Photo: TIFF
Before We Vanish by Luke Gorham Film

Aniara | Pella Kågerman

June 13, 2019

Adapted from Nobel Laureate Harry Martinson’s long form poem of the same name, Pella Kågerman and Hugo Lilja’s Aniara skews largely sensationalist — to its detriment. The film’s logline remains faithful to its science-fiction source material: a massive, Mars-bound spaceship packed with colonists finds itself expelled from the solar system after a nearly catastrophic accident. The microsocial consequences likewise remain faithful – the masses seek out their opiate, first in the form of Mima, a science-fantasy machine that allows users to experience comforting calm in the form of temporary augmented realities, and then in the consumption of religion, sex, entertainment, routine, control, and other false manifestations of purpose.

But where the verse novel revels in the interplay between science and poetry – “now we have fathomed what our space-ship is – a tiny bubble in a glass of God” – and the ways in which that relationship between the experiential and empirical inform existential concerns of humanity, the film trades instead in cheap, catchpenny luridness. There exists a clear intent here to explore the corruption of people in crisis, but a commitment to incorporating all of dark excesses of the book results in little more than a checklist of tropes. On the page, Martinson’s language lends a moral opacity, its intentional artfulness blunting these more familiar genre inquiries into something altogether more abstracted; though short in length, its transitions blur and complicate and elongate its probings. But on screen, the tension between the literal cosmic void outside the ship and the metaphorical one infecting this isolated society is not felt, its narrative pivots only realized as rushed horror film machinations. The novel asks, in the absence of future’s surety, whether we are living for something or toward something. As a film, such philosophical ruminations prove incongruous with its baser ambitions.

Published as part of Before We Vanish | Issue 5.