Not rated, but the movie gets pretty graphic, especially when dealing with a factory that makes realistic sex dolls. It treats this subject matter as something casual and fundamentally un-sexy, which is more interesting than anything else with the factory. But I will say that I felt uncomfortable watching it.
DIRECTOR: Jessica Kingdon
Maybe today is the day that I feel motivated enough to write two blog entries? I mean, the Academy Awards are this weekend and my list is growing, especially considering that I had two days where I didn't even have access to a computer to write. I have to say that I'm a little nervous about writing this one. As a teacher who teaches a lot of exchange students from China, saying anything that even implies that China has room for improvement causes a lot of controversy. This is anecdotal evidence, but it is anecdotal evidence that just keeps happening over and over again. Director Jessica Kingdon made a movie that never preaches, so much as states the obvious in an important way.
I can safely say that I didn't learn anything about Chinese culture from this movie. That's almost not the point. But this movie, through its formatting, acts as a supercut of corporate greed. I'm giving Kingdon so many points for this. Because what Ascension does is connect what I treated as two paradoxical disperate thoughts and made me find a way to marry these two ideas. One thing, as Americans, we have a hard time understanding is the relationship between Communism as an economic system and Communism as a starting off point for a group of people. When I teach the fundamentals of Communism when we study the Russian Revolution and when we study McCarthyism, there's always that idea that group economics that gives power to the workers. But since the new millennium, China has been one of the fastest growing economies in history. It's not through the abandonment of capitalism. It's through its almost zealous embrace of extremist capitalism. It takes the mistakes that we make in America and doubles down on this notion. I'm surprised that I didn't quite make this connection when I wrote about American Factory, but it was all laid out here.
My wife said that "Ascension should be boring." (Sorry if I'm paraphrasing.) She's right. By all intentions, Ascension should be one of the most dull films ever. It's repetitive, but never obnoxious. There's no narrator. There's no interviews or talking heads. It's just footage of corporate life in China. Now, these snippets of locations range in levels of success. We see the bottom rung of society, piecing together sex dolls. We see barkers selling abysmal jobs while people clamor for more info on these substandard opportunities. There's butlers and CEOs and everything in-between. But all of these scenes are unified by one socio-economic horror: the company's success is the only thing that has value. I've crapped on America for having a fraction of this zealousness. There's something almost religious about the way that people worship financial success in China.
But because Kingdon never actually vocalizes an opinion --a point that I applaud her for --I'm forced to come to the conclusion that China's economic success comes at the expense of soul and art. It's so easy for me to criticize that. I'm a Catholic school teacher, for goodness' sake. The fact that I chose a profession where I'll never be paid well, but get to be passionate about what I do is almost distressing to the extreme capitalism of China. There's a scene which is potentially the most haunting of the entire film. Because the movie starts with these buskers advertising low pay and no sitting time, one would think that no one would jump for these jobs and that expectations would be through the toilet. That's not the case, as shown through the boot camp like indoctrination of this factory. These employees are dressed in military-styled garb and are forced to work out their arm muscles to do repetitive turning all day, every day. Watching these people lock arms together and turn a circle for hours, deadlifting a plastic ring was so degrading.
Now, in reference to the fear of my Chinese students finding fault in my reasoning, I have to say that I have my own cultural biases heavily coloring my viewing. These scenes look like torture to me. I'm sure that my students would view Kingdon's documentary, despite being free of actual commentary, anti-Chinese propaganda. And they actually might be right. I don't know enough outside of these docs about what happens. But I can attest that there is something haunting about the cold nature of how China views Americans. Heck, the fact that I'm writing this right now means that I 'm locked into my own cultural bias about China that I can't get around. But the complete lack of respect for the worker while simultaneously celebrating the worker is interesting. I mean, these workers are cogs in a machine. But they are proud of that. There's a pride that just doesn't make sense for me. There's no complaining. There is a guy who is proud that he wants to work himself to death. His words, not mine! That used to be the most depressing sentiment imaginable and that's something that's just applauded there.
I don't know if I'll ever get this kind of stuff. You can see where I'm coming from, right guys? I mean, I write a blog about absorbing arts. I teach the humanities. Fundamentally, money is something that corrupts and dehumanizes. I talk about storytelling and culture and those are the jobs that are actually disrespected over there. It's about challenging norms and Ascension is about a world that takes pride in the norms being protected. It's a really weird situation, but it is also a fascinating watch. In terms of what Jessica Kingdon presented, it's really interesting. The controversial take I'm going to give is that it is what Koyaanisqatsi wanted to be, but a bit more grounded.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.