Satirists use animation to tell jokes that might not be well received otherwise.
Think “South Park,” “BoJack Horseman” and “Beavis & Butt-Head” as prime examples.
“Eternal Spring” knows it’s hard to process China’s human rights abuses, particularly regarding the Buddhist-like practice known as Falun Gong. So the documentary leans on animation, some of the most beautiful images you’ll see all year, to soften the blow.
Nothing can diminish the horrors in play, but the animation makes “Eternal Spring” both a visual banquet and a tribute to humanity at its best.
In 2002 a group of Falun Gong disciples interrupted Chinese state TV in the city of Changchun City. Their video debunked the lies told by the Communist Party about their faith.
Government forces rounded up those responsible for the “hijacking,” torturing some to death and imprisoning the rest.
Comic book illustrator Daxiong, a Falun Gong practitioner who fled China, is our guide through that event and its fallout. He thinks his fellow Falun Gong members went too far, but he’s forced to reassess that view after speaking with a plot survivor in Seoul, Korea.
Together, they recall the events leading up to the hijacking and the heroism it took to make it happen.
Daxiong’s illustrations inspired the film’s aesthetic. The animation could be smoother in spots, but its ability to recreate events (without stilted dramatic re-enactments) suits the material.
The Chinese native’s love of country can be seen in every brush stroke.
— Eternal Spring (長春) – NOW PLAYING IN THEATRES (@loftyskydocs) October 7, 2022
Director Jason Loftus’ previous film, “Ask No Questions,” addressed Falun Gong’s persecution from a different angle. “Spring” feels more personal, its visual tapestry as haunting as the first-person testimonials.
Loftus coaxes powerful memories from his sources. Some tear up recalling how the government tortured those tied to the hijacking. Others share how their experiences are influencing what they teach their young children today.
Just watching Daxiong sketch out a reunion between two Falun Gong members, one shackled and covered with scars, is overwhelming.
The documentary offers chilling snippets of Chinese state media in action. Broadcasts tell viewers what to think, how to support the Communist Party and why Falun Gong is an enemy of the state.
The latter case is never made, save for fear-mongering and distortion. The spiritual practice stretches across dozens of nations, according to the film.
Only China punishes adherents.
The film doesn’t embrace a strict chronological re-enactment, jumping around in the run up to the hijacking. It’s arguably the film’s sole, nagging flaw.
“Eternal Spring” arrives at an ominous time in western culture.
Pro-life Americans are being persecuted by the U.S. Government. Speech is under attack, both by Big Tech and Democrats like Gov. Gavin Newsom. Political prisoners, like the January 6 rioters, suffer extreme punishments that would normally make journalists, the ACLU and other human rights groups rise to their defense.
That’s no longer the case.
China’s human rights abuses are far more expansive, and systemic, than what’s happening in the U.S., of course. Slippery slopes still matter.
“Eternal Spring” suggests what’s needed to fight back against a totalitarian state. Courage. Cunning. Faith in your fellow citizens.
And the growing fear that doing nothing isn’t an option.
HiT or Miss: “Eternal Spring” offers vibrant animation, heartfelt interviews and a sense that every society should fear government overreach.