TIFF 2018: Impressive Space Travel Sci-Fi Film 'Aniara' from Sweden
by Alex Billington
September 16, 2018
Space. The final frontier. This is the story of the starship Aniara. If you know me, you know I'm a huge sci-fi geek. Especially when it comes to space travel, and anything involving space and planets and spaceships. I discovered a film at the Toronto Film Festival this year titled Aniara, a Swedish sci-fi film adapted from Harry Martinson's epic poem of the same name. This astounding sci-fi film is set in the near future and is about a big spaceship taking colonists from Earth to Mars, usually a three week journey for batches of lazy humans. But it gets irreversibly knocked off course, causing the passengers to descend into madness once they begin to accept their fate: drifting into the void of space. This film is AMAZINGLY good, perhaps the best indie sci-fi I've seen since Arrival, perfectly executed and invigorating in its rigorous sci-fi storytelling.
The overall story structure of Aniara seems inspired by Arthur C. Clarke. It's cut into chapters, which take us on various time leaps to give us a small look at what's going down on this big ship. The Aniara is a bit like the Axiom from Pixar's Wall-E - a massive spaceship designed for passenger comfort, and the sets they use to film are natural yet have that futuristic feel to them. At first their Captain tells them they will be able to turn around in two years, but it doesn't take long for some smarter passengers realize this is probably not going to happen. I love everything about this film in terms of it's sci-fi story - the time leaps, the adherence to scientific standards and their own futuristic but believable rules, their honest attempt to show how things would evolve (or devolve) as time goes on. And the way things, specifically in space, often go unexplained.
Everything about the filmmaking is also impressive. It's mind-blowing they pulled off this epic scale on an indie budget. There's a few gorgeous exterior shots of the ship, but mostly it takes place inside, and the sets aren't huge either. But you can get a sense of the scale, and you can (without showing all the people all the time) get a sense of the number of passengers and how they're affected by this. There are some interesting choices to consider: everyone speaks Swedish, yet they is never address. Is it a Swedish transport ship? Does everyone speak Swedish in the future? Fine, I don't mind, there's probably an explanation. I also wondered why there wasn't more of an attack on the Captain and the crew after a few years had gone by, but there's probably security to prevent it. If anything, this film makes your mind go wild with thoughts on space travel.
The film follows one specific passenger - a woman named MR, played by Emelie Jonsson, who works for the ship as the manager of a special room where people can go and be connected to this living thing that makes them feel extremely calm. It's the most "out-there" sci-fi concept in the film, and becomes useful as a cover-all type of therapy where instead of talking to anyone, this "thing" gets into your head and takes away every other emotion by forcing an all-encompassing experience in there. I very much enjoyed following MR and all that she goes through, but I wanted to feel a bit more of the emotions from other passengers. They could've expanded this a bit more, but it also would've lost its focus - and at the end of the day that's what really matters the most. It's better to stay focused on her than drift around to too many alternate characters.
I adore sci-fi that really makes you think, that lights up your mind with all kinds of intelligent theories and possibilities. Aniara is the greatest of that kind of sci-fi, and it's stunningly visualized in both amazing and subtle ways. There's also so much to discuss about it - and why it's so awesome. I could go on for hours, but what's most important to see the film first, then get into a discussion with friends about what this means, and why that happened, or if they should've gone more into this or that. There's a moment half way through where something happens, and they realize they can't figure it out, and then have to move on. It reminded me of Rendezvous with Rama, and the great sci-fi stories of past. It made me happy to see, and yet it was just a small part of the film. Pella Kågerman & Hugo Lilja's Aniara is intimate, modern sci-fi at its very best.
Alex's TIFF 2018 Rating: 9.5 out of 10
Follow Alex on Twitter - @firstshowing