Into Eternity: Where the Past Meets the Future in a Wintry Ground Zero
Danish artist Michael Madsens Into Eternity, which had its local premiere at last years Tribeca Film Festival, documents an anti-monument to negativity. Admirably forward-thinking, if undeniably quixotic, Finlands government has undertaken the task of digging a hole in which to bury nuclear waste deep in the earth. Located 100 miles northwest of Helsinki, Onkalo (Finnish for hiding place) is intended to last 100,000 years; the firstand, so far, the onlysuch tomb (which will hold only a fraction of the worlds spent nuclear fuel) is a place that, as the filmmaker puts it, humans must remember to forget.
As befits its science-fiction premise, much of Into Eternity purports to address the people of the futureperhaps they will happen upon Onkalo (this place where you should never come) just as a group of French teenagers stumbled upon the cave paintings at Lascaux in 1940. The rest of the movie addresses the nature of these future people, as discussed by Onkalos creators, an eminently reasonable cast of engineers, scientists, and academics, mainly ensconced in pristine laboratories. Will the future people recognize as poison that which has been interred in this vast cavern or, as in some fatal myth, will they mistake it for something else? What should be put on the warning marker? Could any inscription deter the tomb raiders of 102,000 A.D.? Someone suggests Munchs The Scream. (How about the last 20 minutes of Kiss Me Deadly?) Human nature being what it is, any warning might only incite curiosity. But then again, extrapolating human nature tens of thousands of years into the future is a fools gamea decision under uncertainty, one scientist explains, an equation rife with unknowns. A civilization of giant cockroaches might well feed on Onkalos treasure.
Into Eternity is not so much warning (although it is that) as head trip. Madsens crisp, coolly symmetrical images evoke both the clean lines of Finnish functional design and Errol Morriss formalismas does the gravitas-inducing slo-mo and ironic use of music (Sibelius, Varèse, Kraftwerk). Defamiliarizing the snowy Nordic landscape, this delicately lurid documentary has a somber beauty. It is meant to boggle the mind and inspire aweand it does. As in 2001 or The Time Machine, the story of the human race comes full circle. The unknown past meets the unknowable future in a wintry ground zero.
Directed by Michael Madsen
International Film Circuit
Film Forum, February 2 through 15
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