The Depths of Sex and Spirit

The mystique underlying highly personal subjects like sexuality and spirituality is undeniable, something that’s tailor made to our individual needs and sensibilities. So how is it that some of us feel we can dictate the terms of these matters to others, as if our views were the last word and not to be questioned? How is it that such canned perspectives can realistically fit everyone? And why must those who disagree with these outlooks be ridiculed, bullied or punished for their dissent? Those are some of the rather heady questions addressed in, of all things, the raucous but insightful new teen comedy, “Yes, God, Yes” (web site, trailer).

Adolescence can be difficult enough all by itself, but it can be even more challenging when under the thumb of one’s peers, family and environment. So it is for Alice (Natalia Dyer), a student at a Catholic high school, presumably somewhere in the nation’s heartland. At a time when she curiously begins exploring typical teen matters, like her emerging sexuality (particularly the pleasures of “self-love”), she’s anxious to see what it’s all about, despite the harsh admonitions from her teachers and the school’s resident priest, Father Murphy (Timothy Simons), that it’s a mortal sin guaranteed to assure her a one-way ticket to hell. What’s more, in addition to such warnings, Alice (like all of her peers) is constantly reminded of the consequences of being too outwardly provocative by faculty watchdogs like the seemingly ubiquitous Mrs. Veda (Donna Lynne Champlin), who aggressively writes up students for the slightest infractions of the school’s dress code and behavioral expectations.

Needless to say, Alice cowers in nearly perpetual dread. She keeps her feelings locked up inside, afraid to admit them to anyone except her friend Laura (Francesca Reale), and even that makes her somewhat uneasy, especially when rumors about alleged but untrue erotic incidents involving her mysteriously begin circulating among her classmates. However, despite the risks involved in coming clean, she can’t deny the need to unburden herself about these powerful urges. She feels compelled, albeit reluctantly, to confess her infatuation with the steamy below-decks sex scene in “Titanic” (1997), something she watched three times in a row during a recent viewing thanks to her VCR remote’s handy rewind function. But things get ramped up even more not long thereafter when she unwittingly engages in a racy AOL chat room exchange with another user. There isn’t a shower cold enough to put out the flames of her desire.

Circumstances take an unusual change not long thereafter. While having lunch at school one day, Alice and Laura run into their once-subdued classmate Beth (Teesha Renee), who inexplicably appears to have undergone a remarkable transformation, one that has enabled her to blossom with a radiant glow. This unexplained conversion even seems to have altered Beth’s circle of friends; suddenly she’s seen in the company of the popular kids, like Nina (Alisha Boe). One could say it’s a miracle.

When Alice asks Beth what prompted this change, her luminous friend says it came about after attending a four-day religious retreat with her peers. The effect is so appealing to Alice that she’s convinced she needs to have the same experience. And so, with Laura in tow, they sign up for the getaway, to be held at a secluded wooded location.

The retreat proves to be quite a revelation, and in many more ways than Alice expected. She quickly finds she’s not alone when it comes to her emerging sexuality. In fact, her mere interest in things erotic pales in comparison to the acts engaged in by her peers, including some from whom she never would have expected such behavior. On top of that, Alice’s hormones get a supercharged boost when she’s assigned to work with a facilitator for whom she carries an enormous torch; indeed, the time she spends with Chris (Wolfgang Novogratz), a kind and handsome football player, is an exercise in excruciating restraint, particularly when he sends what appear to be decidedly mixed but nevertheless hopeful signals toward his impressionable young charge.

At the same time, though, the retreat also proves to be a difficult time for Alice, especially when she’s found to have broken some of the rules, acts that earn her penance for her “transgressions.” She also learns that she’s become the object of more rumors, some of which followed her from home and others of which arise over the course of the event. Those developments, combined with the rampant hypocrisy she witnesses, as well as the seemingly ever-present judgmentalism inflicted upon her, prompt Alice to leave the retreat during an evening campfire. She wanders along a nearby highway, eventually ending up at a roadside bar, where she meets the owner (Susan Blackwell), who proves to be the most insightful mentor she meets all weekend. Through this encounter, Alice gleans understandings about herself, her life, her sexuality and her faith that prove far more important than anything the retreat ever could have taught her. Indeed, getting away from it all can truly provide us with a fresh new perspective, one that’s more fitting and fulfilling than anything the so-called experts could ever supply – even those who claim to speak for God.

