When Eternal splashed onto screens at the 2024 International Film Festival Rotterdam, it sent ripples through the industry. This soul-searching climate change romance comes from Danish writer-director Ulaa Salim, hot off the heels of his hard-hitting 2019 drama Sons of Denmark. Eternal tackles some hefty themes – the environment, love, ambition, fate – but wraps them in an accessible package.
We open on the rocky cliffs of Iceland, where a bewildered local watches his coastline vanish into the churning ocean. An earthquake has torn open a dangerous fissure in the Earth’s core that threatens to destabilize the planet’s magnetic field. The world depends on a crack team of scientists, led by submarine pilot Elias, to voyage into the core and seal up the rupture before catastrophe strikes.
The thriller plot sets the stage, but Eternal also packs an emotional gut-punch. When Elias randomly bumps into his long-lost love Anita, flashes of their failed romance come rushing back. As he grapples with the mission of saving the world, Elias finds himself torn between duty and dreams of a different life with Anita.
Through the lens of climate crisis and time travel-esque slide doors parallel realities, Eternal explores the tension between ambition and connection. When chasing your goals means sacrificing relationships, how do you weigh up what really matters? Salim intentionally debuts this meditative flick at Europe’s top film fest, nabbing headlines for his penetrating perspective on modern love in troubled times.
An Impossible Choice Between Love and Duty
Eternal sets up an impossible dilemma – should Elias choose career over romance to potentially save the planet? When we meet our leads, they’re in the first flush of love. Sparks fly as the brooding scientist Elias crosses paths with aspiring singer Anita at a bar. Their chemistry is electric, but differences bubble under the surface.
While Anita lives freely in the moment, Elias stresses about the climate crisis. He even rambles about the dangerous Icelandic fissure mid-make out session! Still, they dive into romance – until an unexpected pregnancy strains things further. Elias rejects fatherhood to focus on his Earth-saving mission, driving the lovers apart.
Flash forward fifteen years and Elias commands the crew trying to plug the planet-threatening fissure. Fate intervenes when he runs into Anita at a Copenhagen gig. The former flames reminisce, old feelings rekindling. But the window for reconciliation slams shut when tragedy strikes during Elias’ risky core-breach operation.
This dynamic sets up one of Eternal’s central themes – the conflict between following your calling and prioritizing relationships. Through glimpses of an alternate reality where he stayed with Anita, Elias grapples with bittersweet visions of the path not taken.
The film also explores climate change through an intimate lens. The possibly world-ending fissure embodies humanity’s damaging impact on the planet, a wound carved by our own selfishness. When later asked what he saw in the glowing core breach, Elias describes witnessing the pain we’ve inflicted on Earth. This serves as a wake-up call, igniting Elias’ desire to heal rather than harm.
Eternal’s metaphors bind its love story and climate conscience together. The film intertwines fertility and environmentalism, with Anita’s pregnancy symbolizing respect for the planet’s life-giving force. And when Anita cheekily tells Elias to explain the dangerous fracture “between her legs,” this sexually-charged double entendre suggests that caring for the Earth and caring for each other are really one and the same.
Through rich symbolism and thematically-resonant plotting, Eternal explores the sacrifice required to save our warming world. Like Elias, we must choose whether to keep chasing our man-made ambitions or learn to cherish human connections and this precious planet we share.
Stunning Imagery Awash in Simmering Unease
Beyond its cerebral themes, Eternal makes an impression through stark visual craft. Cinematographer Jacob Moller bathes the film in a foreboding scarlet hue, building a moody ambience that simmers with unease.
In softly-lit intimate scenes, hyper-saturated neons splash Elias and Anita’s skin as they share drinks and secrets, evoking the dizzy euphoria of young romance. But cold emeralds and deep cobalt blues creep in too, hinting at the impermanence of their joy. The ominous lighting schemes mirror Elias’s own creeping climate dread.
When we finally visit the chasm at the Earth’s core, toxic chartreuse and whispering fog swirl around Elias’s submersible like radioactive lifeblood poisoning the planet itself. These vibrant colors externalize the damage inflicted by human ambition and ignorance.
