Filmmaker Jessica Kingdon must be one hell of a smooth operator to have gained access to some of China’s largest factory floors. From the assembly lines to military-style training practices, uniform and all, Ascension paints an eerie picture of what “The Chinese Dream” looks like.
The documentary opens with potential employees being recruited with promises of very little; dormitory living, up to $3 an hour, and if you’re lucky, a chance to sit down while you work. This is brilliantly juxtaposed with elite business CEOs’ lavish conventions, praising their company’s work ethic, all while their gross profits scrawl across brightly lit digital scenes. They have a cult-like feel no different from any American MLM convention.
Ascension manages to have some of its most powerful moments when there is no talking whatsoever. Images of recycling plants, piles of plastic bottles, and components of almost every item we use. The film reaffirms the idea that we buy everything from China. They’re the ones producing the things we first covet and then toss out without a second thought.
The audience is a fly on the wall for this documentary. We see tailors of popular clothing labels we know all too well, their brand names ever so devilishly out of view. The camera hovers over the shoulders of workers in a custom sex doll factory. I sat in fascination at the art of creating specific fantasies for wealthy Western men. Every inch is tailored to their liking; some based upon photographs, a few of the dolls adorned with elf ears. We also see a group of butlers in training, the staff reminding them that being treated poorly is an expectation. This is a common theme. The idea that employment is a gift and that striving for excellence and wealth makes you a better member of society.
Another film that would pair well with Ascension is American Factory, directed by Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert. Ascension will give you a clearer insight into the work and cultural dynamics of American Factory. Kingdon’s style allows us to take a step back and appreciate the wealth of the Western world. But it’s not that simple. Ascension calls out the toxicity of status. It holds a looking glass up to our country’s need for excess. It’s nothing short of captivating.