Before you get down on one knee and propose with that expensive diamond ring, you better watch this documentary first.
Specifically, over the course of his focused, if somewhat fleeting documentary, the director makes the case that the diamond industry has been and will always be fraudulent. He lays out how the difference between supposedly “artificial” diamonds constructed in a lab are basically no different from those labeled as “natural” by those who profit from them. The revelation that a billion-dollar industry is essentially built around some slick marketing and nothing more is one that feels like it should be more of a bombshell to the people he talks to. However, the longer it goes on, the more you realize that this has been an open secret for quite a long time. Everyone involved knew it and have been discussing the implications it could have on them for decades.
The only people it has been kept from were the consumers. We were sold the idea that spending a lot of money on a supposedly rare diamond was a testament to our love for another. Not only were they never all that rare, but the romanticization of them was a modern invention of marketing. For those who have seen the sketch discussing this from the series Adam Ruins Everything, you may think you know all there is to know about diamonds. In reality, that is only the tip of the iceberg in what there is to discover about a con that goes far deeper.
Kohn takes this idea on, not with a litany of talking heads, as many other documentaries are frustratingly flooded with, but with a select few. It almost makes for a character study just as it does an examination of the industry as you are left wondering why, in the case of Lussier especially, many of those he speaks with would agree to such an interview. The majority come out looking rather poorly, and you wonder what it is that they think they sound like. It is then that you realize they’ve been getting away with this for so long that it was second nature to them. After all, what is one more interview where you just fall back on the same line that has turned your industry into one that has gotten you richer than most could ever dream to be?
One moment toward the end at a convention feels more like a sermon given at the altar of capitalism than it does a stuffy speech about business. When you ponder how it is that this all managed to be kept secret for so long and how the industry is now continuing to spin what seems like it should be untenable in reality, look no further than these moments that show the power of marketing can sell a fantasy. As long as we pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, he can keep filling his pockets with money built on a lie. That diamond you have in your jewelry box may very well be “synthetic” or, at the very least, indistinguishable from one.
The widespread repercussions of this and how it has given rise to entire homegrown industries trying to get their slice of the pie is something that Kohn initially seems interested in exploring. He will occasionally zoom in on different countries and the people who have found a way to carve out a profit from the deceptions of the executives thousands of miles away. What becomes a bit disconcerting is that we never get much interiority to these people that we did with everyone else. It sands down the vibrancy and complexity when we pull back from looking further into them. Some of this is understandable in keeping the documentary on track, but one still wishes we had gotten just a bit of closure about what the future holds for these people pushed to the side. In particular, a recent revelation where those profiting most from this industry finally acknowledge the synthetic diamonds leaves lingering questions about what impact this will have on those elsewhere. Though there is much to be appreciated in the way the stories all get woven together, there are some remaining threads that regretfully get lost that could have brought to life a more full picture of this story and its closing impact.
What it does highlight is still more than fascinating, both in how maddening it can feel and the way the presentation embraces this. The use of the score from Cannibal Holocaust is just part of Nothing Lasts Forever having a more biting sense of humor that makes the information all the more engaging to absorb. For all the documentaries that are out there which hook you with “wild subject matter” though are haphazardly slapped together, there is greater attention to detail here in how it unfolds before you. Both in terms of the way he lays out all the information and the craft of the filmmaking itself, Kohn shows greater patience in drawing everything out. That it teeters on the edge of the grim acknowledgment that even its truths may not be enough to change our perception of this industry and the power it holds makes it all the more enthralling to behold.
Nothing Lasts Forever premieres on February 10 on Showtime.