Do Men Dream of Electric Women?: “My Sex Robot”

Because I am fast becoming a connoisseur of what some might call trashy tv, I recently watched what I’m going to call a documentary on Netflix entitled “My Sex Robot.” As one might expect, this relatively short movie explores the world of sex robots. Most of the robots that are discussed in this movie, both those that are in development and are hoped for, are meant to be robotic women. This makes it a bit difficult to be nonjudgmental of the individuals in the documentary, especially when one is a woman herself. I don’t think this reaction is specifically gendered, however, as my boyfriend, who was at my place when I declared that this is what would be on the tv while I was making dinner, also felt that the program was set up to let you judge the guys who are into sex robots. The documentary itself somewhat wanders between different people who are somehow involved in the sex robot subculture, either as hopeful consumers or as developers. Since the actual facts of the development of sex robots are fairly mundane, I will focus here mainly on my reactions to the documentary.

At least as far as is presented in the documentary, there are two main schools of sex robotics. The one that seems more prevalent is the one that focuses on creating a robot that can simulate not only a sexual partner, but an emotional one as well. I feel like this group is the stereotypical one that everyone thinks of when they think of guys who want sexbots. It’s also the group that’s the more uncomfortable for me and, I think, many people. In this group, you have men who say they want sexbots because “they can never break your heart” and that they’ll be an always-submissive partner. These wants are difficult for me to sympathize with, since at least some of them seem to be saying “I want a woman with no wants or needs outside of pleasing me.” I get that having a partner that basically doesn’t exist outside of their relationship with you isn’t a fantasy limited to sexbot enthusiasts, or to men, but making it a robot feels like taking it too far. Also, it elicits some of the same reaction I have to animatronic pets. Whenever I see animatronic pets on a tv show, I go to a place of sadness, and maybe even pity, because it isn’t real. I understand that these are probably great for some people, especially the elderly and very young who might not be equipped to take care of a real animal, but it just feels hollow. I might feel put-out that my cat isn’t particularly affectionate or cuddly, but I love him and I like that he has freewill. Ultimately, wanting someone without freewill is utterly foreign to me, and the fact that these almost always are made to look like females compounds my discomfort.

This route, however, is the most interesting on multiple fronts. It is scientifically interesting, or has the potential to be, as the desire for an emotional partner from a robot may lead to interesting applications of AI. Having a robot respond in a way that doesn’t feel, well, robotic will be an interesting challenge. This group of guys, as much as I may side-eye them, is also fascinating. While some want an artificially intelligent sex robot as a replacement for a female partner, others are in relationships or married. These men seemed to want a sexbot in addition to their partners, or at least that’s how it seemed to me. For at least one, sleeping with a robot seemed to be a fetish on the order of wanting to roleplay a specific scenario. Or at least that’s how it seemed to me. I feel like someone should do a more in-depth ethnographic study of this subculture.

The other main group of people working on sex robots is one I understand better. This group, at least those on the supply-side of this group, see the issue of sexbots as an engineering problem. The one developer that they focused on in this group was into robotics and then decided that he could make a lot of money if he could make a nice sex robot (and, yes, I realize I’m saying the person I get in this doc is the one who isn’t actually part of the subculture, but it is what it is). This guy’s main focus was making a robot that could move in a realistic manner, especially when it came to hip movements. He also developed both a male and female model, which soothes my discomfort with the sex/gender issues with the notion of sexbots. This group, I more or less get. I mean, I’m not going to go out and procure a sexbot, but these are basically really elaborate versions of other items that mimic certain parts of human anatomy.

In the end, the sex robot subculture is something to which I will always be an outside observer. I find the men interested in having sexbots in addition to wives and girlfriends to be quite interesting, and I would definitely learn more about them if given the chance. The ones who want sexbots to replace women will always make me a little judgy. And those who want to make elaborate toys, I can basically understand. I don’t know if I’d exactly recommend this documentary. It won’t really change your mind about anything. It is, however, a pretty short watch and entertaining background noise while you’re doing chores.

