Into Eternity is one of the better documentaries in recent memory. The reason it's successful is equal parts its fantastic, fascinating subject matter and a cool, austere treatment by director Michael Madsen.
The film deals with a facility currently under construction in northern Finland. Slated to be built inside solid bedrock 500 meters underground, the Onkalo (Finnish for cavern) project is meant to safeguard nuclear waste for 100,000 (and beyond). After construction finishes in 2020, the ensuing 'encapsulation and burial' phase will last until 2120.
Madsen takes us on a tour through the vast vaults and tunnels being built, the forests outside, current-use water nuclear storage facilities, and scientific offices. Interviews with various scientists involved shed light on the thinking behind this tremendous project, the vast timelines involved, and the lithany of potential faults (main threat: human intrusion - but you already knew that). Considerations ranging from archaeological to semiotic come into play here. Interestingly, even one of the project's organizers is clearly conflicted about Onkalo in the filmed interviews. While she seems resigned to her role in organizing and 'selling' it, she also pipes in with a skeptical outlook pretty much every chance she gets. A human reaction to an unnatural monolith.
One of the real victories here is the brilliantly slow-paced, impeccably shot and laconically detached style of the filmmaker. Occasional silly cameos in the darkness with a match that's allowed to go out detract from that; yet they too serve a purpose. These little interjections are Madsen's cautionary missives to future generations - which are not likely to understand or even receive them.
It's fairly clear what the filmmaker thinks of all this. However, the film does not ram a cynic's judgment down your throat - leaving you free to reflect and imagine. For me, the strongest thing about this film was imagining the many, many scenarios and what ifs that could unfold in a distant future.
For me, this was a little difficult to watch, remembering that this coming April marks the 25th anniversary of the Chornobyl accident (and having grown up less than 100km from there myself). It was also tremendous food for thought. I would recommend everyone to go see this, no matter where you stand on nuclear power.