It is the future and Planet Earth has been ravaged by the effects of natural disasters and humanity's thoughtlessness, leading to a mass exodus from there to Mars, where colonies have been established. One of the staff on the Aniara, a huge spaceship designed to ferry survivors to the Red Planet, is Mimaroben (Emilie Jonsson) who is in charge of a leisure area where participants are offered controlled hallucinations: they can see what Earth used to be like and fantasise they are wandering through pleasant scenes of nature. However, the Captain (Arvin Kananian) has some bad news for the passengers after a stray bolt hits their fuel supply on the journey - will they endure?
Aniara, meaning "despair" in Ancient Greek, was the most famous work of Swedish Nobel Prize winning writer Harry Martinson, who appropriately for such a gloomy epic poem committed suicide as an elderly man after his success became too much to bear. It had been adapted for television in the nineteen-sixties and was a set text in many Scandinavian schools' curricula, but not that well known outside of that region of the world, so directors and authors of this screenplay Pella Kagerman and Hugo Lilja were evidently seeking to change all that with their interpretation of a science fiction notable. However, they included elements that the traditionalists may have balked at.
Such as at least two sex scenes verging on the hardcore, which was a startling addition to the source, but evidently the directors felt the need to go to places mainstream sci-fi was not always comfortable with. That could have been for good reason, as while this genre of ideas was often aiming for the mindbending, even intellectual, those ideas were often better off not straying below the waist for that left us in the murky world of their creators' sexual fantasies, and if there's one thing about those that is not followed regularly enough, it's that they are better off kept to oneself. Unless you're producing actual pornography, though this may have been intended as erotica.
Mind you, it was not as if the sexual aspect was all there was to Aniara, as it was plainly an allegory the self-destructive streak hampering the human race. After messing up our homeworld, we proceeded to mess up our lifeboat as well, since it becomes the survivors' home when jettisoning the fuel leaves them drifting into deep space, kind of like seventies television series Space: 1999 only without the Moon as a base of operations. And also without the visitors to the human characters every week: the denizens of this spaceship are strictly alone, and the further they move out into the cosmos, the more alone they get, some panicking and killing themselves, others trying to be more practical and solve this problem, yet no one concocting a solution that succeeds once the Captain's notions are revealed as a sham.
Mimaroben was our gateway into this enclosed society, still reserving some hope in her heart that the craft will prevail, or at least people inside will on their algae diet and leaning towards sex cults to take their minds off their collective passage to doom. There were not many laughs here, it need not be said, and if the stereotype of Scandinavian fiction is that it's all terminally gloomy, then Aniara embraced that cliché with a fervour that was near unseemly, willing the characters to fail to speak to some fatal flaw in the human condition. Yes, there were plenty of apocalyptic-themed works in entertainment in the twenty-first century driven by the news that the climate was going to Hell and the population of the world were dancing to their graves, so this was very identifiable as part of that trend. With that in mind, do not expect a happy ending, though its final shot was interesting in its irony, but the tone was we were not worth saving anyway, too self-centred and petty to deserve life. If you agree with that, you'd get on with this. Music by Alexander Berg.
[ANIARA is released in cinemas and On Demand from 30th August.]