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Mecha Marathon [Surplus] – Mobile Suit Gundam SEED

Why hello. Sorry I’ve been AWOL. I’ve been busy with life things–moving, new jobs, moving again, family drama. You know the drill. Things are calmer now, calm enough to watch an old favorite of mine. It’s not an official part of the Mecha Marathon, but have a write up about it anyway. 

One year after the Bloody Valentine tragedy, where a nuclear missile destroyed a civilian colony, a covert ZAFT special forces team infiltrates a colony of the neutral nation of Orb and steals four of the five top secret weapons called Gundams. The fifth is piloted by Kira Yamato, a student-cum-soldier who escapes on the United Earth Alliance’s warship Archangel with his friends and a small pod of civilians. Understaffed, under-supplied, and unprepared, Archangel must somehow get to UEA headquarters on Earth before they are destroyed by the ZAFT team pursuing them. But Kira is reluctant to fight, especially when his best friend Athrun Zala is one of his pursuers.

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screenshot via third opening; I added this image to my Mecha Aesthetic board on Pinterest

Gundam SEED starts off really good. The drama is simple and engaging with a focus on a struggling, top secret warship with a reluctant pilot. There is even something I can only call racism which, despite what you may think, adds an extra layer of intrigue. ZAFT is entirely populated by Coordinators, genetically-modified humans who are capable of much more than unmodified Naturals. There’s jealousy on both sides–Naturals feel inferior and Coordinators crave equality. Kira Yamato is a Coordinator working for “the enemy,” and this conundrum underlines his reluctance to fight with the Archangel despite growing up in a neutral colony.

It does not escape me that Gundam SEED is basically the original Mobile Suit Gundam with a couple extras. The warships Archangel and White Base have similar missions with similar characters: Captain Ramius is the new Lieutenant Bright, Kira Yamato is the new Amuro Ray, and Commander Rau Le Cruset is the new Char Anzable. Despite this, Gundam SEED stands on its own; viewers need not know or understand previous Gundam properties to enjoy SEED.

What’s there to like? On a personal level, I am down with the main leadership of the Archangel, which consists of Captain Ramius, Lieutenant Badgiruel, and Commander Mu La Flaga. I interpret each a representing a part of the body: Ramius is the heart (idealism), Badgiruel is the brain (rationalism), and La Flaga the arms (realism). The heart rules the ship and ultimately makes the final decision, but she is greatly influenced by the brain and supported by the arms. At least at the beginning. When Archangel finally arrives in Alaska, Badgiruel is transferred to another posting, leaving Ramius and La Flaga on the ship to feel the betrayal of the United Earth Alliance on their own. (La Flaga was also transferred, but he returned right before shit goes down.)

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screenshot via third opening; I really want to meet the parent that looks at a baby and decides to name them Mu.

I give the show some points for feminism too. Ramius and Badgiruel ensure the Bechdel Test is passed almost every episode until they’re separated. There is an equal split in genders of the main four characters (Kira and Athrun with Cagalli and Lacus). Erika Simmons is the head engineer for Morgenroete, an engineering company in Orb that built the Gundams. The three pilots for the Gundam Astray models are all female. And every named female character that crosses the screen is a badass in her own right. My heart goes out to Lacus, the pink-haired, childish songstress of ZAFT who does crazy things like order a military commander to stop an opportunistic pursuit of the enemy vessel and eventually leads an entire fraction of soldiers to commit treason.

There is still a little work to be done. Cagalli and Lacus are both of the main four but they barely speak to each other the entire show, even when they’re working together in the final episodes. Miriallia is the only woman in the combined posses of Kira and Athrun. Though ZAFT shows some female representation in their leadership, there is no female presence on the leadership of the United Earth Alliance. Yeah, they’re supposed to be the most evil of the evil organizations, but showing a little equal opportunity oppression goes a long way.

The animation and music is amazing. More than ten years after its initial release, the first ending theme song, Anna ni Issho Datta no ni by See-Saw, still plucks the heartstrings with equal parts nostalgia and energy. Then again, See-Saw’s main composer is anime legend Yuki Kajiura, so of course the music is amazing. Kajjiura did not contribute to the overall score of Gundam SEED, but her hand is seen in the insert songs at least two op/ed songs. The character designs are dynamic. Coordinators may have a brighter color palette (i.e. Lacus Clyne’s pink hair and purple dresses) but the Naturals of the Archangel are still distinguishable in appearance despite the same grey uniform. Throw this together with fluid animation and you have a very pretty show. Pretty in appearance and pretty in sound (until Kira starts to cry, which is awkward enough to hear, but his animated sobs don’t match with his screams and it’s jarring).