When it comes to matters as patently intimate as sexuality or spirituality, we find ourselves on some of the most personal and profound turf onto which we’ll ever venture. The decisions we make for ourselves in these areas are based on our sensibilities, choices made on the basis of our individual likes, leanings and proclivities. But what’s most important is that these determinations are ours – and no one else’s business.

Growing comfortable with such notions can be challenging when we’re in our youth. Since we’re uncertain about our world, we tend to be eminently impressionable, easily swayed by the influences around us, particularly those in seeming positions of authority. But are those authoritarian dictates what we truly believe deep down inside? Do their pronouncements genuinely resonate with who we are? And, if not, what do we do about it?

The key in bringing our own vision into being, especially when it comes to such highly personal matters, is identifying and embracing our innermost thoughts, beliefs and intents, for they shape the reality we experience. Of course, given the gravity involved in questions of sexuality and spirituality, we’re dealing with subjects charged with tremendous intensity and sometimes-inscrutable depth, areas in which answers may be hard to come by and choices could be easily questioned, particularly when brought under scrutiny by demanding outside sources. Under those kinds of circumstances, it’s no wonder someone like Alice, with limited life experience, might feel lost.

To grow comfortable with ourselves in these areas, we need to develop faith in our beliefs and trust their veracity. If they’re not right for us, we’ll discover that quickly enough, a signal that will tell us we’re on the wrong path and need to keep looking. But, by contrast, when they do feel right, we’ll know that, too, and likely just as fast. When we recognize that, we’ll know we’ve found what we were looking for. And this applies in virtually every area of experience, not just sexuality and spirituality.

Having come to this realization, we’ll also know how to assess the beliefs of others and their attempts to bombard us with them. We’ll be able to recognize the place, if any, that they hold in our own palette of beliefs. And, the more committed we are to our own convictions, the more we’ll be able to courageously stand up to those who assert viewpoints different from us. This is important for galvanizing ourselves in our own positions, enabling us to hold our own with others who would challenge us or try to unduly change our minds. Again, this is crucial with regard to our beliefs in any area of endeavor, but it’s especially critical for matters as personally intimate as sexuality and spirituality.

In the end, adopting such stances is essential for becoming our true, authentic selves. Allowing that portion of ourselves to come through is imperative if we hope to achieve satisfaction, joy and fulfillment in life, especially in such areas as our relationship with our bodies and our connection to the divine. And, when we see those manifestations realized, we may well be tempted to exclaim “Yes, God, yes” before grabbing for that requisite cigarette.

This charming and poignant teen comedy about a naive Catholic school girl who discovers the forbidden joys of sexuality in a generally unaccepting environment transcends the silly and unimaginative qualities often associated with films of this genre. Although the picture drags in a few spots and could stand to have been somewhat more daring at times, director Karen Maine’s debut feature serves up ample laughs without resorting to cheap tactics, often getting considerable mileage out of gestures as simple as facial expressions and other visuals that speak volumes. But, even more significantly, the film’s insights in other areas, such as judgment and self-determination, deliver spot-on messages that expose the hypocrisy and outright silliness often preached by organized religion. The picture’s superb ensemble cast, creative cinematography, impeccable editing and excellent background score add to the production’s many other fine attributes, making this release one well worth viewing. This smart, sexy, sweet offering is well deserving of all its accolades – not to mention a wide audience.

If everyone believed the same way in matters of sex and spirit, we’d have a much less colorful world. But just because we hold different viewpoints doesn’t mean we have to browbeat others into submission to get them to agree with us. In fact, when taken together, the various expressions of these issues combine to create a gorgeous mosaic, one to be admired for its beauty and diversity, the very qualities that make sexuality and spirituality such valuable and fulfilling aspects of our existence.

