Do you believe in extraterrestrial invasions?

Michael Madsen: After years of working on INTO ETERNITY, I came across an article that inspired the idea for my next film - THE VISIT - which is part two of my planned trilogy. This article was about the appointment of the UN Director of UNOOSA by the UN as an alien ambassador, a story that quickly made the rounds of the world.
I became aware of this because I always thought that the most radical change here in the world would be contact with other forms of life. And while reading the article, it suddenly occurred to me that if they really did appoint an alien ambassador, there would be potential for a great movie that looks at what people really do practical when they first make contact. The next day I read that it was just a blind alarm. The UN has officially denied that such an ambassador has never been appointed.
Nevertheless, the story stayed in my head because I thought that no matter what, the whole thing would end up in the lap of the UN. So I got in touch with the UN Office for Space Affairs in Vienna. At first they resisted very much. It took me a year to convince her to do the film. When I was in Vienna to meet her for the first time - which alone took 4 months to make this appointment - the office manager came through the door and said: “INTO ETERNITY was a great film! I saw him the other night on an unknown Swedish public broadcaster, ”and the mood changed significantly.

M.B .: And four years later, THE VISIT is now available. The film is similar to INTO ETERNITY in many ways, but in contrast to the previous film, the audience plays a completely different role.

Michael Madsen: INTO ETERNITY is aimed at a potential audience in the distant future. THE VISIT, on the other hand, appeals to its audience from the radical premise that the viewer is an alien himself: a strange creature from space. Everyone in the film speaks into the camera as if he or she were speaking directly to this alien, and the whole film is based on this fictional scenario in which aliens have just landed on earth. These aliens then get an audience from a number of curious, perplexed and concerned important people from the UN, NASA, the British government, the European Space Agency and various research organizations.

M.B .: Throughout the entire film, you keep the aliens as abstract as possible. You don't give in to the temptation to show flying saucers, laser pistols, and shaggy haired people; it also remains unclear whether the alien has any materialized form at all, and it is also not exactly clear where this encounter took place. In the course of the film we also discover that it is less about extraterrestrial life forms, but more about humans themselves and what lies dormant inside us.

Michael Madsen: It's not a UFO movie, it's a mirror. It's about ourselves and our ideas about things that are completely alien to us and about what self-image we have. We see everything as an image of ourselves - and they can override these great distances, because they are more progressive than we are. Since they have already developed a technology of civilization's self-destruction but have survived that point, they must in fact have greater moral awareness than we do.
There are two ways of thinking about such an initial contact between us and alien life forms from space - there are really only two. The first direction is that they just happened to be here and that they are hostile; so that would be an invasion. The other way of thinking is that this encounter will be some kind of new renaissance for us; the aliens will come to us with a much deeper knowledge of everything and save us from disease, etc. This view is a bit marked by submissiveness and hope, but also by the fact that we are noticed and also recognized by a higher power become. That's the most interesting scenario in my opinion. If you imagine something like this, an encounter with a morally and technologically superior alien civilization, then you discover a kind of blind spot in western civilization, namely the loss of control. If something or someone comes to earth who is more intelligent than us and we don't know what it is, then we will experience a huge loss of control. It is most unusual for western civilization to find oneself at this point. And it is precisely this loss of control that I find so interesting. Here on earth, our experience of encounters with alien civilizations is rather unfortunate. The Europeans described the North and South American natives as sensible animals.
The reports of contemporary witnesses refer to the Indians in this way until they were granted human status and it was decided that they also have souls. The problem with such an encounter is that you can lose your self in it, and I find that scary. What interests me is to ask who we are. One could say that an encounter with an alien form of life from space completes the Copernican Revolution. We have realized that we are no longer the center of the universe, but we still see ourselves from the point of view of the humanistic tradition from which we are the most evolved form of life in the solar system. And that point of view will be confused in such a situation.

M.B .: How did you film the interviews in which the experts address the alien directly as if they were actually speaking to an alien?

Michael Madsen: That was one of the roleplaying games I did with them. I said, "imagine you were talking to this creature," etc. Before that, I did a lot of research into your thoughts on the subject. First I asked her, “What kind of clothes are you going to wear? How do you move? ”I tried to make you very physical and specific about the alien. "Does it smell? What do you see? Will you keep calm?" For example, the man from the SETI Institute said that what he would really want to see would be to lie down with the alien and go to sleep (unfortunately there was no room for that in the film).

M.B .: However, the film also explores the possibility that this alien form of life would simply leave after looking around, and that loneliness that would befell us afterwards. How terrible does it get when we realize that there is still someone out there, but that they just leave without comment?

Michael Madsen: Yes, it will be very, very sad. Then the question would be: are we nothing? Are we really nothing? Are we even less than a cosmic accident? It is a terrible thought. There is tremendous loneliness deep in people, which is why we have been looking at the stars since ancient times and wondering whether there is anyone out there or whether we are alone.

M.B .: Did you fear that you might encounter an alien while you were making the movie?

Michael Madsen: No, but I know that while Stanley Kubrick was filming "2001" (1968), he made sure in case there was an encounter. Because if it had happened, his film project would have been ruined. During the production of my film, all of a sudden NASA said they were going to make a historical announcement and everyone thought they found life on Mars. What they then announced wasn't nearly as important in the end. But I've always said that my film - should it come to an encounter - could serve as a kind of manual on how to deal with such a situation.

M.B .: I recently read that the people at SETI who control the radio signals from space estimate that there will be contact in the next 20 years - which is only a fraction of a second on a cosmic scale. Are we prepared?

Michael Madsen: Of course, the people at SETI still have the scary silence problem, but of course they have to get on with their work so they just have to communicate something. But as soon as this contact takes place, in my opinion it will be politically very difficult to agree on a common voice. The most difficult thing, however, will be to face the whole thing with an open mind. The only thing I can say for sure about such a scenario is that we cannot imagine it; we will simply have no idea.

M.B .: During all of your conversations with the experts, did they tell you "off the record" when the camera wasn't on, maybe that there was already a contact?

Michael Madsen: Some of these people personally do believe that such a thing exists and that, like Star Trek, there is some kind of hierarchy of civilizations. But I tried to keep things like that out of the film. Making a film entirely without a script was also interesting because it gave me the opportunity to take the thoughts of the participating experts to extremes within their work area. One then discovers that the way we understand and how we perceive life at all moves only within a certain range - but there could be other forms of life on earth that are completely beyond our knowledge. These are then forms of life that are so long-lived and so different that we don't even recognize them as life.

M.B .: What's the most radical space life idea you've come across?

Michael Madsen: One of the most extreme theories about "life" is that it is a form of energy or a composition of particles, that is, a particle organism. In the film, it turns out that 50 percent of our bodies are out of our control, it's made up of bacteria, etc. Exploring such extreme understandings is incredibly interesting.

M.B .: The American scientist Enrico Fermi asked the question: If space is so full of life, where are all of them and why do they leave no traces?
One answer to that is, they are already here: it is the Hungarians with their strange language. The second answer is that they are smart enough not to come here because they would not benefit from it. But of course, there is the Drake equation, which says that there must be life in many places other than Earth because there are so many planets out there. This is followed by the counter-question: If life is really everywhere, why have we never seen it? The most scientific answer is that it already exists, but we don't recognize it as life. Our methods of knowledge simply cannot perceive or grasp it.

Excerpts from an interview with Mads Brügger, Danish journalist, filmmaker and documentary filmmaker (The Ambassador, The Red Chapel) - published in the film magazine EKKO