 

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screenshot via third opening; those boys are Lacus’s bitches. The narrative may not phrase it that way, but it’s the true.

SEED is prone to melodrama, and there are some specific events that prove how off-the-rails it can get. The final battle between Kira and Athrun is the turning point of their friendship and the show. After that, there is a lot more melodrama in the show. Events like Miriallia’s assault on Dearka in the Archangel’s infirmary become commonplace. Kira, despite nearly dying on Earth, wakes up in space under the care of Lacus (who just so happens to be friends with the dude who found Kira). Yet some of this melodrama makes the show fun to watch. The episode where Athrun and Cagari are stranded on an island is a fun time. And I do have a soft spot for the burgeoning romance between Miriallia and Dearka, which is borne of empathy and sorrow.

As a side note, my main ship is AthrunxLacus, because I am super super into aristocratic pairings like that. Also, they were really sweet together. AthrunxCagalli is sweet once you live through their respective arcs, but I need a bit more convincing. Lacus, meanwhile, can choose anyone she damn well chooses and it will always be the right choice.

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screenshot via third opening; oh yeah, this show has giant robots too

If you’re looking for a serious mecha show a la Mobile Suit Gundam: War in the Pocket or Aldnoah.Zero, you have it in the opening arcs when the Star-Crossed Bros arc is the main chorus. Gundam SEED likes to place characters where they shouldn’t be for drama, especially after the halfway point. I recommend Gundam SEED to casual mecha fans and people who easily emote over beautiful people.

It’s Personal: Leah Remini’s “Scientology and the Aftermath”

Internet, I’ve been procrastinating. That’s, at least partially, my excuse for not posting earlier this month or on my actual assigned day. The other excuses are that Russian is difficult to learn when you decide to go from nearly 0 to reading proficiency in six weeks and I’m a very lazy person who doesn’t pay attention to the date. The reason I’ve been procrastinating is that I’ve been worried on how to handle this one. I’ve wanted to write about Leah Remini’s A&E series on Scientology, “Scientology and the Aftermath.” While I found it to be a very compelling series, I’m not sure if it is the best put-together documentary show. However, I feel a bit guilty being too critical of it, as it’s obviously an incredibly emotional topic for Remini and she’s very earnest in how she handles it and what she chooses to cover. But I’ve finally decided that I really do need to write this. As something of a compromise to myself, I explain my critiques first and save the praise for last. It may be the same, but it feels better to me.

Scientology_and_the_Aftermath_title_card

 

The Show as Documentary

In this series, which was originally meant to be an 8-part, 1 season series, but which is getting a second season, Leah Remini, a former Scientologist, seeks to expose the various unsavory activities of the Church. Along with her partner, Mike Rinder, Remini interviews a number of former Scientologists, who discuss various aspects of how the Church of Scientology operates and the ways it impacted their lives. Each episode is nominally centered around a topic, though these do blur together somewhat, as they’re really connected as a package of the way Scientology runs. For example, the episode on the impact of Scientology on family necessarily covers ground previously covered in how the Church treats those who leave it.

Overall, I don’t think the blurring together of some of the topics is necessarily a problem in and of itself—it’s often necessary because the real-life boundaries are unclear—but it does contribute something to what I think is the main weakness of the series: the amount of repetition. The two main components of the show are the interviews with former Scientologists and Remini’s musings on what they have said and what she has experienced. The latter part is always set in a bright white room. It’s very A&E. (There’s also a third component, as the two are frequently followed by people associated with Scientology. They have a number of strange run-ins that I find fascinating, but which doesn’t really play into this.) Sometimes this format works quite well, with a more free-flowing interview being summed up by Remini at the end. Other times, it just feels like she’s repeating what was already said. I think I noticed this most in the middle episodes. This may have been due to the fact that much of the information conveyed in those had necessarily been conveyed in earlier ones, but a lot of it felt like the interviewee saying something like “they made my children disconnect from me” and then the show cutting to Remini going, “they made her children disconnect from her.” While I understand the cuts were meant to repeat the information for emotional effect, I don’t feel like it worked particularly well. For me, I felt the emotional effect with the interviewee, so the repetition of the point felt a little emotionally hallow.

