Tag Archives: Aniara

My Thoughts on: Ad Astra (2019)

*minor spoilers may follow for Ad Astra*

Well that was…different.

There is no doubt that 2019 has been a really good year for science-fiction films. There was Alita: Battle Angel waaaaay back in the first part of the year; then there was High Life and Aniara, both amazing films in their own right. And now as the year begins to turn towards the end, we have Ad Astra, a film that’s been in the pipeline for quite some time. Having seen a wide variety of science-fiction films, both this year and in years past, I wasn’t sure what to expect with Ad Astra. But I think I’ve been spoiled by all the action flicks I’ve been watching as of late, because I definitely wasn’t expecting what I saw.

First, let me make one thing crystal clear: Ad Astra is a good film, it really is. The visuals are stunning, the cinematography is on point, and I actually like the voice-over from Brad Pitt’s character. That being said, this film is a lot more…cerebral…than what I was expecting. There are a few beats of action here and there, but most of the story is devoted to much deeper issues. This is a film designed to make you think about what exactly it is you’re being told (maybe not as much as Annihilation, but headed in that same direction).

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And what exactly are we meant to think of Ad Astra? What story is being given to us? Honestly, I’m still piecing that together, but I have managed to work out a few of the pieces. First of all, on the most simple level, Ad Astra looks at how humans affect outer space. The commercialization of the Moon, for example, was nailed so perfectly it physically hurt. There’s also the recurring trope, one I see in most science-fiction films, that points out in several ways that no matter how advanced our technology becomes, the lowest aspects of human nature (greed and a base desire for violence) will out in the end. But on that deeper level I alluded to before, Ad Astra looks at what outer space does to humans, in both good ways and bad. On the one hand, it’s not so bad to spend some time in the near infinite void, because it really gives you a sense of perspective for what matters (and this is what I believe happens to Brad Pitt’s character by the end). But on the other hand, there’s the opposite end of that spectrum, where humans become so wrapped up in exploring space that they forget where they came from, and are in fact driven to insanity after being in space for so long.

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Those thinking points aside, I should mention that Ad Astra is not without its flaws, most notably in the realm of physics. After all these years, it astounds me that films are still being made that lean on long since debunked film tropes (the one that annoys me the most involves explosions in space creating shockwaves, which is impossible in a vacuum). I understand films need moments of action now and then, but surely there are ways to create these moments while still obeying the laws of physics. Also, I feel like one section of the plot was almost completely unnecessary (I mean that little side trip to the Vesta en route to Mars). The rest of the film can be neatly compartmentalized into my mind, all except that part. That part feels like a relic from an earlier draft of the script when the film was meant to go in an entirely different direction. Seriously, cut it out and I don’t think you’d have noticed the difference.

Even with those issues, Ad Astra is a good film. I get the sense that this is a film that will reveal different messages and ideas each time you watch it. Do be sure to see this on the big screen if you can, these visuals were meant to be seen in the theater. There’s so much more I could say, but I think I need further viewings first.

Let me know what you think about Ad Astra in the comments below and have a great day!

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My Thoughts on: Aniara (2018)

*warning: spoilers down below for Aniara. If you don’t want to know, stop now!

As one who specializes in science-fiction film, I’m always on the lookout for new entries in the genre. From the moment I saw the first trailer for Aniara, a Swedish film based on the epic poem of the same name, I knew this was a film I would need to see. While a theatrical viewing was unfortunately denied to me, I was able to pick up the film on DVD and I finally sat down to watch it last night. Ever since the credits began to roll, I’ve been struggling with how to start this review, but I think I’ve finally found a place to start:

Relatively early in the film, the captain of the Aniara (a super-large spaceship that reminds me in many ways of a cruise ship but in space) remarks that they’ve essentially made their own planet. Assuming he’s correct, if the Aniara is meant to represent humanity in microcosmic form, then humanity is well and truly f*cked.

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I’ve honestly struggled with this type of film in the past; those stories that are built on the idea that when things go wrong humans lose their sanity and go tribal before perishing altogether (High-Rise is built on a roughly similar premise, albeit on a much smaller scale). But now, after watching Aniara, every last horrifying minute of it, I think I’m beginning to understand why and how this particular story came about. At one end, it does seem ridiculous for the passengers to behave in this fashion, but then again, there’s no telling what you might do if you learn you’re now trapped in space for the rest of your life. Furthermore, the passenger’s actions are meant to highlight the inherent failings in humanity in general. Humans can’t handle not being in control. Place them in a vulnerable position long enough…and it all goes to pieces, quite literally.

Words can barely describe just how depressing Aniara is. The film wastes little time in beginning the death spiral of however many passengers are now trapped on the ship. Even worse, much of what happens is left to the viewer’s imagination. We know at the start that the ship is full of people both very young, and very old, yet by the end of the film (when MR gets her medal), the population has decreased significantly. Where did they all go? There are hints throughout, most of them quite gruesome in nature.

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All of that being said, it seems strange that all of this would start with something as small as a screw (or whatever small debris impacted the ship). If the story has one failing, it’s that the event that sets off the plot seems so…unbelievable. Even the captain calls it “something incredibly unlikely” and it just seems strange that such an advanced vessel could be damaged so catastrophically just like that. Where are the backups, where’s the reserve fuel? What space vessel keeps ALL of their fuel in one place? The only thing that bugs me more is why couldn’t the Aniara simply radio Mars for help? If humans have developed the means to establish colonies on Mars and travel there in less than a month, surely communication with the red planet was possible (or perhaps not, it’s possible I missed a detail). All I’m trying to say is, it almost feels like the Aniara is set up to fail from the start.

I’ll close by mentioning the one image that will stick with me for a very long time. At the very end of the film, the last we see of the Aniara is that everyone on the ship is long since dead (we’ve jumped millions of years into the future by this point). In a scene I’ll never forget, the air is full of swirling debris (the artificial gravity has long since failed) and detritus. The only sign that humans were ever onboard is a human jawbone spinning through the air. As horrifying as that image is, it speaks volumes as to the fate of humanity that Aniara wants to share. For all of our accomplishments, everything humanity has done, ourselves included, will one day return to dust, and ultimately that’s all we will be. That’s why I said at the start, if Aniara is humanity in a microcosm, we are f*cked indeed.

Let me know what you think about Aniara in the comments below and have a great day. If you haven’t been able to see it, be aware that there is an English language option available so you can watch without staring at subtitles all of the time.

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