Eternity played at Montreal's 2010
Fantasia Film Festival. For the ratings, click HERE.
Christopher Campbell reviews films at Cinematical.
will the inhabitants of Earth be like over the next 100,000
years? Will they even be human, or some other civilization
of animal or alien being? These questions are at the heart
of Into Eternity, a beautiful and extremely fascinating
Danish documentary about ONKALO, the ambitious nuclear waste
repository near Olkiluoto, Finland, which will bury thousands
of tons of spent uranium from a local power plant in an extensive
underground tunnel system.
Directed by conceptual artist/filmmaker Michael Madsen (no,
not the "Mr. Blonde" one) and co-written by Jesper
Bergman, the film plays like science fiction, but it's alarmingly
contemporary. Into Eternity is structured as if it's
not intended for a modern audience; it’s a relic-to-be.
In an eerie narration, Madsen addresses future viewers –
who may or may not understand his English-spoken warnings
and questions -- urging them not to curiously venture into
the tunnels as if they were an archaeological find.
Yet in asking the hypothetical later audience about what has
happened to the human race and the Earth itself, wondering
if another ice age has come, if the world is less populated,
the film persuades viewers, the scientists and planners interviewed
onscreen to reflect on the present in relation to cause and
effect. Among the many issues of safety, the most interesting
regards the communication of ONKALO's existence to later generations
and societies. Will markers with modern words or currently
understood symbols and imagery be useful to a people or creatures
with unimaginably different or evolved language? Could an
oral tradition of continually passed-on and presumably modified
warnings be trusted?
Or should the repository be figuratively swept under the rug
to avoid the dangers of human curiosity and greed (the copper
canisters used to store the uranium will no doubt be coveted
by future treasure hunters)? It's amazing how much is pondered
and dauntingly projected about humanity in a short span of
75 minutes, in a film about a single nation's little-known
plan for what's basically a $4.5 billion self-storage unit
with a 100,000 year lease.
You'll be left to wonder about the answers to the film's questions
long after it ends, because neither Madsen nor Into Eternity's
featured experts offers any conclusive statements or concrete
plans (for outside the tunnel, that is). One individual points
out that since the project has about another century until
completion, there's plenty of time for later discussion and
debate about safety, markers and other matters that would
seem to be more pressing.
That argument and attitude seems too pass-the-buck given the
project's otherwise exigent nature. Yet it contributes to
the underlying despair that permeates the documentary and
the very concept of ONKALO itself. Between Into Eternity
and the global warming-themed North Pole travelogue Into
the Cold, Tribeca projects a gloomy mood as far as hope
for both humanity and the planet is concerned.
Unlike Into the Cold, though, Madsen's film has no
political agenda. It is neither for nor against nuclear power,
and it doesn't take sides regarding the construction or later
maintenance of the repository. And though it elicits whatever
feelings you may have about energy sources, the environment
and the fate of man and life on Earth in general, there is
no direct warning or advocacy directed to people in the 21st
century. It's simply an eerie look at a sort of time capsule,
while also being a time capsule itself.
A man involved in the physical digging (they have a more preferred
term for their explosive tunneling, but I unfortunately can't
remember what it is) admits his job is sometimes like time
travel, because he can go into the ground in the morning,
when it's warm and sunny outside, and exit at night to find
it has snowed all day, making it appear like much more time
has passed. Into Eternity produced a similar sense
of temporal confusion.
I started out in some ignorant past, which was comparable
to science fiction; then I was shot into the future, or a
number of potential conceivable futures, which provided the
perspective that allowed me to view the film as an historical
artifact; and then I was ultimately returned to the present
with a feeling of general insignificance -- but not necessarily
in a useless or otherwise depressing way, though I'm sure
others will come out feeling more forlorn.
An audience member at the Tribeca screening I attended brought
up H.G. Wells. And watching Into Eternity is indeed
very much akin to reading The Time Machine. Only
it's far more real and far more scary, as the underground
threat here is invisible and has a longer lifespan than the
Morlocks of Wells' story. But in the end, like Wells' traveler,
our new found knowledge and perspective has little affect
on our day to day life, at least outside our minds.