However, this may not have been entirely the fault of the show. It may have also been how A&E chose to do their little pre-commercial teasers. They’d often choose Remini saying something in the white room to be the preview of the next section. You’d then get the interview followed by the same scene that was played in the clip before the last commercial break. Because of this, I’m not 100% sure that this is a valid criticism of the series in and of itself, but it was an issue I found in the viewing experience.

The Show as Memoir

Though I can’t find a better word for it, I’m not sure it’s quite right to call the aspect of the show that I’m about to talk about a memoir. That makes it sound like a tell-all of Remini’s life and it’s not. Rather, is a discussion of many different people’s experiences, which often intersects with others’ stories. But it does have something of the emotional honesty of a memoir.

Moreover, this documentary is dripping with emotional honesty. You see former Scientologists opening up and revealing deeply personal things about their pasts, often the most painful parts of their lives. On the one hand, what they tell is valuable because it gives insight into a very secretive and litigious organization, but it’s so much more than that. They reveal real things that happened to real people. I think for a lot of us, Scientology is this wacky religion that believes in magic aliens and whatnot, but it’s more than that. It often works in very cult-like, manipulative ways and people’s lives have been destroyed. This is something that they do say in the show itself and I think it really hits at the heart of the series. Rather than looking at Scientology as a joke, it takes it seriously. And taking it seriously is really the only way to help those affected by it.

 

While this series may not be amazingly edited, it’s incredibly valuable for understanding the human impact of the Church of Scientology. It’s definitely worth a watch, especially in the next couple of weeks before season 2 begins on August 15th. I know I’ll be watching. And maybe doing another post on it. We’ll see.

Tripping 1902 Style: “A Trip to the Moon”

So, internet, at YouTube’s behest, I watched “A Trip to the Moon.” It’s another French one, which may explain a certain amount of the trippiness of this 12-minute film. Trippiness is apparently a long, proud tradition of the French.

This film, directed by Georges Melies, begins with a meeting a astronomers. They’re planning a trip to the moon while all dressed as the wizard from “Fantasia.” Seriously, I kinda thought they were meant to be wizards. Apparently, they all have names, but this is not ever made clear to the audience. Melies is quite well known for his use of special effects, which can be seen in the opening, as telescopes were replaced with stools for the sit-down part of their talks.

Anyway, they decide on a plan and that plan is to shoot themselves to the moon in a hollow bullet, which is fired through an inverted telescope-looking gun with the help of hot chicks in booty shorts. There are a few things of note in this scene. Firstly, it’s really interesting, since they’re kind of standing on a platform directly above these little houses. It doesn’t succeed in quite creating the proper dimensions for depth, which I believe is intentional. It gives the scene a nice, surreal edge from the get-go. Secondly, the astronomers are wearing vaguely anachronistic clothing. They have the capri pants/knee-high socks look that you associate with the 18th century. Lastly, the hot chicks in sleeveless tops and booty shorts do not shave their underarms. This shouldn’t be surprising, since modern shaving is the product of a slightly later time, but it still briefly blew my mind.

Once they land on the moon, whose face is an actual human face as they approach, the astronomers are met with a landscape of rocky mountains. They decide that what they need to do immediately upon reaching to moon is to go nigh-nigh. This scene is probably the most interesting in the film. They do some kind of time lapse effect while the men are meant to be sleeping. Apparently, the director of this is quite famous for his early use of things like this and it’s quite interesting to watch.

Our heroes then fall into some kind of jungle with giant mushrooms and meet the moon natives. These creatures apparently become clouds of smoke if you hit them real hard, so that’s what the astronomers do. They’re actually taken to and kill the king (queen? president? Who knows!) of these moon creatures. Apparently, this is meant to be a satire of imperialism. As someone who’s spend her life steeped in movies about vicious aliens, I definitely didn’t get this. This satirical theme is continued as they leave the moon (accomplished by one of the dudes jumping on a rope and pulling the bullet vessel off a cliff, which causes it to fall to Earth). One of the aliens grabs onto the vessel. Once they get to Earth, they beat him up and then have a parade. Again, watching it the first time with no prior knowledge, I didn’t pick up on this. But I can kind of see that.

