and even staged as an opera, but this is the first time the story has been put on screen. Their first feature film, directors Pella Kagerman and Hugo Lilja chop the story up into "years" with subtitles that explain the focus of that portion of the film. This is helpful, but does give the story an episodic nature and, in truth, the story could benefit from being a miniseries rather than a film with a running time of less than two hours.

The good news is the film looks pretty great, and there was clearly some money spent on sets. But truth be told, the story is as bleak as they come — though it's not without some interest. Watching the reactions of the transported humans, the captain, and Mima is at once fascinating, but sometimes you do want a bit more from them. I applaud the inclusion of Mima's relationship to Isagel (Bianca Cruziero) and the film's risky inclusion of a sex cult, which could confuse/turn-off some viewers.

But that's the thing: The film forces us to examine what we ourselves would do when faced with our own extinction. There is a point where the inhabitants of the ship realize the ship itself might turn into their own coffin. What do you do? How do you distract yourself? Do you allow a child to come into the world? What becomes important and what just isn't worth your time? Do you just make the rest of your life as comfortable as you can until the inevitable end?

This is a thinking person's sci-fi, and ultimately won't appeal to everyone. But for those that use it as a springboard to question their own mortality, it's a compelling look at what might be a more realistic view of mankind's attempts to extend their existence as a species.

Kevin Taft is a screenwriter/critic living in Los Angeles with an unnatural attachment to 'Star Wars' and the desire to be adopted by Steven Spielberg.


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