A complete review is available by clicking here.

The Opportunities and Heartache of Change

Change – some of us dread it, while others among us welcome it with open arms. Whichever camp we fall into, however, we all have one thing in common – we have to make adjustments in our lives when change makes its appearance. How well that goes (or doesn’t go) depends on how we approach what confronts us and how well it integrates into our existence, a challenge faced by an aging postmaster in the thoughtful character study, “Colewell” (web site, trailer).

For 35 years, Nora Pancowski (Karen Allen) has enjoyed a comfortable, predictable, enjoyable routine, but now, quite unexpectedly, she has come to a major crossroad in her life. The 65-year-old manager of the post office in rural Colewell, Pennsylvania has been informed that the facility is being closed due to U.S. Postal Service budget cuts. She’s now up against the prospect of retiring or taking a position at a postal facility in another town, one that will force her to relocate or face a long daily bus commute. And she doesn’t know what to do; she’s not ready to retire, but she’s not prepared for starting over in such a radical new way, given that the Colewell post office operates out of her own home under contract with the USPS.

Nora’s not the only one affected by this news. Local residents see the post office as the center of the community, using it as a friendly, informal meeting place and not just as where they get their stamps. Closing the facility would have a major impact on the sense of connection among the residents of Colewell, a notion that postal officials enforcing the decision (Daniel Jenkins, Craig Walker) have no concept of. And, for Nora, the closure would be particularly difficult, considering that she lives alone and has few friends except for her customers and fellow postal employee, Charles (Kevin J. O’Connor), who makes the daily bulk mail delivery to the facility.

Colewell residents are not about to take this news lying down, however, retaining a lawyer (Malachy Cleary) to fight the decision. Nora quietly supports the effort but does not become actively involved in the legal dealings for fear that her participation might jeopardize her retirement benefits or job prospects with the USPS. And, as the townsfolk vociferously come to her defense during a community meeting on the subject, she’s emotionally overwhelmed by everything that’s come down, stunned by developments that have hit her so quickly and so intensely. However, despite the fervent efforts of Colewell residents, they’re all for naught, their arguments falling on the deaf ears of the Postal Service bureaucrats.

Strangely, it’s actually somewhat ironic that Nora is reluctant to embrace this impending change. When younger, she had quite the sense of wanderlust, hitchhiking all over and living the life of an unattached free spirit. However, once she met her husband and settled down in Colewell, she felt a sense of grounding come over her, a feeling that she had finally found a place she could call home. At the time of the USPS announcement, Nora’s husband is no longer in the picture (his absence never definitively explained), but that doesn’t change her feelings for the place she calls home – and her desire to stay put.

Despite the disruption this announcement causes, this scenario gives Nora much to think about, especially when she receives a visit from Ella (Hannah Gross), a metaphorical embodiment of Nora’s younger self. Ella, it seems, is a hitchhiker who travels the country much as Nora once did, stopping off for temporary stays at the homes of a network of friends, like Nora. Over dinner one night, Nora and Ella discuss their respective lives and pasts, giving them each an opportunity to ponder their choices and to consider their futures. But even the benefits of hindsight and a sounding board don’t make matters any easier for Nora as she faces what is arguably the most difficult decision of her life.

Change, by its nature, is often disruptive. In many cases, despite the upheaval, it’s frequently positive, showing us new ways of doing things and improving our quality of life. However, in other instances, change can be devastating, especially when it results in a wholesale transformation and drastically affects those not prepared for it. Yet, as the old adage maintains, change is the only constant in our lives, so it really shouldn’t come as any great surprise when it occurs.

So why does it seem like such a shock when change shows up on our doorstep? It’s probably because we become set in our ways, having grown comfortable with our circumstances. We trust that life will go on as we’ve always known it, content to see the preservation and perpetuation of the existence we’ve come to embrace. But why does this happen? Why are we so resistant to shifts in our lives and routines? Why is it so difficult to adjust to change? Is it a matter of complacency, or is it something else entirely?

