Directed by Michael Madsen
The intellectually and aesthetically ravishing Into Eternity concerns an under-construction, underground bunker in Finland that will store nuclear waste; director Michael "Not That Michael Madsen" Madsen shoots what's been built already hauntingly, like it's the mineshaft in My Bloody Valentine. That's because this documentary is "A Film For The Future" (as per its subtitle), a cautionary report on what this place is and why it's so terrible, so that people of the future will never ever visit it. It's a horror movie. Of course, it's unlikely that people 50,000 years into the future will be able to figure out how to play Into Eternity in whatever format in which they discover it, so it's annoying that Madsen (by match light, for Heaven's sake) continues to address audiences of the future (hope you guys appreciate aughties Eurotrash trip-hop!), and to do so as though they're retarded. ("Man found fire but could not put fire out, so man...")
But it's very easy to look past the movie's faults and enjoy its long stretches of slow, poetic beauty: the eerie tracking shots of empty corridors, the Kubrickian ballet of futuristic machinery moving to Viennese waltzes. Madsen's camera reflects a love for man's mechanical ingenuity that seems at odds with his admonishing attitude toward a species that produced nuclear waste to begin with. It's ostensibly an apolitical film, but Into Eternity ultimately makes a clear argument against nuclear power: not just because there's a potential peak-uranium problem, but because of The Waste Problem.
"You can't make nuclear waste disappear," the engineer of the Finnish bunker says. You just have to hide it deep underground for 100,000 years, which will require what would be the longest-standing structure in human history—by an astounding factor! (The pyramids are roughly 5,000 years old.) The film functions as a plea to future generations not to pry open our nuclear waste repositories as we pried open the pharaoh's tombs. There are no treasures to loot here! (Or, will spent plutonium be a valuable resource in 54678 AD?) Will the warnings keep future generations away, or only pique their curiosity? Should we mark the site with skulls and crossbones (would they even understand the pictograms?), or should we let the location simply fade from memory, let the radioactivity fizzle out, forgotten? Will legends about the place survive? These sophisticated and fascinating philosophical inquiries carry the film, along with its lyrical images. If sometimes grating, Into Eternity compensates with its thoughtfulness and beauty. But, if it's supposed to be so scary, maybe it shouldn't be so pretty? Madsen's film falls short of perfection because he can't pick one audience and speak to it alone.
Opens February 2 at Film Forum