Denmark/Finland | 2010 | Dir. Michael Madsen | English | 75 mins.
Eerily, powerfully atmospheric, this film about the construction of a mammoth bunker designed to contain nuclear waste from Finland is as chilling in its presentation of real facts as a great horror movie. It’s also quietly philosophical, ruminating at one point on Rumsfeldian “unknown unknowns,” and the like. Interviews with leading experts in nuclear storage and containment, security specialists, and, briefly, miners and construction workers, are intercut with bleak footage of the unforgiving countryside above the underground series of tubes, which will not be completed until the 22nd century.
The site, named Onkalo (“hiding place”), will need to keep its contents safe from human (and non-human) interaction for 100,000 years—the length of time nuclear waste remains toxic. As such, the film is constructed as a visual letter, a video essay written to future generations warning of the dangers of entering the facility or, worse, tampering with what lies inside it. Appropriately soundtracked with pieces by Philip Glass, Sibelius, Arvo Pärt and (who better for a film about radioactivity?) Kraftwerk, this is a thought-provoking meditation on the nature of time, the ruin we have done to the earth, and the consequences of our very existence as human beings.