Viewer’s Discretion: ‘The Detectorists’ and ‘Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable’


There was never a chance that a comedy about a group of English metal detectors — or, more properly, as the title states, detectorists — was going to present typical people in normal lives. If England is the spiritual home to quiet eccentrics, then “Detectorists” took it upon itself to offer a series that gave laughs, but with the same gentle quality as the lives its characters lead.

With its third season, creator Mackenzie Crook has had to do something to justify its existence, differentiate it from what came before. If the previous two seasons were about disruption, this is about settling back in and making your eccentricity not a point of separation, but one of community. If the first two seasons were about coming to terms with who you are — in this case, a person devoted to spending every waking hour metal detecting in an empty old field — then this season is about reintroducing yourself to the world on those terms. It’s about being happy with who you are.

This is likely the final word on Crook’s meditation on eccentricity, and it’s one to appreciate if no other comedy quite speaks to you. Both Crook and co-star Toby Jones inhabit their roles like comfortable but ill-fitting suits, defying you to feel the warmth that they exude, and that’s a good way to approach the oddballs in the world. It’s a gentle and respectful portrayal, and if you’ve ever suspected you might, in fact, be an eccentric of some sort, “Detectorists” will go a long way to assuring you that not everyone out there is eager to correct your difference.


British contemporary artist Damien Hirst is a controversial figure in the art world, possibly the wealthiest artist in the world. His work is invoked in the argument that collectible art is just an impossible-to-sustain speculative market built on shallow creations. Imagine my surprise that “Treasures from the Wreck of the Impossible,” which centers around Hirst’s artwork, is such a sublime concoction.

The film documents the undersea efforts of a research vessel that Hirst funded after the discovery of a Roman shipwreck containing numerous art relics. Some were of humongous stature, some wore the scars their nearly 2,000 years under the sea as a form of wrecked beauty, and all pointed to the idea that an obscure myth might have really happened.

If the documentary explores the lines between myth and reality, and art and belief, between art collection and storytelling, pondering whether what counts as fact is more important than what feels like it should be fact, that’s because it is entirely fake. It’s a beautifully realized fabrication meant to accompany Hirst’s show of the same title that was displayed in Venice, a collection of all the relics found in the shipwreck and presented as one might encounter it in a natural history museum. The film is the backstory, and it’s a convincing one, especially if you don’t know the prank — some people have misunderstood it as real and experienced rage upon their realization.

Approaching it the opposite way prepares you for a different reaction — it might as well be real. You kind of want it to be real. In context of Werner Herzog’s idea of ecstatic truth, it is real. Hirst’s insane creations and the mythologies he built around them point to something that runs parallel to what we know. He captures something that makes sense, even if it’s not really there. It explains so much without ever focusing too hard on what has become clear.

As Hirst says in the film, “What makes us believe in things is not what’s there, it’s what’s not there,” which is a way of framing the existence of hope, expectation, anticipation. Life is all about what you haven’t found yet, and this documentary captures that message beautifully.

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