Clever transitions also smoothly guide Eternal’s timeline shifts. When the action skips ahead fifteen years, the frame dramatically expands to widescreen, symbolizing Elias’s expanded global outlook. And throughout Elias’s surreal visions of his life with Anita, things get trippy – the camera rotates upside down, reality bending with mirrored images that may reflect the topsy-turvy confusion in Elias’s heart.
The editing energizes without overstimulating. It lingers on silent eye contact between reunited lovers before accelerating into a montage of their greatest hits set to a pop song. These rapid-fire flashes of lost possibility hit hard, efficiently conveying years of history in seconds.
On the audio front, the film takes inspiration from its lead’s musical dreams. The score features lilting vocals that swell sorrowfully during painful pivots in the central romance. Anita’s haunting stage performances likewise emphasize her ache over Elias.
Yet club tracks pulse ecstatically as the pair share euphoric dances, complementing playful camerawork echoing their passionate connection. The music mirrors and magnifies the soaring highs and depressive lows of this star-crossed relationship.
Through considered aesthetic choices, Eternal’s technical artisans provide the perfect atmosphere for Salim’s introspective narrative. Their skillful manipulation of symbolic colors, space, motion, time, and sound cements the film’s otherworldliness – echoing the director’s esoteric questions on how our actions might reverberate through time to color alternate futures.
Captivating Leads Share Simmering Chemistry
Eternal thrives on the strength of its central duo, who compellingly convey both passion’s vertiginous rush and the particular pain of partners who fall tragically out of sync.
As young flirtation gives way to mature melancholy, Simon Sears’ reserved Elias evolves from awkwardly endearing science geek to a man weighted by duty and regret. We sense glimmers of optimism extinguished behind his eyes after one sacrifice too many. Sears manages to emit both intelligence and sensitivity, his stillness speaking volumes.
Opposite, singer-actress Nanna Fabricius fills Anita with bubbly vibrancy and vulnerably transparent emotion. Unafraid of awkwardness, Fabricius pulls off Anita’s forward banter with authentic charm before effortlessly shifting gears to portray the more hardened, weary single mother that present-day Anita becomes. Yet she maintains a spark throughout, lighting up the screen with winning magnetism.
Together, Sears and Fabricius share crackling chemistry flavored by their characters’ contrasting personalities. Anita’s bubbly candor pierces Elias’ guarded exterior, their opposites-attract tension evident in lingering glances and playful arguments alike.
In earlier scenes, Viktor Hjelmsø’s boyish naivete as young Elias proves endearing counterpoint to Anna Søgaard Frandsen’s fiery independence as young Anita. We buy their adolescent infatuation and impetuous rush into romance.
As Anita’s free-spirited outlook clashes with Elias’ global concerns, Eternal explores two opposing contemporary mindsets – indulging the pleasures of the moment versus sacrificing joy for responsibility. Director Ulaa Salim remarks that Anita represents those embracing life’s joys while Elias symbolizes the worry-laden climate scientist grappling with humanity’s damaging impact.
By tracing the pair from bright-eyed infatuation through mature remorse, Eternal’s performers fully realize Salim’s ambitions – their compelling dynamic both grounds the film’s lofty questions and amplifies their emotional resonance. As climate crisis threatens the wider world, will we forge connections or isolate ourselves from what we love most?
Simmering Subtext and Symbolic Motifs
Beyond snappy flirtations, Eternal’s script subtly reinforce its themes through allegorical dialogue and recurring visual motifs.
When Anita cheekily asks Elias to describe the potentially world-ending fracture between her legs, this sexually-charged invitation becomes a metaphor for humanity’s toxic impact on the Earth’s life systems. Her request for Elias to “go deeper” underlines how our tunnel vision ambitions blind us to the harm we’re causing the planet.
Later, when reuniting with the now-famous singer Anita, Elias introduces himself by downplaying his achievements. But Anita responds earnestly, “I know very well who you are. You are the man who is trying to save the world.” This loaded line applauds Elias’ global conscience while hinting at the personal sacrifices made for his noble yet costly mission.
The film’s motifs reinforce this tension between global duty and personal joy. Anita’s unexpected pregnancy and subsequent motherhood represent alignment with nature’s cycles of fertility – contrasted by Elias’ rejection of fatherhood in favor of his submarine calling. Throughout, Eternal parallels nourishing human connections with preserving the Earth’s endangered ecosystems.