While watching this film, I was simultaneously bemused and amused. I clearly didn’t properly get it, since I spent most of the time wondering how much of what was in it was considered plausible in 1902 (answer: not a lot) rather than looking for social commentary. This one was noticeably better than the horror film I reviewed a few months back. I think this shows not only the strides that film was making at the turn of the last century, but also what you can do when the director is an actual illusionist. Certain effects, like the telescopes becoming stools as I mentioned earlier, were a bit clunkier than those that were closer to traditional illusions, like people disappearing in smoke and whatnot.

I would definitely recommend this one. It has an actual plot and is just really trippy and interesting. Go watch it. It’ll be 12 minutes well-spent.

Archaeology Ruins Heroes: “Archaeology, History, and Custer’s Last Battle: The Little Big Horn Re-examined”

Sorry for the spacing on my last post, internet. Things were busy. Things are still a bit busy, so I will regale you with another tale of a documentary I was made to watch in class!

That documentary is Archaeology, History, and Custer’s Last Battle: The Little Big Horn Re-examined. As the title suggests, this documentary, based on a book by the same name, tells the tale of archaeologist Richard Fox and how he used a combination of survey and excavation to reconstruct Custer’s battle at Little Big Horn.For those not up with their random battles in the American frontier history, the national mythos surrounding Custer is one of tragic defeat. Custer and his men fought an onslaught of Indians bravely, keeping order and discipline even as they were killed off to the last man. What is generally not highlighted is the fact that Custer was part of a battalion sent to remove a large settlement of Cheyenne and Dakota and force them back onto a reservation. While that fact is something that this film shies away from, it is not the main focus. This short documentary film makes the case that, in fact, the battle was much more chaotic than the popular imagination believes it to be.

Fox and his team to this by studying the distribution patterns of government bullets and shell casings and Native bullets and casings. The bullets themselves allow them to construct the direction of the battle, while casings, which are dropped on the ground after the gun is fired, tell them where the different forces stood. And that’s not even the coolest part. The coolest part is that they can track individuals by studying minute differences in the marks the firing pins of specific, individual guns make. That may sound really boring, but being able to track a single person is archaeology is amazing.

I will admit, however, that I was momentarily appalled by Fox’s field methodology. Don’t get me wrong; he’s going the right thing. He and his team use metal detectors and, when they find something, they dig a small hold to see what it is. Again, this is how you do the study he wants to do. But I was trained to dig things deep underground.. The number one lesson you learn is to always dig in lots (or whatever your terminology calls them) that leave a roughly flat surface. Never dig a hole. But here it’s fine. They’re ultimately doing a survey of things buried slightly underground and they’re taking good measurements of them. But I still had that momentary, emotional reaction.

Fox’s reconstruction of the battle relies on certain assumptions about military order. During the late 19th century, apparently, men were taught to form a ‘skirmish line’ by standing a few yards apart from one another. However, if fear or panic set in, they will tend to bunch as a natural tendency of humans. If things are truly desperate, they will flee and not fight back or only fight opportunistically. It’s somewhat unclear if he’s getting this information from historical texts or ethnographic study, but it does seem to make a certain amount of sense.

With this, Fox makes the argument that Custer’s men were on the offensive for most of the battle, not the defensive as is commonly accepted. While it was believed that they did not go north of what is today known as Custer Hill, the distribution of their bullets and shells suggest that they were headed that direction, presumably to capture the group of women and children who had left the settlement. Once they were outnumbered and their chances of victory looked slim, they began bunching. Individuals seem to have mixed with other parts of the force, breaking what would have been the accepted protocol of battle. As bunching worsens, the ratio of government bullets and casings goes down, suggesting that Custer’s men largely ceased to fight. This is especially true in the final stage of the battle, in which the remnants of Custer’s men attempted to flee into a ravine, an event attested to by Native eyewitness accounts and corroborated by the soldiers who would eventually find the battle ground who reported a number of bodies there. Here, there is only evidence of small amounts of opportunistic fighting by government troops.

