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Documentary Review


Seen at SXSW '22

Runtime: 87 Minutes


"Illusions and reality merge, where authenticity and imagination overlap, and questions arise about the value we place on the goods around us."


How much would you pay to show your lifelong commitment to your partner? Where is the value of such a commitment placed? On the actual ring you present to them, or the gesture itself? What if the expensive ring you did buy was not truly worth the price you spent on it?


Diamonds have been a global - and literal - bedrock for only about 150 year’s worth of time when it comes to showcasing betrothment to another. The practice of giving the girl the fancy ring with an attached promise of everlasting love and marriage is not as traditional as our society has dressed it up to be. What’s worse? The diamond you either bought or received from your significant other may be lab grown. Say what?


Director Jason Kohn spent quite a few years putting together the juiciest bits of the diamond industry in Nothing Lasts Forever. This documentary premiered at SXSW 2022 and left its audience in gasped shock and uncomfortable giggles. 


Nobody wants to be taken for a fool. But the truth is that the diamond industry isn’t filled with vast integrity as consumers would love to believe. Diamonds are inherently valuable because we allow them to be. People have cemented the marriage proposal, one of the foundational steps into creating a nuclear family that will make the economy thrive, as worthy of thousands of dollars. That sum of money is in the shape of a rock on a band that goes on someone’s finger. 


But here’s the rub: synthetic diamonds exist and are in circulation. Kohn visits the laboratories and speaks with the jaded creator about how the fake diamonds they make are still diamonds. As long as no one notices. And presumably no one can notice. Throughout the film, there are several shops, offices and warehouses filled with tools and equipment to inspect diamonds for authenticity. 


Why does this matter? In 2020, the diamond industry was valued at $68 billion. And it is on the decline. What Kohn has done here is remarkably eye-opening. The disclosure of the ostensible falsehood of diamonds sparks a bigger set of questions. Where do we truly find our value? In rocks made from the Earth? In rocks made in a lab? In our possessions?


There are many vintage advertisements, most notably from diamond heavyweight De Beers alluding to lifelong romantic partnerships being grounded by diamond rings. Stephen Lussier, the De Beers CEO, who fell into his position by luck and his own marriage, appears as nothing more than a well-trained yes-man; someone who knows the brand and knows what to say on camera. Michael Rapaport, a diamond pricer with antiquated views and a flair for melodrama was more interesting to listen to. He is set up to be the “bad guy”, if there is one singular version of that you’re looking for here. His ax to grind against the synthetic diamond movement that is shattering cracks in his delusions is super transparent. He returns again and again to diamonds being the root of a strong relationship between man and woman. Antiquated, indeed. “Without it, how can people find love? No one wants to die alone. Buy a diamond and find that special someone.” I’m paraphrasing heavily, but Rapaport clearly lives in a time that hasn’t existed for decades, but still wants all the money he can get today.


The absolute scene stealer is jewelry designer Aja Raden. Eloquent, charismatic and mysterious, Raden gives an electric interview. I could watch a whole documentary featuring just her answering questions in her astute and witty delivery. Her position in the film is a bit muddled, and I think that's the point. She calls out the fraud at play, but also understands why consumers buy into it. Even if diamonds and documentaries aren’t your thing, this film is worth the admission based on Raden’s appearance alone. 


Another feature that is better than it needs to be is the music. The score by Logan Nelson rides the line of horror and political thriller, which couldn’t be more apt. Kohn and company make the most of their various stops with fantastic camera work. The film closes with ambiguity. The inflated prices of diamonds exist, but now so does the knowledge that the dollar amount attached to those diamonds cannot truly be justified. Or can it? Kohn allows you to make that choice. There are no presumptuous moral platitudes here. You’re just left to wonder if your set of values and ethics can be priced higher than the diamonds on display.

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