Artifact (2018)

What is the difference between a religious artifact and an action figure? In some ways, they share many attributes: people blanket them with levels of importance, sometimes attributing them with levels of power and significance that speak more about the observers of these objects than about the objects themselves.

Filmmaker Tom Seymour’s self-described five-minute “micro-documentary” focuses on cogent and (refreshingly) non-judgmental commentary by Jonathan Alexandratos, the editor of the book “Articulating the Action Figure: Essays on Toys and Their Messages.” This authority clearly knows his subject: his private collection of action figurines is at a museum-level for depth and scope.

In the course of the film, Alexandratos defines figurines tied to action movies or comic book adventures as a physical forerunner of digital avatars and virtual reality games, with the main difference being there is an actual object that requires manual manipulation. In regard to Christian figurines, Alexandratos points out that the figurines receive far greater emotional weight, sometimes with unintended results. He recalls a widely reported incident of an Argentine woman who prayed to plastic figurines of what she assumed were based on saints, when in fact they were “Lord of the Rings” characters.

While Alexandratos carefully avoids badmouthing both the Christian and Lucasfilm faithful for the respective devotions to figurines, he points out how the objects themselves only achieve value due to the emotional investment wrapped around them. “We are projecting meaning on top of them,” Alexandratos states. Ultimately, this wise little nonfiction film reminds us that when the subject of figurines arises, we are not really talking about the figurines – rather, we are talking about ourselves.

“Artifact” can be viewed on Vimeo. It is the first truly intelligent film of 2018.