While comfort and contentment can certainly explain part of this equation, they don’t necessarily tell the whole story. To a great degree, resistance often arises from our belief that circumstances will remain the same without alteration. And recognizing that is significant, for that notion may help to explain the nature of the reality we experience. That includes any of our beliefs associated with the continuity of existence, notions that can become so powerful and persistent over time that they might even spawn ideas espousing a denial of the possibility of change. Such developments can lead to a rather rude awakening for those not expecting it when it appears. After all, the outcome originates with us, even if we’re not consciously aware of it. And such a lack of awareness may make dealing with these developments difficult. It’s as if we’re sucker-punched by our own consciousness, leaving us confused, disillusioned and upset – especially when we find out who and what is behind these radical shifts in our world. One can only imagine how Nora would feel about this if she were to realize who was ultimately driving the change that seems to have been so capriciously and unceremoniously thrust upon her.

So, if we’re so averse to having such circumstances materialize in our lives, why do we manifest them for ourselves in the first place? As with any creation, the reasons are our own, and it’s up to us to figure out why we’ve drawn them to us. However, one possible explanation has to do with the notion that everything evolves, continually morphing from one manifestation to the next through the lens of our respective life experiences. Should that unfolding be stifled or allowed to stagnate, though, a tremendous pressure to clear that metaphorical blockage may build up, eventually erupting in a burst of tremendous change, a measure designed to get the evolutionary process back on track. Such breakthroughs can be quite jarring, to say the least, and their impact may be overwhelming, especially to those who try to keep these developments from occurring by erecting belief walls to prevent them from occurring. One can only imagine the disruption and disorientation that can result in such scenarios, something that Nora and the residents of Colewell find out for themselves when they receive the USPS closure notice.

Obviously this development affects Nora most since it impacts her livelihood, her home, her connection to her community, and, most importantly, her future. And, admittedly, that’s a lot of change being thrown at her all at once. So why would she attract so much upheaval into her life in one fell swoop? Again, her reasons are her own, but the film provides us with some possible clues.

Given that Nora’s life has been virtually unchanged for nearly four decades, a good case could be made for the need to clear the evolutionary blockage that has been allowed to settle in and prevent new growth and development. On some level, Nora’s subconscious may have decided that this situation had to be rectified, even if it meant imposing change through drastic means. Viewers get hints of this in the film, such as during her dinner with Ella, when Nora reminisces about her hitchhiking days, a period in her life when she wasn’t tied down and freely followed her impulses to go where she wished whenever the spirit moved her. Ella’s very presence serves as a reminder of this as well, prompting Nora to reflect on the carefree lifestyle she once so readily relished. Maybe Nora needs to get some of that back, considering that she’s put it on hold for so long. That’s particularly true in light of her advancing age; at 65, how many more opportunities will she have for being able to freely and easily examine unexplored aspects of her existence? If she’s like most of us, she probably doesn’t want to come to the end of her life with regrets for not having pursued interests and adventures that she passed up for the sake of familiar comfort and contentment.

While taking advantage of those unexamined opportunities may not be easy for a senior who’s allowed herself to grow contented with her longstanding circumstances, that’s not to say it’s impossible. After all, Nora proved her resourcefulness to herself in her youth, and there’s no reason to believe that she can’t tap into that again. It may require her to become creative in her approaches, thinking outside the box and pushing through seemingly intractable limitations. At the very least, it necessitates that she look at her future as having more choices than just retirement or relocation. Conceiving other options could indeed take some work, but, if she puts her mind to it, she just might hit upon something unexpectedly wonderful in building a better life for herself. Whatever happens, though, the outcome rests with her – and whether she’s open to seeking it out.

