‘Aniara’ seeks to provide direction to the adrift

“Aniara” (2018 production, 2019 release). Cast: Emelie Jonsson, Bianca Cruzeiro, Arvin Kananian, Anneli Martini, Jennie Silfverhjelm, Emma Broomé, Jamil Drissi, Leon Jiber, David Nzinga, Peter Carlberg, Dakota Trancher Williams, Otis Costillo Ålhed, Dante Westergårdh. Directors: Pella Kågerman and Hugo Lilja. Screenplay: Pella Kågerman and Hugo Lilja. Source Material: Harry Martinson, poem, Aniara. Web site. Trailer.

Starting over can seem like a dual-edged sword. In some ways, it may appear to be a tremendous opportunity to begin afresh. In other ways, though, we might feel devastated, completely overwhelmed by what we find ourselves up against. And, in the midst of that conundrum, we could be beset by the feeling of being totally adrift, unable to find our way, emotions not unlike those experienced by a group of space-weary travelers in the existential sci-fi offering, “Aniara,” available in various home viewing formats.

With Earth becoming increasingly uninhabitable, a group of intrepid colonists sets out to stake a new future on Mars. They make the three-week journey to the Red Planet aboard enormous spaceships, such as the Aniara, which is really more like a cruise liner than a lifeboat. The craft is equipped with an array of luxurious comforts, including 21 restaurants, a shopping concourse, a gym and spa, and numerous other recreational activities. But perhaps one of the ship’s most intriguing amenities is the Mima Hall, a facility featuring a highly specialized form of artificial intelligence that’s able to tap into the consciousness of those who link with it. The Mima reads the thoughts, minds and memories of passengers, providing them with vivid, tailor-made virtual reality images of nature, particularly those of a time when the Earth was pristine. In this way, the Mima is designed to put the colonists’ minds at ease, assuaging any anxieties they might have about space flight, smoothing the transition to their new lives and leaving them with positive thoughts about the world they’re fleeing.

The spaceship Aniara prepares to embark on its journey to Mars in the existential sci-fi offering “Aniara,” available in various home viewing formats. Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing.

The Mima is administered by a specially trained host and technician, the Mimarobe (or MR) (Emelie Jonsson). She oversees the Mima’s operation and attends to the needs of passengers who have trouble adjusting to it, enhancing the quality of their experience. With such a soothing technology as this, one might think that the MR has her hands full attending to the needs of many eager users. However, as the Aniara embarks on its journey, there’s surprisingly little interest in the Mima, as most of the colonists are much more interested in partaking of the ship’s more conventional amenities.

Not long after the ship begins its journey, though, circumstances change drastically. When the Aniara is struck by space debris, the ship’s navigation capabilities are disabled, sending it off course and making it impossible for the crew to steer the vessel to get it back on track. The passengers are understandably upset, but the ship’s skipper, Capt. Chefone (Arvin Kananian), assures them that the crew will be able to rectify the problem as soon as the Aniara encounters a celestial body, where a gravitational slingshot effect around said object will enable restoration of the ship’s navigation capabilities, a process that he estimates will take no longer than two years to accomplish. However, for a group of colonists anxious to get on with their lives, two years is a far cry from the promised three weeks.

Given the change in plans, the crew begins making adjustments to operations. Thankfully, certain considerations, like air and food supply, aren’t issues; the ship’s advanced sustainability systems should enable these commodities to be available for a period far longer than two years if need be. However, despite the captain’s assertions that the ship will be able to get back on course, there are those on board who know otherwise, such as the Aniara’s resident astronomer (Anneli Martini), who quietly observes that there are no celestial bodies on the ship’s current trajectory capable of enabling the projected corrective maneuver. What’s more, given the passengers’ doubt about their fate, they start seeking solace in the Mima in numbers far greater than anticipated, overwhelming the MR and the technology she manages. Before long, the astronomer, the MR and the Mima all find themselves in jeopardy they never expected.

