The Empire Strikes Flatpack [Review: Aniara]

The space cruise ship Aniara begins its three-month mission to bring thousands of moderately rich Earthlings to Mars, leaving behind an environmental catastrophe. Amongst the passengers is MR (Emelie Jonsson), a technician responsible for tending to MIMA, an AI that can give the colonists soothing visions of Earth before the disaster. But shortly after departure a collision leaves the Aniara drifting off course with no engine, challenging Captain Chefone (Arvin Kananian) and his crew to try to find a solution and keep the passengers happy.


Aniara is a Swedish-Danish movie – and you can tell this as it takes place on the decks of a rectangular cruise ship clearly designed and built by the Ikea-Lego Corporation (Assemble Your Own Better Worlds). There’s some clever low-budget sci-fi filmmaking – the interior of the Aniara has been filmed in airports, shopping malls and hotels, or perhaps airport shopping malls and hotels. CGI is sparsely used, basic but effective, mainly limited to exterior views of the drifting Aniara.

The Aniara. Slightly rippled with a flat underside.

Aniara is based on the famous epic poem by Swedish Nobel prize winner Harry Martinson, which as well as this 2018 movie has also inspired an opera and several obscure albums in musical styles from jazz to metal. The original poem incidentally is subject to disgraceful anti-English discrimination. While the Swedish, French, Japanese and Spanish editions are all on Kindle for under £14, Sjoberg’s English translation starts at £117 in paperback only. And this isn’t even the most depressing thing about the poem.

Emelie Jonsson carries the film, playing MR as a character determined to be happy and optimistic, to persevere and to see the best in others. She believes in love and kindness. She’s perhaps a symbol for the human spirit. While other characters, such as MR’s roommate the astronomer, swing constantly between positivity and negativity, it takes a lot to bring MR down, and when this happens it is painful.

Beautiful but misleading poster for Aniara. While the woman in the centre is MR, the main character in the film, she generally looks happier than this. However she does occasionally look over her shoulder. The spaceship in the foreground is not the Aniara and indeed is never seen in the movie, and I don't recognize the coridoor behind MR's head either.

I loved the economical and atmospheric setting, and the contrast between MR’s optimistic naïveté and the growing despair of the Aniara society. Will hope triumph over darkness? I won’t give away the ending but I repeat, this is a Swedish-Danish movie. The movie is divided into years of the voyage, with each year bringing new, sinister developments. It’s bleak – only three years into the voyage there appears to be a line-dancing revival, and things go downhill fast from there. The film ends not with a traditional Hollywood bang but an indie Scandinavian whimper, which is in keeping with the tone and story but may disappoint some.

Aniara is a deliciously dark indie sci-fi drifting in the direction of three stars.


Score: 3 out of 5 stars

All movies reviewed on the Sci-Fi Gene blog are given a score of 3 out of 5 stars



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