This quiet, meditative character study thoughtfully examines the difficulty that can come when changes are imposed on those least equipped to handle such drastic developments late in life. While not much happens in this story, and while some aspects of the narrative are not fleshed out as fully as they could have been, the film nevertheless presents an insightful and compassionate look at coping with transition, a tale brought to life through the superb and understated lead performance of Karen Allen. It also tells the story of an aging but formidable woman, one who has more power than she gives herself credit for, a tale reminiscent of the protagonist in the independent offering “Diane” (2019). To that end, this is not a film where viewers should expect a lot of bells and whistles. But, like a good book and a warm blanket, it’s the kind of picture that’s perfect for curling up with on a rainy Saturday afternoon, a touching and heart-tugging drama filled with beautiful imagery and warm, loving characters, the kind who, like the small towns where they live, are all too unfortunately (and all too rapidly) disappearing from the landscape these days. The picture is available in various home viewing formats, including on cable and satellite TV, where it seems to have found a welcome home.

Even though this independent 2019 offering didn’t receive much fanfare, it did not go unnoticed in award competitions. Most notably, “Colewell” earned two Independent Spirit Award nominations for Allen’s stellar performance as best female lead and for the contest’s John Cassavettes Award, an honor bestowed to the best picture made for a film with a budget of $500,000 or less.

These days, it seems there are countless Noras and Colewells in the world, and their stories are indeed heart-wrenching. At the same time, though, these upheavals need not be the end of that world, either; it all depends on what we do with what we’ve been handed. The all-too-familiar images of making lemonade and seeing the glass as half-full readily come to mind, notions that some may take as modestly appeasing but ultimately clichéd sentiments. Nevertheless, there are grains of truth in those ideas, and they can be put to use to reverse our circumstances. And, if employed successfully, they just might bring us better news than anything we’ve ever received in the mail.

A complete review is available by clicking here.

Providing Direction to the Adrift

Starting over can seem like a dual-edged sword. In some ways, it may appear to be a tremendous opportunity to begin afresh. In other ways, though, we might feel devastated, completely overwhelmed by what we find ourselves up against. And, in the midst of that conundrum, we could be beset by the feeling of being totally adrift, unable to find our way, emotions not unlike those experienced by a group of space-weary travelers in the existential sci-fi offering, “Aniara,” available in various home viewing formats (web site, trailer).

With Earth becoming increasingly uninhabitable, a group of intrepid colonists sets out to stake a new future on Mars. They make the three-week journey to the Red Planet aboard enormous spaceships, such as the Aniara, which is really more like a cruise liner than a lifeboat. The craft is equipped with an array of luxurious comforts, including 21 restaurants, a shopping concourse, a gym and spa, and numerous other recreational activities. But perhaps one of the ship’s most intriguing amenities is the Mima Hall, a facility featuring a highly specialized form of artificial intelligence that’s able to tap into the consciousness of those who link with it. The Mima reads the thoughts, minds and memories of passengers, providing them with vivid, tailor-made virtual reality images of nature, particularly those of a time when the Earth was pristine. In this way, the Mima is designed to put the colonists’ minds at ease, assuaging any anxieties they might have about space flight, smoothing the transition to their new lives and leaving them with positive thoughts about the world they’re fleeing.

The spaceship Aniara prepares to embark on its journey to Mars in the existential sci-fi offering “Aniara,” available in various home viewing formats. Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing.

The Mima is administered by a specially trained host and technician, the Mimarobe (or MR) (Emelie Jonsson). She oversees the Mima’s operation and attends to the needs of passengers who have trouble adjusting to it, enhancing the quality of their experience. With such a soothing technology as this, one might think that the MR has her hands full attending to the needs of many eager users. However, as the Aniara embarks on its journey, there’s surprisingly little interest in the Mima, as most of the colonists are much more interested in partaking of the ship’s more conventional amenities.

Not long after the ship begins its journey, though, circumstances change drastically. When the Aniara is struck by space debris, the ship’s navigation capabilities are disabled, sending it off course and making it impossible for the crew to steer the vessel to get it back on track. The passengers are understandably upset, but the ship’s skipper, Capt. Chefone (Arvin Kananian), assures them that the crew will be able to rectify the problem as soon as the Aniara encounters a celestial body, where a gravitational slingshot effect around said object will enable restoration of the ship’s navigation capabilities, a process that he estimates will take no longer than two years to accomplish. However, for a group of colonists anxious to get on with their lives, two years is a far cry from the promised three weeks.