MR, the Mimarobe (Emelie Jonsson), oversees the operation of the Mima, a highly specialized form of artificial intelligence that links its users to tailor-made nature images to provide them with a calming effect, one of many amenities available aboard the spaceship Aniara, as seen in the existential sci-fi offering “Aniara.” Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing.

Thus begins the saga of the Aniara as it moves through space toward an uncertain future. The story of this lost vessel, told in chapters at various points along its protracted timeline, depicts the many diverse developments that occur along its path. These include both personal stories, such as the MR’s relationships with her lovers, Isagel (Bianca Cruzeiro) and Daisi (Leon Jiber), as well as tales affecting the crew and passengers at large, such as those involving ad hoc incarceration, the emergence of various cults and a charismatic spiritual leader (Jennie Silfverhjelm), rescue efforts, and initiatives aimed at maintaining hope amidst ever-growing despair. And, through it all, everyone concerned is presented with opportunities to discover new things about their individuality, their humanity and their relationship to powers greater than themselves, a true space odyssey if there ever were one.

Given their circumstances, one would probably be hard-pressed to envy the fate of the crew and passengers of the Aniara. With such uncertainty hanging over them, they can’t count on the future they hoped for, let alone one that offers virtually any semblance of comfort or predictability. So what does one do in a situation like this, especially as resources begin to dwindle and familiar forms of consolation start to disappear?

Building a new life from scratch is a daunting challenge to be sure. In many ways, there are no rules (despite the crew’s attempts at trying to maintain an approximation of the civilized life the passengers have always known but that is quickly slipping away). So how does one proceed?

The Mima Hall, gathering place for users of the highly specialized form of artificial intelligence known as the Mima, provides solace to space-weary travelers in the existential sci-fi offering “Aniara,” available in various home viewing formats. Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing.

That’s where each individual’s beliefs come into play, for they provide the basis of the conscious creation process, the philosophy that maintains we draw upon these resources in manifesting the reality we experience. And, in this case, the passengers and crew must draw upon their beliefs in their most basic form, those that reside in the core of their being, for they will provide the foundation for shaping the framework of the new existence they’re building for themselves. In that regard, they must ask themselves which beliefs will underlie everything and what will stem from them, as if they’re providing “an operating system” atop which all of their various “applications” will run. Is this to be a reality that draws upon hope-based beliefs for its character? Or will it be one that’s riddled with despair? Those are radically different approaches to the same basic task, methodologies that, in turn, are likely to yield radically different results. What will they choose?

To complicate matters, shaping a new paradigm is an act of co-creation, one in which the influences of multiple participants are involved. And, given the disparate outlooks each of them holds, there’s bound to be considerable contradiction at play, making the realization of a cohesive, integrated whole difficult to achieve. The beliefs of those who try to remain optimistic, such as the MR, clash with those of the naysayers, like the astronomer and Isagel, as well as those who insist on remaining dogmatically practical, such as Capt. Chefone. Is it any wonder, then, that the future of those aboard the Aniara remains in limbo as everyone tries to sort out what they think they want both for themselves and the collective?

Without a doubt, these circumstances present an opportunity to think outside the box, to let our imagination devise beliefs that surpass limitations and enable us to explore possibilities never before dreamed of. On a somewhat mundane level, for example, that becomes visible through the solutions conceived to address the practical problems of an everyday life that has been thrown seriously out of kilter. Meanwhile, on a more sacred plane, that becomes apparent through the various spiritual explorations that the passengers and crew engage in, both through the cults and individual introspection. In either case, not everything may work, but these circumstances at least give everyone a chance to stretch his or her creativity muscles, an opportunity providing them with a chance to become more proficient and more effective conscious creation practitioners.

MR, the Mimarobe (Emelie Jonsson), overseer of a highly specialized form of artificial intelligence known as the Mima, tries to maintain hope under deteriorating conditions aboard the spaceship Aniara in the existential sci-fi offering “Aniara.” Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing.

