Friday 14 January 2011

On DVD: "Into Eternity"

Into Eternity is a strikingly framed bit of forward planning from director Michael Madsen (not that one), subtitled "A Film for the Future", and perhaps alone among movies in having been made with the specific intent of being buried in a time capsule and viewed at a later date. Madsen, a Danish documentarist, takes as his subject nuclear energy - an increasingly popular solution to our current energy woes, yet one that, for all its claimed efficiency, leaves behind an amount of unprocessable waste. There are, we learn, 250,000 tonnes of this dotted around the planet at the present time, a figure set to increase as our own government's nuclear energy program gears up in earnest. This stuff doesn't go away - rather, it hangs around for 100,000 years being all, you know, deadly and shit. In other words: you can't just take it down the tip.

So where do we put it? The answer - at least for the Finnish government - is Onkalo, a specially built facility in the snowy wastes designed to store this lethal cast-off in water tanks below ground. The intention is to fill these tanks, then seal the building in the year 2100, while mankind waits for this material to break itself down/stop glowing green/whatever it is nuclear waste actually does. Interviews with (some admirably calm) bureaucrats and administrators eke out a collective fear of human intrusion - that future generations may stumble upon this fizzing Pandora's box, and unknowingly expose both themselves and their contemporaries to a force they won't have felt the like of. 100,000 years is a lot of time for curiosity to kill the cat, after all, but also for human modes of communication to change; in millennia to come, a simple "KEEP OUT" sign may suffice only as much as, say, those crude stick figures our forefathers left painted for us on the walls of certain caves.

If you'll sanction a pun within the context of a film of the utmost Scandinavian seriousness, you can see the Onkalo architects' problem: they've been obliged to embark upon a work for the ages, bearing in mind there may come a time when there's no Finnish in sight. Madsen adds an extra layer of discombobulating spookiness with his own narration, addressed not to you or I, but to the future inhabitants of Earth - it's just one way of getting us to look and think ahead. "Time moves very, very quickly above the ground, but very slowly in the rock," one of the project's chief engineers observes - a philosophical distinction Madsen's elegant, Kubrickian-Herzogian tour of the facility's subterranean depths only bears out: by the time the camera happens across a moose taking a dump in the woods above, we're thinking in terms of future fossils, and not fresh faeces. In a hundred, a thousand or 100,000 years, the film's content might seem as prosaic as any other public information broadcast; for the time being, Madsen confronts us with a scenario that - however much it might play like astounding science fiction - is in fact entirely and awesomely real.

Into Eternity is available on DVD from Monday.

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