Given the change in plans, the crew begins making adjustments to operations. Thankfully, certain considerations, like air and food supply, aren’t issues; the ship’s advanced sustainability systems should enable these commodities to be available for a period far longer than two years if need be. However, despite the captain’s assertions that the ship will be able to get back on course, there are those on board who know otherwise, such as the Aniara’s resident astronomer (Anneli Martini), who quietly observes that there are no celestial bodies on the ship’s current trajectory capable of enabling the projected corrective maneuver. What’s more, given the passengers’ doubt about their fate, they start seeking solace in the Mima in numbers far greater than anticipated, overwhelming the MR and the technology she manages. Before long, the astronomer, the MR and the Mima all find themselves in jeopardy they never expected.

MR, the Mimarobe (Emelie Jonsson), oversees the operation of the Mima, a highly specialized form of artificial intelligence that links its users to tailor-made nature images to provide them with a calming effect, one of many amenities available aboard the spaceship Aniara, as seen in the existential sci-fi offering “Aniara.” Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing.

Thus begins the saga of the Aniara as it moves through space toward an uncertain future. The story of this lost vessel, told in chapters at various points along its protracted timeline, depicts the many diverse developments that occur along its path. These include both personal stories, such as the MR’s relationships with her lovers, Isagel (Bianca Cruzeiro) and Daisi (Leon Jiber), as well as tales affecting the crew and passengers at large, such as those involving ad hoc incarceration, the emergence of various cults and a charismatic spiritual leader (Jennie Silfverhjelm), rescue efforts, and initiatives aimed at maintaining hope amidst ever-growing despair. And, through it all, everyone concerned is presented with opportunities to discover new things about their individuality, their humanity and their relationship to powers greater than themselves, a true space odyssey if there ever were one.

Given their circumstances, one would probably be hard-pressed to envy the fate of the crew and passengers of the Aniara. With such uncertainty hanging over them, they can’t count on the future they hoped for, let alone one that offers virtually any semblance of comfort or predictability. So what does one do in a situation like this, especially as resources begin to dwindle and familiar forms of consolation start to disappear?

Building a new life from scratch is a daunting challenge to be sure. In many ways, there are no rules (despite the crew’s attempts at trying to maintain an approximation of the civilized life the passengers have always known but that is quickly slipping away). So how does one proceed?

The Mima Hall, gathering place for users of the highly specialized form of artificial intelligence known as the Mima, provides solace to space-weary travelers in the existential sci-fi offering “Aniara,” available in various home viewing formats. Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing.

That’s where each individual’s beliefs come into play, and, in this case, the passengers and crew must draw upon them in their most basic form, those that reside in the core of their being, for they will provide the foundation for shaping the framework of the new existence they’re building for themselves. In that regard, they must ask themselves what notions will underlie everything and what will stem from them, as if they’re providing “an operating system” atop which all of their various “applications” will run. Is this to be a world that draws upon hope-based beliefs for its character? Or will it be one that’s riddled with despair? Those are radically different approaches to the same basic task, methodologies that, in turn, are likely to yield radically different results. What will they choose?

To complicate matters, shaping a new paradigm is an act of co-creation, one in which the influences of multiple participants are involved. And, given the disparate outlooks each of them holds, there’s bound to be considerable contradiction at play, making the realization of a cohesive, integrated whole difficult to achieve. The thinking of those who try to remain optimistic, such as the MR, clashes with that of the naysayers, like the astronomer and Isagel, as well as those who insist on remaining dogmatically practical, such as Capt. Chefone. Is it any wonder, then, that the future of those aboard the Aniara remains in limbo as everyone tries to sort out what they think they want both for themselves and the collective?