However, if we indeed use the power of our beliefs to manifest our reality, one might legitimately ask why the passengers and crew created such dire conditions in the first place. But, as with any creation, the reasons behind our respective materializations are our own, and it’s no one’s place to question our motives. For instance, there may be a desire to learn particular life lessons driving these initiatives, and, in the case of those aboard the Aniara, one could argue that was inherent in their intent from the outset of their voyage – to experience what it would be like to begin a new life off the Earth. Their initial destination may have been Mars, and that plan is obviously now out the window, but the unanticipated journey on which they now find themselves ended up yielding a creation with the same underlying intent – the construction of a whole new life from the ground up. The passengers and crew may have indeed created for themselves circumstances far more challenging than originally envisioned, but the goal is arguably the same. This thus illustrates the phenomenal intrinsic power of our beliefs. It also aptly shows us how we must be careful in wielding that power, because we may end up getting far more than we bargained for.

The film’s various story threads also examine how we deal with certain aspects of life in light of such drastically changed circumstances. For example, “Aniara” explores how to handle the loss of the creature comforts to which we have become so accustomed in the wake of dire new conditions, something the colonists would have had to address in their new lives regardless of whether or not they had successfully reached the Red Planet. Likewise, the picture’s narrative brings to life various aspects of religion – salvation, redemption, confession, surrender, etc. – that many of the passengers are familiar with, giving them firsthand experience in dealing with them on a level they’ve probably never done before. These initiatives could all be considered part of the larger question of the passengers and crew creating a new world for themselves, but, given the prominence these considerations likely occupy in their lives, they could be almost as daunting in and of themselves as the bigger issue being addressed.

All in all, there’s quite a full plate at work here, and one could easily be overcome, as evidenced in the experiences of some of those aboard the wayward vessel. In many respects, the story of the passengers and crew serves as a powerful cautionary tale to those of us facing comparable circumstances. That’s not to suggest that we’re likely to find ourselves on a spaceship headed into unknown regions of the galaxy, but we could experience situations where we’re having to start over and build from the ground up, both individually and collectively. How will we handle that? Can we sustain our will to endure? Or will we give in to our sense of “despairing” (the translation of the ancient Greek word “aniara” from which the ship ironically derives its name)? We might want to take a cue from those on board the Aniara, for better or worse, to get ourselves started.

The relationship between MR (Emelie Jonsson, left) and her partner, Isagel (Bianca Cruzeiro, right), undergoes a series of ups and downs when their spacecraft, the Aniara, unexpectedly goes off course in the existential sci-fi offering “Aniara,” available in various home viewing formats. Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing.

This ambitious existential sci-fi offering, based on a Swedish poem of the same name by Nobel Prize winner Harry Martinson, makes a valiant attempt at transcending the content, substance and style typically associated with other films of the genre. However, due to an underdeveloped script, an overreliance on viewer knowledge of the source material, occasionally uneven pacing and a need for some judicious editing, the picture doesn’t quite rise to the greatness it might have been truly capable of. The film’s impeccable production design, superb special effects and fine performances are augmented by nods to a variety of other sci-fi works, including “Solaris” (2002), “Gravity” (2013), “Passengers” (2016) and Battlestar Gallactica (1978-79, 2005-09), as well as allusions to such diverse offerings as “Midsommar” (2019), “Eyes Wide Shut” (1999), “Tommy” (1975)  and various tales of hopelessly adrift seafarers. Its prolific references to matters religious, spiritual, metaphysical, environmental and sociopolitical pepper the story, sometimes effectively, sometimes not so much, resulting in a grab bag of enlightenment, frustration and assorted enigmas. In an age where our own world is seemingly being turned upside-down, the insights of this story – had they been better developed – could have been a godsend to a weary population, providing us all with a new, clearer understanding of where we’re at and where we’re headed. But, unfortunately, “Aniara” comes up short of achieving that goal – and at a time when we could use it most.

When we find ourselves adrift, treading water may help us stay afloat, but it also won’t get us anywhere. And, when we’re lost in the great expanse of the ocean (or the heavens, for that matter), a maneuver designed to merely keep us stationary might not seem like much help. However, it can buy us valuable time to sort out our circumstances to devise a solution that could prove to be a life-saver, a shining beacon of encouragement at a time when all else may seem hopeless.

Copyright © 2020, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

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