Aniara offers stark if predictable warnings about the consequences of our planetary mistreatment

If CAAMFest’s Last Sunrise whetted your appetite for some intelligent science fiction, I bring good news: there’s another first rate sci-fi feature coming to town this week. Aniara (opening at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas on Friday, May 17) imagines a future where well-heeled Earth dwellers flee the sickly big blue marble for a new beginning on our nearest planetary neighbor, Mars.

A massive space liner carrying several thousand people on a three-week journey to the Red Planet, the ‘Aniara’ features all the comforts of home, and more — including a virtual reality room known as Mima which allows homesick travelers to experience anew “Earth as it once was” before extreme weather events and nuclear war ruined the place. MR (Emelie Jonsson) is the crewmember in charge of Mima, and during the flight’s early going she has few customers: most of the ship’s passengers are more interested in exploring its restaurants and shops than in re-visiting the ruined planet they’ve left behind.

Circumstances change when the vessel’s routine 64 kilometers-per-second voyage is abruptly interrupted by an accident that sends it sailing off course. The news worsens when Captain Chefone (Arvin Kananian) informs the passengers that ‘Aniara’ can no longer be steered, and until they encounter another celestial body they won’t be able to continue on to Mars or return to Earth. Worst of all, it may be several months – or perhaps even a few years — before such a body makes itself apparent.

Written and directed by Pella Kagerman and Hugo Lilja, Aniara offers stark if predictable warnings about the consequences of our planetary mistreatment: the damage is, for all intents and purposes, irreparable, and the solution – finding a new home – likely illusory. Those with means may think they’ll be able to buy their way to happiness somewhere else, but surprises and uncertainty are likely to await them in the vast darkness of space.

Sure enough, as reality sets in – and the journey goes on and on – more and more people yearn to re-experience the life they’ve left behind, leaving both MR and Mima overburdened; tempers begin to fray, the food supply is soon reduced to the tasteless byproducts of ship-grown algae, and shipboard morale plummets. No amount of motivational speeches by the Captain can assure his restive passengers that safety or rescue is just over the proverbial horizon – and no amount of booze, sex, and electronic dance music can compensate for the existential crisis experienced by all those aboard his ship.

Kudos to the special effects technicians who brought all this to the screen: from stem to stern, the ‘Aniara’ is a marvel in the best tradition of effects guru Douglas Trumbull (2001: A Space Odyssey; Silent Running), its massive exterior well-matched by interiors that convey both the size of the vessel and its passenger manifest. And then, of course, there’s Mima – reminiscent of the deathbed device used by Edward G. Robinson in Richard Fleischer’s Soylent Green (1972), it’s designed to ease the Earth-to-Mars transition, but ultimately isn’t up to the task.

Freelancer John Seal is Berkeleyside’s film critic. A movie connoisseur with a penchant for natty hats who lives in Oakland, John writes a weekly film recommendation column at Box...