Directed by Kogonada — Screenplay by Kogonada.
Kogonada’s After Yang is a science-fiction drama about a family that has lost someone. After competing in a dance competition as a family, their second-hand robotic son, Yang (played by Justin H. Min), malfunctions. Hoping to get him fixed, the family father, Jake (played by Colin Farrell), sets out to find a way to fix him, even though they are advised to simply replace him with another unit. As Jake gets access to Yang’s memory bank, he gains a new understanding of who Yang actually was.
“There is no something without nothing.”
This film has all the right ingredients for m to like something that is quite out there. It’s a science-fiction film that deals with fascinating sci-fi topics such as what robots can tell us about what it means to be human, but it also discusses cloning, memory banks, etc. Oh, and, of course, it also features a soft and perfectly tuned performance from Colin Farrell. And I really did like this film.
The various memory bank sequences were especially meaningful to me and made me think about quite a lot of different things. I was immediately fascinated by the idea that someone would be able to see what someone they loved got the most joy out of — to access their life flashback. One might say that the piecing together of memories that once struck a chord with someone is pure storytelling. It is also such a sweet, but also bittersweet, concept. And then there is this idea that through the eyes of another you can see the ways in which you fail, how you’ve been coming up short, but also how you might have had a positive impact. Being able to tell what role you need to fill, and seeing the quiet life-affirming love that was in someone’s (in this case, Yang’s) life. To really understand someone and to be able to hold onto the fleetingness of another’s memory, and to begin to understand the perspective of someone you maybe didn’t truly see.
There is something here that gets to the beauty in individual perspective and retrospective understanding. Then there’s the scene where Yang tries to explain his experiences. How information and facts can be meaningful, but that, to them (someone who was made to hold knowledge about a certain culture), there is a missing connection to something that will always be a permanent part of their identity. To taste and to actually experience something is a world of its own that goes beyond the information we can collect, jot down, memorize, and pass on. What makes someone something? And, in a world with technology that can walk and talk, who or what do you choose to open up to?
All of this came through to me, as I saw After Yang, which is a film that is full of varied meanings. They may be scattered thoughts and yet they carry such weight and perhaps poignancy. I think the film is remarkably deep, in spite of its 90-ish minute runtime and its existence as a genre film with common traits and concepts. It’s also beautifully and thoughtfully put together from the framing to the soft music to the mild but clearly present science-fiction-updated production design. Of course, one might say that it doesn’t explore certain sci-fi topics deeply, but I wouldn’t call it superficial.
I think of it as a thoughtful and soft meditation on grief, existence, memory, family dynamics, and what it means to really know someone and something. I found it to be both fascinating and quietly moving. Is it more than a rumination or meditation on the aforementioned topics? I’m not sure, but I don’t think it needs to be that. This film, honestly, struck a chord with me, and it made me really want to revisit Kogonada’s Columbus to see if I like it even more on a second viewing.
8.5 out of 10
– Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.