Colin Farrell sees his existence through the eyes of a robot in a haunting contemplation of humanity
If ever a day comes when the social media platform Vine decides to mount a comeback, he should quickly and immediately dismiss “After Yang”. Without really trying, South Korean-American filmmaker Kogonada’s second feature delivers a powerful, almost undeniable, showcase of the narrative and emotional merits of extremely short-form video content.
The delicately futuristic story of a family thrown into a tailspin by the dysfunction of its servant and robotic caretaker, “After Yang” examines how memory conveys meaning, very often when people absorb it or revisit it from a different point of view than they originally had. experienced it. Colin Farrell, Justin H. Min and Haley Lu Richardson offer different and equally compelling angles from which to view the connections in human lives that we may not realize are tenuous at best until they cannot be reconnected.
Farrell plays Jake, a purveyor of analog tea pleasures in a world that has become so advanced that digital conveniences have become inextricably integrated into daily existence. The biggest of these amenities is “technosapiens,” and in Jake’s home, he and his wife Kyra (Jodie Turner-Smith) have purchased the robot Yang (Min, “The Umbrella Academy”) to provide a cultural base to comfort their adopted Chinese daughter Mika (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja, “iCarly”) as she grows up in a home otherwise devoid of biologically native influence.
When Yang unexpectedly breaks down, Jake attempts to have the machine repaired, but soon realizes that buying a used technosapien was a mistake. the warranty is invalid and he must find another solution as Mika becomes increasingly distraught over the absence of her caretaker and companion.
After finding second-hand repairman Russ (Richie Coster, “The Walking Dead”) through his neighbor George (Clifton Collins), Jake eventually meets Cleo (Sarita Choudhury), the curator of a museum focused on technosapiens which explains that Yang contained technology designed not (as Russ conspiratorially believed) to spy on its owners, but to capture brief snapshots of what an artificial intelligence would determine to be an important “memory”. Unlocking these clips from Yang’s memory banks, Jake soon finds himself engrossed in the machine’s poetic ability to capture his family’s lives and experiences.
But after discovering a young woman named Ada (Richardson) repeatedly appearing in these memories, Jake follows a path to uncover a secret history for Yang that predates his experiences with his own family, uncovering subtle but important truths about the relationships Jake may have overlooked in complacent acquiescence to the conveniences this technological marvel has brought to his life.
Adapted from Alexander Weinstein’s “Saying Goodbye To Yang” story, Kogonada’s film examines some of the same ideas as many other artificial intelligence films, from “AI” to “Her,” but comes closer to Jonze than Spielberg, both in terms of its light sci-fi twist and its more meditative and emotional dilemmas than technological ones. An extension of the digital assistants that navigate our vehicles, answer questions on our phones, or play music when summoned, Yang becomes the mirror and connective tissue between this family’s experiences and their collective memory, and the clips of her memories form a collage that forces Jake, and eventually Kyra, to realize they existed instead of living.
The fact that the clips are only a few seconds long and frequently start or end after the meat of an exchange that needs to be remembered more carefully, makes them more powerful than if they were home movies at the premiere person through omniscient technology; in a technologically believable and still beautifully poetic way, Kogonada creates a virtual universe in Yang’s memory that reveals Jake to himself while cataloging tiny vignettes that no one, perhaps even less Yang, has fully understood. ‘importance. Focusing on Jake’s sleuthing is the discovery he eventually makes about Yang’s existence, which won’t be spoiled here but speaks of a life lived more carefully than by the family he was assigned to, whether it was always done intentionally or not, as this mirror reflects truths that demand deeper self-examination.
Even a casual search for more detail in Weinstein’s source material suggests a more significant socio-cultural context that Kogonada excised for his own more contemplative account, which proves to be a shortcoming only insofar as Farrell’s relationship with Turner- Smith as spouses raising a daughter born in China elicits questions from an invested audience that are never answered.
They and Min as Yang are so good and low key that you want to know more about them, their lives, and their experiences, but the film looks at their world more existentially than experientially – which is perhaps the point: There must be a balance between the inner world of heart and mind, and the practical and permanent aspects of physical interaction, and Yang’s departure from their daily dynamics destabilizes them.
With a library of video essays on everyone from Wes Anderson to Hirokazu Kore-eda under his belt and another narrative project, “Pachinko,” also slated for release in 2022 via Apple TV+, Kogonada has already hit its mark. own balance between the impressionistic explorations of visionaries and his own construction of the world as a storyteller. Whether or not you’ve seen his 2017 feature debut “Columbus” or not, “After Yang” is a true breakthrough, a film that can inspire the feverish excitement of discovery in cinephiles eager for visions (and visionaries), and its early showing at festivals like Cannes and Sundance makes it all the more promising.
The control and confidence of his form, paired with an effortless yet irresistibly powerful emotionality, makes audiences feel what these sharp yet fleeting clips in Yang’s memory feel for Jake. By addressing a sensation that is only indirectly remembered, the impact it produces becomes unforgettable.
“After Yang” opens in US theaters in March 2022.