Lost in space, a bubble drifting without hope or direction, the starliner Aniara is out of control, the three week voyage from the Earth to Mars disrupted when the ship was forced to evade a piece of space debris which struck and penetrated the reactor, requiring that the fuel rods be jettisoned to prevent an overload and explosion which would have destroyed them.
Travelling at 64km/s off course and unable to correct their flight vector, Captain Chefone has told the passengers and crew that they will have to wait patiently until they encounter an object of sufficient mass to arrange a gravitational slingshot, something they anticipate will happen within the next two years; until then, the bars are open and help yourself to complimentary snacks.
In charge of the Mima Hall where the environment of Earth before the fires, floods and storms ravaged the surface is recreated in an induced sensory stimulation of sound, vision, taste and texture, the Mimaroben suddenly finds herself overwhelmed by the increased demand for her services, the anxious passengers seeking comfort during the enforced delay.
With food reserves only expected to last two months, the Aniara‘s algae oxygen farms have increased productivity to also generate sustenance, perhaps unpleasant but nourishing, enough to see them through, but the Mimaroben’s bunkmate, the astronomer, knows that what the captain has said is a lie to prevent panic, revealing to her that there is no object on their course and that they will drift onwards out of the solar system forever.
With it’s UK premiere at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, Aniara is written and directed by Pella Kågerman and Hugo Lilja, based on the science fiction poem written by Swedish Nobel laureate Harry Martinson, Aniara: en revy om människan i tid och rum (“a review of man in time and space“), published in 1956 and previously adapted as an opera.
The characters largely unnamed, Emelie Jonsson is the Mimaroben and Bianca Cruzeiro her eventual lover Isagel, while Anneli Martini is the astronomer and Arvin Kananian is Captain Chefone, mitigating the disaster through half-truths and delayed actions, believing the longer the passengers are misinformed the more readily they will accept the situation when it finally becomes impossible to keep it secret.
Castigating his subordinates who push for more practical crisis management, the Mimaroben knows the services she offers are now critical, the only oasis of calm and therapeutic release for the hundreds on board, but the captain ignores her pleas and holds her responsible when the overwhelming negative feedback of the masses leads to violent malfunctions.
Structurally similar to the High Life with its one-way voyage to the stars undertaken by an unwilling crew but not so painfully self-indulgent, the interior of the Aniara is a contrast to the functional exterior, resembling nothing more than a luxury cruise liner of bland varnished pine fittings and unobtrusive lighting filled with shallow entertainments and bars to distract and drown sorrows, but what suffices for weeks will not satisfy eternity.
Recalling High-Rise, another enclosed society of dwindling resources, factions appear and develop into cults while violence and suicide escalate, though oddly, even years into the voyage, the bottles of spirits are always full and sequinned party frocks are still fresh for the endless revelry for those who still have the will to indulge.
Like the mission itself, the film Aniara has no set course or destination, only a thwarted goal, drifting aimlessly as the crew are revisited over increasing interludes of years into their deterioration, a meditation on the futility of life falling into the infinite blackness which offers no comfort or resolution other than the certainty that it will eventually and mercifully end.