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By Jeremy Knox | April 26, 2010

When all’s said and done, who wants overbearing doom and gloom when radiation poisoning is the topic at hand? Let’s bypass the usual tropes that surround cautionary tales of “what happens if…?” and assume it did.

“Into Eternity” isn’t a story about human failure, but about coming to grips with what nuclear energy has created: a deadly waste with a half-life of 100,000 years. Immediate solutions dealing with waste disposal are akin with putting the trash in a better garbage bag, but one that will inevitably give way in ten years before it has to be put through the same process.

Just as director Michael Madsen intones, “You are in a place where you should not be.” By default, being a member of the audience watching this film, means it’s too late—“you” have discovered the “Onkalo” (secret place) and now the discussion of why this happened can start.

Set against a variety of speakers from the Onkalo project, Danish government, analysts and professors, Madsen routinely lets his voice come out to ask questions about the current storage procedures for the waste and what can be done going forward. That answer, however, leads to more problems.

Can the waste be shot into space? (No, the rocket could explode and create a warhead.) Can’t we just leave it in a tank filled with water? (Yes, but only for roughly a decade or so.)

Madsen is incredibly self-aware of what he’s getting himself into, utilizing tracking shots, a little surreal imagery (a doctor using a handcart as a makeshift scooter) and even Kraftwerk as background music while explaining nuclear storage. His introduction to each segment starts with him, in the dark, lighting a match and going off into a fable about man’s quest for fire (when the match runs out, we slink to black and the monologue is over.)

Any discussion about nuclear power runs the risk of being overrun by advocates or what needs to be done. But Madsen’s subjects remain cool, rarely bringing their voice above a pointed tone when debating how to mark the finished Onkalo: will there be a forest of spikes to warn people away? Will it simply be flat and hope that no one digs there? The cultural debate of how to warn future generations about what they’re on top of becomes so engrossing that it becomes easy to forget there’ll be an unknown amount of nuclear material barely three miles underground. Not to mention, there won’t just be one Onkalo.

It’s impossible to be on the fence about “Eternity” because there isn’t any debate. Nuclear waste exists, it can’t be easily destroyed and the only option is to bury it farther and farther until its half-life runs out. But Madsen does us one favor in the face of an impending global catastrophe: he provides a beautiful, yet haunting, final shot as we move forward into whatever the future holds for us, even inside a secret place.

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