Without a doubt, these circumstances present an opportunity to think outside the box, to let our imagination surpass limitations and enable us to explore possibilities never before dreamed of. On a somewhat mundane level, for example, that becomes visible through the solutions devised to address the practical problems of an everyday life that has been thrown seriously out of kilter. Meanwhile, on a more sacred plane, that becomes apparent through the various spiritual explorations that the passengers and crew engage in, both through the cults and individual introspection. In either case, not everything may work, but these circumstances at least give everyone a chance to stretch his or her creativity muscles.

MR, the Mimarobe (Emelie Jonsson), overseer of a highly specialized form of artificial intelligence known as the Mima, tries to maintain hope under deteriorating conditions aboard the spaceship Aniara in the existential sci-fi offering “Aniara.” Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing.

The film’s various story threads also examine how we deal with certain aspects of life in light of such drastically changed circumstances. For example, “Aniara” explores how to handle the loss of the creature comforts to which we have become so accustomed in the wake of dire new conditions. Likewise, the picture’s narrative brings to life various aspects of religion – salvation, redemption, confession, surrender, etc. – that many of the passengers are familiar with, giving them firsthand experience in dealing with them on a level they’ve probably never done before. These initiatives could all be considered part of the larger question of the passengers and crew creating a new world for themselves, but, given the prominence these considerations likely occupy in their lives, they could be almost as daunting in and of themselves as the bigger issue being addressed.

All in all, there’s quite a full plate at work here, and one could easily be overcome, as evidenced in the experiences of some of those aboard the wayward vessel. In many respects, the story of the passengers and crew serves as a powerful cautionary tale to those of us facing comparable circumstances. That’s not to suggest that we’re likely to find ourselves on a spaceship headed into unknown regions of the galaxy, but we could experience situations where we’re having to start over and build from the ground up, both individually and collectively. How will we handle that? Can we sustain our will to endure? Or will we give in to our sense of “despairing” (the translation of the ancient Greek word “aniara” from which the ship ironically derives its name)? We might want to take a cue from those on board the Aniara, for better or worse, to get ourselves started.

The relationship between MR (Emelie Jonsson, left) and her partner, Isagel (Bianca Cruzeiro, right), undergoes a series of ups and downs when their spacecraft, the Aniara, unexpectedly goes off course in the existential sci-fi offering “Aniara,” available in various home viewing formats. Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing.

This ambitious existential sci-fi offering, based on a Swedish poem of the same name by Nobel Prize winner Harry Martinson, makes a valiant attempt at transcending the content, substance and style typically associated with other films of the genre. However, due to an underdeveloped script, an overreliance on viewer knowledge of the source material, occasionally uneven pacing and a need for some judicious editing, the picture doesn’t quite rise to the greatness it might have been truly capable of. The film’s impeccable production design, superb special effects and fine performances are augmented by nods to a variety of other sci-fi works, including “Solaris” (2002), “Gravity” (2013), “Passengers” (2016) and Battlestar Gallactica (1978-79, 2005-09), as well as allusions to such diverse offerings as “Midsommar” (2019), “Eyes Wide Shut” (1999), “Tommy” (1975)  and various tales of hopelessly adrift seafarers. Its prolific references to matters religious, spiritual, metaphysical, environmental and sociopolitical pepper the story, sometimes effectively, sometimes not so much, resulting in a grab bag of enlightenment, frustration and assorted enigmas. In an age where our own world is seemingly being turned upside-down, the insights of this story – had they been better developed – could have been a godsend to a weary population, providing us all with a new, clearer understanding of where we’re at and where we’re headed. But, unfortunately, “Aniara” comes up short of achieving that goal – and at a time when we could use it most.

When we find ourselves adrift, treading water may help us stay afloat, but it also won’t get us anywhere. And, when we’re lost in the great expanse of the ocean (or the heavens, for that matter), a maneuver designed to merely keep us stationary might not seem like much help. However, it can buy us valuable time to sort out our circumstances to devise a solution that could prove to be a life-saver, a shining beacon of encouragement at a time when all else may seem hopeless.

A complete review is available by clicking here.

Copyright © 2020, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.