I do things on the weekend now, I guess, instead of working. This weekend it was another movie: Shoplifters.
It’s a really good movie, but you don’t need me to tell you that; it’s already won a bunch of awards. More interesting for me is that the last time I tried to watch a foreign movie with Swedish subtitles—I don’t know how many years ago anymore, but several—I gave up about ten minutes into the movie and switched the subtitles to English. It was just too much to process at once. This time it was fine. Progress!
One of the books I read in my Modernist Swedish Literature course a million years ago was Aniara. Since we were still babies in the Swedish language, everything we read was an English translation. To this day I don’t know how The Swedish Program at Stockholm University managed to find enough copies—actual proper hardback copies, not dodgy spiral-bound printouts—of the English translation for all of us. These days the only English version available anywhere seems to be an ugly paperback edition that fetches a whopping $225 on Amazon.
I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t quite appreciate reading Aniara at the time. I love sci fi but I’m extremely unconvinced by poetry, so the whole thing left me tepid. Now that I’m older, I appreciate not only the weirdness of the project (an epic poem about a pioneer ship lost in space!) but the metaphorical aspect of the whole piece in the face of the threat of nuclear winter and environmental annihilation.
I only learned that there was an Aniara movie after I saw a poster for it at ABF after my writing Meetup. My timing was excellent: Bio Rio only has two showings and both of them are in February. There’s one more screening on 15 February, for those of you in Stockholm who are free at 3 in the afternoon on a weekday. I’m not, so I had to grab last-minute tickets to the evening showing this past Saturday. I also, at the very last minute, tracked down a copy of the Swedish original from the library so I could go into the movie with a refreshed memory.
Aniara the movie is a graceful companion to Aniara the epic poem, if not least to provide visuals that help anchor the story (as much as there is one). Specifically, the movie illustrates the sheer vastness of everything far better than words maybe ever could. Martinson gives some details—a ship with 8,000 people on board, 15,580 feet long and 2,923 feet wide—but it’s hard to really appreciate, on the emotional and intuitive level, what those numbers really mean. The establishing shots of huge milling crowds in a huge, outsized version of a Viking Line cruise ship, however, suddenly makes it crystal clear. The poem also does very little to specify the actual specifics of the ship, aside from the fact that it has crystal-clear windows and walls over must of it. Thanks to a steady childhood diet of mid-century science fiction movies, I always imagined the interior of Aniara as a very minimalist, brushed chrome sort of space ship; the option to represent the ship as an opulent, futuristic echo of today’s booze cruises was an inspired one and provided a nice visual irony in the later years of the ship’s voyage.
References and quotations from the poem fit into the movie quite elegantly, whether in events and plot points or pieces of dialogue. The screenwriters opted to ground things in the particular story arc of the Mimarob—the employee who operates the Mima, which in the movie is the equivalent of the holodeck from Star Trek but in the poem is more like a fancy movie theater. The change works well; the vague nameless “we” in many of the poems is enough to track when you read, but in a movie it helps to have at least one central character we can follow throughout. The choice of the Mimarob for such a protagonist also makes sense; on the rare occasion a singular “I” turns up in the poem, it’s usually the Mimarob.
I didn’t finish re-reading Aniara entirely beforehand, so I can’t say whether some of the grimmer plot points were also alluded to in the poem or if they were added for dramatic purposes. But it doesn’t seem worth harping on grimness when we’re talking about an adaption of an epic poem where everyone ends up lost in space forever.
Like 2001 and Arrival, the film version of Aniara succeeds in complementing the original text it’s based on, so that instead of competing to tell the singular best version of an idea, both versions become one cohesive whole. Watch the movie and, if you can, read the book.
If you were to play hooky on your next regular work day with no negative consequences, and if you could only spend the day by yourself, what out-of-the-house fun activities would you pursue?
Honestly? I think I’d park myself at a bar that opened at lunch, order some snacks and a stor stark, and catch up on reading while WhatsApping absent friends. Maybe go to one of the many, many museums in Stockholm that I haven’t been to yet.
In the same situation, what stay-home fun activities would you pursue?
Same as above, but change out the stor stark for a whisky.
If you played hooky specifically because someone else needed the time off, who in your life would be your accomplice and what would be first on the agenda?
This is a tough one because anyone in my life who needs the time off is on another continent. The first item on the agenda, though, would be a quality fika of some variety or another. Start the day off with caffeine, sugar, and good conversation!
When did you last visit a museum, and what item on exhibit impressed you?
If I’m allowed to go back to much earlier museum visits, one of my favorite pieces is “Love and Friendship (The Sacrifice of the Arrows of Love on the Altar of Friendship),” in my beloved Philadelphia Art Museum.
I think it outclasses any other work of art anyone’s ever attempted to make to grapple with unrequited romantic feelings for a close friend.
The other is one from the Art Institute of Chicago (the same museum Ferris, Sloane, and Cameron visit in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, weirdly enough). “Into the World Came a Soul Called Ida.”
When the green lines went down from a power outage back in September, I didn’t bother blipping my card on the (very, very full) bus ride home. To be fair, since I have a monthly card, that’s not really “getting away” with anything; it’s not like I saved a fare or any money!