I found this documentary to be quite engaging intellectually. Emotionally, I was somewhat cool to it. It’s an emotional subject matter – the US government sent a bunch of men to force people to live on lands far smaller than they were originally promised; these men sought to capture the women and children to force the Native men to comply; over two hundred men were killed, some of them while fleeing – but I didn’t find it as mind-blowing as I think I was meant to. Don’t get me wrong, the tracking individuals by their firing pins was fantastic, but I feel like I was supposed to have an attachment to Custer that I just didn’t and don’t. I remember hearing the words ‘Custer’s last stand,’ but I feel like I never really knew what that was. Which seems really strange, since I’m from just a couple states away. (BTW, did you know that this took place in Montana? I totally thought it was in South Dakota or something. This is more embarrassing when your home state borders South Dakota.) I think I learned about the events around it – Sitting Bull was fairly prominent in my high school history class – but this event didn’t really come up. I feel like a childhood hero was supposed to be shattered in my mind, but I found myself going “well, that does seem more plausible.”

Overall, I’d recommend it. It’s a quick watch if you can track it down. Also, firing pin signatures.

Mecha Marathon – Broken Blade

Rygart Arrow is the only non-magic user in a population capable of magic. One day, he is called away from his farm because his old friend Queen Sigyn of Krishna discovered an ancient golem (mecha) that cannot be controlled with magic. Rygart activates it in time to dispel a covert scouting squad of military golems paving the way for a larger invasion force from the bordering nation of Athens. While Krishna’s King Hodr battles with himself over the correct course of action in the face of invasion, Rygart joins the Krishna military with the ancient golem. Meanwhile, his old friend Zess leads the invasion’s scouting squad.

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screenshot via opening sequence

There are maybe three good things that I can say about Broken Blade:

  1. Queen Sigyn, a woman of authority, is an engineer. Is the HEAD engineer. I like seeing ladies in science-based roles.
  2. Golems are visibly and easily damaged by the enemy, even if the golem is piloted by a main character with plot armor. This is good. This adds intrigue to the people watching for the first time.
  3. The opening sequence features a beautiful song and pretty animation.

Unfortunately, that’s all the good things I can say.

Broken Blade suffers from a mishmash of unexplored tropes called characters that have no business taking a role secondary to our main character. None of these characters are truly memorable, and their respective stories are not coherently connected to their fellows in a way that benefits the narrative. There is no foreshadowing of a character’s Dark Past, and if there is, it is only contained to the episode in which the foreshadowing is introduced. There are no endearing traits that advance the plot in any way. In fact, the characters seem fairly stagnant despite any micro-developments that might occur within a single episode.

That same disconnect is felt in the narrative. The first episode introduces some interesting ideas regarding the ancients that built the magicless golem and potentially the source of everyone’s magic, but further episodes fail to illuminate these ideas. In fact, each episode will introduce some intriguing fact about a character’s backstory or historical event but, like the technology of the ancients, will fail to explore this in future episodes. The idea introduced won’t be fully formed by the episode’s end, then cast away forgotten for the next; this contributes to the disjointed feeling I got while watching it.

A fantastic example of this is Rygart Arrow, our main character. His endearment comes from his disability (lacking magic). His disability is framed as a narrative device that would potentially be a source of frustration, self-hate, and eventually acceptance. This arc never happens. As soon as Rygart becomes the pilot of the ancient golem, any intrigue he garnered through his introduction disappears. Poof. There it went as soon as the end credits appeared on the screen. The next time you see Rygart in the next episode, he is somehow okay with everything going on in his life.

And then there’s the ending. Beautifully animated, yes. Fantastic color scheme, yes. Adequate denouement? No. Like the other five episodes, the final episode ends at a point where the political background could take any direction and the narrative doesn’t specify how that goes. It was sudden and it didn’t seem to resolve anything.

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screenshot via opening sequence

Broken Blade is, in a word, convoluted. There are too many characters with narratives that don’t organically intersect. That disconnect is felt the entire run of the show and it only adds frustration and boredom to the viewing experience. I don’t recommend Broken Blade to anybody but it somehow got good reviews on Crunchyroll.

