The first permanent underground facility for storing nuclear waste, under construction in Finland, provides an eerie, otherworldly backdrop for “Into Eternity.” In this theoretical confrontation with the future from Danish helmer/film essayist Michael Madsen, huge machinery moves ponderously through deep tunnels, and men silently traverse sterile corridors while officials wonder how to dissuade curious denizens of an unimaginable Earth — 100,000 years from now — from ever opening their radioactive Pandora’s box. Part abstract ballet, part futuristic fable and part bureaucratic farce, this striking docu somewhat overplays its effects but should draw strong biz at educational, sci-fi and experimental-film venues.
The vast structure called Onkalo (a Finnish word for “hiding place”) measures the extent of the global emergency surrounding nuclear waste disposal. Once the enormous subterranean system is completed, it will accommodate only Finland’s nuclear discards, a small fraction of the 250,000-300,000 tons stockpiled above ground, in pools and tanks subject to escalating manmade and natural disasters.
Madsen has designed his film as a cautionary time capsule, a sort of message in a bottle addressed to later adventurers who might unwarily penetrate Onkalo’s built-in deterrents. At three different occasions throughout the pic, he lights matches in the dark tunnel to illuminate his face as he alerts these disaster-bound future explorers of the apocalyptic dangers looming just ahead. But long before the third match is struck, his chummy, direct-to-the-camera soliloquies have outworn their welcome. Fortunately, this stylistic conceit serves mainly as a jumping-off point to less whimsical flights of fancy.
Madsen’s voiceover narration, a semi-poetic meditation on the survival of the species, speculates that whatever is inhabiting the earth 100,000 years hence (100,000 years roughly approximating the span of mankind’s entire existence) will probably resemble us less than we do Neanderthals, and will be unlikely to comprehend his English-language warnings.
At its best, “Into Eternity” combines arresting visuals and ironic social commentary. In the cavernous underground tunnels, the docu records the ongoing drilling and blasting by construction workers dwarfed by their surroundings, while above ground, caribou obliviously roam scenic winterscapes. Finnish and Swedish scientists, politicians and businessmen pontificate on the Ice Age predicted to occur in about 60,000 years, and puzzle over its effect on civilization.
But mainly, they argue about what to do about Onkalo once it is sealed. Should they post markers, and if so, in what language or with what hieroglyphics? (Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” briefly surfaces as a suggestion.) Or would any marker only pique the interest of 90th-millennium pyramid raiders who would see it as a signpost to anthropological riches or more tangible treasures?
The debate goes back and forth on psychological, ethical and meteorological grounds, lending darkly comic relief to the unsettling images of giant drills burrowing deep below the planet’s surface and the ominous shuffle of nuclear handlers in hazard suits.