Michael Madsen—the Danish director, not the actor—creates a lush, formalist take on an ugly subject

Into Eternity

on January 27, 2011 by Vadim Rizov
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Into Eternity considers the basic eternalness of nuclear waste. Shot near-indulgently, Michael Madsen's film isn't so much a polemic as an acknowledgment of futility. The setting is Onkalo, a Finnish storage facility whose construction will only be completed after everyone currently working on it is dead. Jokingly structured as a "message to the future" (complete with Madsen himself delivering solemn and silly soliloquies timed to last the duration of a lit match), the film reaches way beyond the usual activist crowd by making itself as formally compelling as it is tightly argued. Sadly, commercial prospects for such grim subject matter are minimal.

The only contemporary documentary director who might approach the subject with any degree of financial success is Errol Morris, of whose example Madsen is keenly aware. (A tracking shot through a hallway as sped-up passers-by register as "ghosts" looks to be directly stolen from Standard Operating Procedure.) Still, Morris is hardly the worst filmmaker to rip off if you can get it right, and Madsen has the chops. This is his first film over an hour long, and not every minute is in his own, distinctive voice: he has a penchant for obvious if pleasing musical cues (Kraftwerk's "Radiation" gets a spin) and interview sequences where the deadpan relationship between off-camera interrogator and onscreen speaker is an intensely collaborative one, recalling Morris' Interrotron technique.

Madsen's eye, if not always original, is good, and his reflections on point. Beginning by explaining how nuclear waste's long potency renders it conventionally undisposable, the film contemplates a variety of issues, from how to signpost the burial grounds for future generations (all written and visual communications could be obsolete 50,000 years from now) to the specifics of Onkalo's epic structure. The structure's sheer physicality gives Madsen's stately camera plenty of room to glide, especially in a daringly wordless but emotionally charged final crawl through smoke to the massive walls.

All those aesthetics help rivet otherwise indifferent audiences to a political saga that implicitly argues against nuclear power simply because the waste can't be stored safely. The difference between this and other apocalyptic, alarmist documentaries about the many ways the entire world will end in flames sooner rather than later (e.g. Flow: For Love Of Water, or the Lyme Disease agit-prop piece Under Our Skin) is both its sober diligence parsing out the details and its attention to aesthetics. For most people, this will be their first chance to see Madsen's work; a more auspicious introduction to the wider world is hard to imagine.

 

Distributor: International Film Circuit
Cast: Michael Madsen, Timo Aikas, Mikael Jensen, Berit Lundqvist, Wendla Paile, Esko Roukola, Sami Savonrinne, Timo Seppala, Juhani Vira, Peter Wikberg
Director/Screenwriters: Michael Madsen
Producers: Lise Lense-Moller
Genre: Documentary
Rating: Unrated
Running time: 75 min
Release date: January 21 ltd.

 

Tags: Michael Madsen, Timo Aikas, Mikael Jensen, Berit Lundqvist, Wendla Paile, Esko Roukola, Sami Savonrinne, Timo Seppala, Juhani Vira, Peter Wikberg, Lise Lense-Moller
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