Kogonada–the man, the myth, the legend–strikes again. After his stunning directorial debut, “Columbus” (2017), starring Haley Lu Richardson and John Cho, the mononymous director is back with his second feature film, “After Yang” (2022). The film stars Colin Farrell and Jodie Turner-Smith as the parents of Mika, their adoptive daughter, and Yang, the brother they purchased for Mika to help connect her to her Chinese heritage. Yang is a robot. Was a robot. At the beginning of the film, Yang is found unresponsive, seemingly broken. In an attempt to save his failing marriage and mend his breaking family, Jake (Colin Farrell) goes on a mission to repair Yang, unaware of the depths that lie within Yang’s artificial intelligence.
I was also unaware of the depths that lie within a Kogonada film. After “After Yang,” I immediately watched “Columbus” and fell in love with his work. I mean, c’mon, the man has one name–he’s right up there with Madonna and Oprah. What I discovered about Kogonada is that he really loves movies. He’s known for his video essays on some of cinema’s greats–from Ingmar Bergman to Wes Anderson–and has frequently been commissioned for both Sight & Sound and The Criterion Collection. Kogonada’s elaborate attention to and affection for every single inch of the frame is on full display in both “Columbus” and “After Yang.”
With one of the best opening scenes ever, “After Yang” zigs and zags your expectations of a sci-fi film from the very beginning. Soft-spoken characters, serene landscapes, meditative scenes about the art of making and drinking tea. The film is less concerned with the technological wiring of its AI and has more to do with the underlying humanity of it all. As Yang admits at one point, “I’m fine if there’s nothing in the end. There’s no something without nothing.” The film supports Yang’s philosophy as it oscillates between a sense of presence and absence.
The world of “After Yang” is so carefully curated, its aesthetic so consistently pleasing, it proposes itself as a future to look forward to–if not only to just look super cool. It offers a version of AI that doesn’t bring about the destruction of man, but the reconstruction. “After Yang” is a sci-fi film about learning to appreciate the small gifts of life. It doesn’t highlight the potential danger of technology, but of man, specifically a man who takes his life for granted. As Jake connects the threads of Yang’s past, he discovers the cracks in his own relationships and the importance of finding meaning in the present. Ultimately, “After Yang” is a calming, contemplative film that, rather than electric sheep, will have you wondering, “Do androids dream of drinking tea?”
“After Yang” was my second-favorite film of 2022 so obviously I have to sing its praises and it will be a personal treat to see the film on a big screen–but what’s even cooler about “After Yang” coming to The Varsity is that the film will have a pre-show element to explore the role of artificial intelligence in the film and our lives, as part of The Varsity’s “Science on Screen” series.
You have two chances to watch one of the most underrated movies of 2022 at The Varsity: Tuesday, February 28 and Thursday, March 2, with a special introduction at the first screening, by Chris Porter, Associate Professor of Computer Science and Director of the Artificial Intelligence Program at Drake University.
— Kasey Dunifer