Sundance film ‘Into the Deep’ shows submarine inventor’s acolytes grappling with revelation he brutally murdered woman
“Into the Deep,” an entry in the Sundance Film Festival’s World Cinema Documentary Competition, is set to screen at the following times and locations:
Sunday, Jan. 26, 11:30 p.m., Prospector Square Theatre
Monday, Jan. 27, 6 p.m., Salt Lake City Library Theatre, Salt Lake City
Wednesday, Jan. 29, 1 p.m., Redstone Cinema 2
Friday, Jan. 31, 9 a.m., Temple Theatre
In 2016, Emma Sullivan set out to create a film about Danish amateur inventor Peter Madsen, who had risen to celebrity status in the Nordic nation for, among other things, building and sailing his own submarines.
But the Australian filmmaker said that “Into the Deep,” the film that was scheduled to premiere Friday at the Sundance Film Festival, is decidedly not a portrait of Madsen.
It focuses instead on the pain, disappointment, confusion and fear he left in his wake after being convicted of brutally murdering, sexually assaulting and dismembering a female Swedish journalist while they were alone aboard his submarine in 2017.
“I hoped to make an inspiring story,” Sullivan recalled of her initial motivation. “This was unraveling while I was filming and those around me got dragged into this horrible event. All of us, including me, became complicit in this crime unwillingly.”
Rather than focusing on the murderer, Sullivan set out to tell the story of the others who were caught up in his web, those whom the filmmaker said came out to Rocket Madsen Laboratory on the docks of Copenhagen inspired in one way or another by the charismatic inventor.
“Peter, I think, became what people needed, and he manipulated that,” Sullivan said. “These people came there to find meaning in their lives. It wasn’t a cult.”
The film focuses on quixotic engineering students who helped make the submarine seaworthy, the “propaganda minister” who says in the film she came to Madsen at a low point in her life and a female artist whom Madsen had previously invited onto the submarine the same day he committed the murder.
The film necessarily includes enough information about Madsen for audiences to see the kind of man he was and more fully understand how he had affected the other people in the film, Sullivan said, but her goal was not to aggrandize him.
The film starts with the young engineers hearing about an accident on the submarine, and the relief they feel when Madsen is revealed to be alive. As the details trickle out about the events that transpired below the depths, they are faced with having to reexamine the man in whom they had placed so much trust and hope and what his influence had done to their lives.
It is a unique view into the human process of disillusionment and facing hard truths.
“Thankfully, this doesn’t happen very often. To encounter someone like Peter Madsen thankfully is a very low probability,” Sullivan said. “But there are a lot of people who go through abusive relationships, who have violent partners — other people who may have similar traits to Peter, (who) use and abuse people. I think that group understands.”
Sullivan is part of the inner circle most affected by Madsen, and she along with the subjects of the film carry the weight of wondering whether they could have done more to prevent tragedy.
“There’s a woman that should be alive today,” Sullivan said. “I’m still dealing with it. This happened two years ago and it’s quite fresh in the world of recovery from such trauma. Being as close as I was to him that day, getting up and walking away and not seeing what was just about to unfold — it was right in front of me — is quite shocking to the system.”
Sullivan said she doesn’t consider “Into the Deep” a true crime film, a genre she doesn’t find very interesting. By allowing audiences to watch and marvel at crimes from a safe distance, Sullivan contends it removes some of a story’s humanity.
Her film, she hopes, does the opposite, inviting audiences to see up-close what happens to those whose lives are scarred by a predator.
“There are very many categories of co-victims of these crimes and the most important category, of course, is those who have lost a loved one,” Sullivan said. “The best thing about our ability to love and understand and have compassion for is it’s infinite. Which means that perhaps we can share a little bit over this way. Maybe we can understand those that are left behind that are attached to the perpetrator a little more.”
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