Film Review

The arctic holds the earth’s oldest and the deepest secrets. Genesis 2.0, the documentary by Swiss director Christian Frei takes viewers through a journey the leaves them with more questions than answers, and along the way presents poignant moments when one realizes that human being’s thirst for knowledge can blur the lines of ethics and intellectual hubris that give rise to god complexes. The inconclusiveness of the narrative may leave some viewers feeling slightly unsettled but that’s not necessarily a bad thing because Genesis 2.0 is a journey that explores the collective search for meaning, glory, and control of the evolutionary process.

The structure of Genesis 2.0 takes several parallel ideas that together call into question humanity’s unleashed desire to usurp the role of nature and control of its own evolution. The story follows a group of mammoth tusk hunters who spend seasons in the New Siberian Islands, far into the Arctic Ocean. The ground on which they risk everything for the promise of gold in the form of prehistoric tusks is sacred, where memory remains hidden and peoples from the region have woven myths and mystery about the spirit world, animals, and their own relationship to the earth. As the price of ivory and the appetite for these tusks rise, they can go for hundreds of thousands and millions of dollars, so the tusk hunters risk everything for the promise of richness even though they will only see a meager portion of the final price. Like in all dynamics of exploitation, it’s the middleman who makes the pretty penny. The filmmakers do a wonderful job at capturing the plight of the tusk hunters as they spend their days in hopes of finding that one perfect specimen. Frei finds a point intersection between the story of the hunters and that of science and ambition and the fields of genetic research, cloning, and scientific good intentions. The stories told in Genesis 2.0 are really fascinating. The main narration is through the lenses of: Peter Grigoriev and his brother Semyon Grigoriev , George Church, Spira Sleptsov, and Woo Suk Hwang, but additional insights that come across between the lines are provided by other scientists in the sequencing facilities—these are the ones that raise the red flag on the ethical issues facing humanity, though not explicitly but by their lack of responses or boastfulness.

Frei brings in yet another element that tempers the narratives, he brings in the epic poem, ““Olonkho – Eles Bootur”, which is delivered in a solemn female voice, as if where a voice from the earth itself. The excerpts are beautiful,

“See here...See here...

Broad-shouldered you are!

But stupid you are.

Stout enough you are

but light-minded you are.”

Fatuous and boasting you are!

The Yakut epic poem was declared, "A masterpiece of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity" by UNESCO. Translations of the poem are hard to find because there is an element of untranslatability according to some academics because of language and culture. Regardless, the poem works under Frei’s vision, and he uses it as a reminder that before human beings had knowledge and tools to dissect and rearrange themselves, we had stories that warn us of the dangers of our hubris. With the use of the poem, the other narrative poems and collaborations with the likes of Max Richter, Genesis 2.0 at times may feel like it doesn’t quite come together, but nevertheless, it’s this same complexity that makes it worth watching; after all, how many times will viewers be able to literately see the Arctic bleed?

Genesis 2.0


Monday 1/14 at 5:30pm

Runtime: 112 min

Language: English, Russian

Subtitles: English

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