Water imagery flows through the film, symbolizing how our future depends on harmony between humanity and nature. The ominous fracture at the ocean floor embodies planetary wounds torn open by human hands, while the film’s aqueous title Eternal evokes the necessity of sustaining Earth’s delicate environmental balance.
By thoughtfully incorporating this allegorical dialogue and resonant symbols into its love story framework, Eternal highlights our collective duty to temper ambition with compassion – for other people as much as our shared world. Like Elias, we must question whether we’ve wrongly prioritized “saving the planet” over truly connecting with those we love.
Great Concept, But Execution Proves Uneven
For all of Eternal’s visual splendor and thematic ambition, the film struggles to fully deliver on its lofty aspirations. Uneven pacing, familiar plot points, and a subdued climax undermine the viewing experience.
After an intriguing set-up introducing the climate emergency precipice, the film hits snooze as we relive Elias and Anita’s fluffy courtship. These clichéd romance beats feel derivative of other indie love stories, lacking unique personality. Eternal repeats similar narrative beats across the ill-fated relationship’s timeline, causing the film to lose momentum through constant familiar story ground.
The dull Danish scientists and crew members likewise blend together indistinctly, failing to heighten the stakes. And when we finally arrive at the hazardous core-breach operation, low-energy sequences lack the seat-gripping suspense the premise warrants. Compared to the electrifying underwater action of The Abyss or the psychological tension of Solaris, Eternal feels oddly subdued.
The film regains some footing when Elias reunites with Anita, leveraging the passage of time to emphasize roads not taken. But narratively, Eternal never quite capitalizes on the mind-bending possibilities of its time fractures and alternate timelines. More trippy sequences visualizing diverging fates might have better realized the film’s interdimensional ambitions.
While moments of brilliance shine through, inconsistent pacing and repetitive plotting prevent Eternal from fully delivering on its inventive concept. Weaving tighter action and playing further with time slippage could have realized more of the film’s lofty aspirations. Still, stunning visuals and captivating chemistry make this a flawed but worthwhile watch.
A Flawed But Worthwhile Romance for Our Climate Changed Age
For all its uneven pacing and familiar story beats, Eternal remains an audacious genre mashup grappling with questions urgent to our climate crisis era – how do we balance obligation to our planetary home with personal hopes for connection?
While the film’s execution doesn’t fully fulfill its ambitions, stunning visual craft and emotionally compelling leads provide just enough fuel to power this thematically-charged voyage. Directory Salim clearly wants to push audiences outside their comfort zones, boldly fusing disaster movie thrills with romantic drama to provoke insight on what we most value in these fragile times.
And Eternal’s ambition remains admirable in an age where climate-driven disasters flood headlines daily. As Earth’s fate looks increasingly precarious, Salim’s story offers an intimate lens to ponder our priorities going forward. Can we temper personal ambitions to consider collective responsibility? Or do we owe it to ourselves to indulge fully in this fleeting gift of existence?
The story provides no easy answers, but perhaps that open-ended uncertainty will resonate in our no-guarantees era facing unprecedented environmental precarity. By delicately balancing wonder and sorrow, Eternal ultimately lands on a bittersweet note that appropriately echoes our tentative hope hovering over darker eco-anxieties.
It may not satisfy those expecting escapist Hollywood thrills or even the art house crowd. But open-minded audiences will discover a messy, quirky, visually resplendent gem in Salim’s lyrical sci-fi romance.
Eternal bravely grapples with maintaining hope amidst personal and planetary fragility. While pacing issues and familiar plot points weigh down Salim's ambitious climate-conscience romance, stunning visual craft and emotionally compelling leads deliver just enough voltage for this thematically-charged adventure. For open-minded viewers, it's a conversation-starting eco-romance worthy of its weighty aspirations.
- Visually stunning cinematography
- Strong lead performances with compelling chemistry
- Ambitious themes exploring climate change and love's sacrifices
- Rich symbolism and thematic subtext resonate
- Starts powerfully and sticks the ending
- Uneven pacing sags in second act
- Familiar plot points lack innovation
- Supporting characters fail to make impact
- Low stakes climax underwhelms
- Never fully delivers on mind-bending premise