 

Development versus Conservation: “Saving Mes Aynak”

Saving Mes Aynak is a documentary about, well, saving the archaeological site of Mes Aynak, a site 25 miles southeast of Kabul, before a Chinese company puts a copper mine right next to it. The film came out in 2014 and has since won 19 awards from various film festivals and organizations. It’s quite a beautiful documentary, with a lot of good shots of the landscape of Afghanistan. At the same time, I found it somewhat difficult to get into, for reasons I will explain.

Mes Aynak is an archaeological site most known for the plethora of Buddhist artifacts found within it. In the centuries prior to the rise of Islam, and during the earlier Islamic period, Afghanistan served as something of a conduit for Buddhism, connecting Buddhism’s land or origin, India, with China, where it would be quite popular. In fact, for many Chinese monks, Afghanistan was the destination for pilgrimages and a place to learn proper Buddhist practice. This documentary, however, does not so much focus on Mes Aynak in antiquity as on the state of the site in the early 2010’s. This is because of a lease that the China Metallurgical Group (MCC) was given to mine copper around Mes Aynak, putting the site in danger.

This sets the stage for a very fraught salvage excavation. Salvage excavations are fairly common when major construction or similar projects occur. For example, when the Atatürk Dam was constructed in southern Turkey, a group of archaeologists were working around the clock to excavate and preserve the Zeugma mosaics, a group of mosaics apparently dating to the Hellenistic period (if you’re ever in Gaziantep, I’d highly recommend checking out the Zeugma Museum. Maybe wait till the security situation is a bit better, though). Saving Mes Aynak largely follows the Afghan archaeologist Qadir Temori in his work with his team to help preserve the site. Along with Qadir’s team, is a French team (or maybe two French teams, I couldn’t sort it out), and one of my undergrad advisors who seems to show up to have conversations with people at some guy’s house and then leave when American civilians were asked to leave the country. On the other side, somewhat, are the Chinese miners, though they get less screen time than the others.

The real resonance of the documentary, for me at least, is the conflict between the two archaeological teams. They have shots of the Afghan team doing flawed, but earnest archaeology. Their methods are not ideal, largely due to the historic lack of good archaeological training for scholars in Afghanistan, but they are careful to not damage the artifacts and they take note of where major architecture was found. The French team, on the other hand, brings in a giant backhoe to excavate. When confronted by Qadir, they claim that the operator was told to stop if he hit any stone. For those not familiar with excavations, you aren’t going to feel anything you’re blasting through with a big-ass machine. I mean, maybe you could if you found a fortification wall or something, but probably not if you found a small stupa or something.

Throughout the movie, the Qadir is shown talking to various people in the surrounding area about how they feel about the mine and the archaeological sites. In general, people were not huge fans of a Chinese company extracting resources from the country and possibly threatening their villages. I found this part interesting not only because it showed the opinions of actual Afghans, but also, if I’m not mistaken, some of the individuals interviewed were speaking Dari or another Persian dialect, while others were speaking a Turkic one. I’m not entirely sure on this one, though.

I believe that this documentary is very important. It is important to make the international community informed of and invested in the archaeology of Afghanistan in order to protect it. Archaeologists in any situation only have so much power to protect cultural heritage, and this is especially true in countries where antiquities laws are not very firmly established or enforced. It also provides an informative look into the landscape of Afghanistan, which I think many people don’t really understand.

However, I didn’t find it particularly compelling as a whole. Again, it was great in many ways, but it doesn’t have that much emotional resonance. This is due to the lack of a narrative. In all fairness, this very true to life. Life has no narrative and there are no heroes and no villains. At the same time, narrative draws the viewer in and allows them to make sense of what’s happening. In this documentary, a lot of things are happening, but there isn’t really a firm narrative created.

Ultimately, I found this documentary to be both visually beautiful and important. While I had difficulty finding a place to take hold emotionally, this could be important in its own way. It presents all parties with minimal commenting and without creating obvious antagonists. I still think it’s worth a watch, if only to learn a bit about Afghanistan and its archaeology. The archaeologist drama is also kind of fun.