A Common Sequence Review – thought-provoking and staggeringly effective

By Marc Miller
Published: February 7, 2023


Thought-provoking and staggeringly effective, A Common Sequence serves as a clear warning.

Written and directed by Mary Helena Clark and Mike Gibisser, we review the 2023 documentary film A Common Sequence. 

The world that the documentary A Common Sequence exposes to you is staggeringly simple and mind-blowing all at the same time. The filmmakers draw fascinating connections between exploitation, patents, colonialism, labor practices, and innovations across countries and continents. This film’s excitement lies in the dangers of socioeconomic and scientific advances that are significantly more dangerous than many may realize or are willing to open their eyes to.

A Common Sequence Review

A Common Sequence was written and directed by Mary Helena Clark and Mike Gibisser. They bring an arresting visual style to their movie, one that locates the heart of the matter — the subjects are a domino effect of troubling circumstances — in the strangest places. For instance, the unsustainable trapping and farming of the axolotl salamander that’s on the brink of extinction, from the men and women who sell them in innovative ways.

Mexican nuns try to save them so they can sell salamander oil to help support their parishes. The military is trying to find the genetic code to unlock possibilities for their soldiers. If this highly sought-after amphibian can regenerate, why not our soldiers? This is a beautiful presentation, setting up the viewer for the human interest angle of the story, which transitions into labor practices that phase out men’s and women’s livelihoods, going well beyond replacing grocery store checkout lines, like mass-producing apples by pruning them with robotics and machine learning. We are watching exciting technological advancements, but at what cost? Jobs and income from lower socioeconomic classes in the name of progress.

The third stage of the film is this wonderful visual essay involving genomics and, again, taking advantage of a minority class. For instance, when the film focuses on a reasonably dry webinar. The presenter is an expert in pharmacogenomics and a member of the Sioux Tribe reservation on the Cheyenne river. The kind you would see in the PowerPoint presentation in any continuing education, human resource, or college course. Yet, soon, his words take on haunting new meanings.

For example, it is illegal to perform human cloning. But nothing is banning taking some of that material, for lack of a better term, and trying it out on something non-human. This world is no longer run on gold or oil but on data. Now, the presenter is warning this group about the dangers of their data, but for what? The P’urchepecha and other Mexican indigenous tribes could be pillaged for their genomic data. They further represent a new type of colonialism introducing itself to the world. This is all fascinating and frightening stuff all found in one narrative.

Is A Common Sequence good?

Similar to 2021’s All Light is Everywhere, Clark and Gibisser’s A Common Sequence is a stimulating and frighteningly visceral look at innovation’s unintended consequences (though it could be argued these are intended). For example, in a quote from the documentary film that bowled me over, “Information and understanding are essentially human concepts (anthropological) that informational technology escapes,” or essentially built for that very reason.

Colonilam takes humanity out of the humane. So has technology. When you combine the two, A Common Sequence serves as a thought-provoking warning.

What did you think of the documentary film A Common Sequence? Comment below.

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