Five years on from wowing Sundance with Columbus, Kogonada returns with the equally sublime After Yang.
In a near future, a family reckons with questions of love, connection, and loss after their A.I. helper unexpectedly breaks down.
On paper it reads like an inverse A.I. Artificial Intelligence. Instead of a family rejecting their A.I., they finds themselves incomplete when their one unexpectedly shuts down.
Yang was the “big brother” of adopted daughter Mika but also au pair, housekeeper and friend to busy parents Jake and Kyra. Plus he is the fourth member of their monthly virtual dance quartet. When Yang malfunctions, it is not as simple as replacing the battery. Indeed it feels more akin to when your iPhone dies. Instead of repair, the store tries to sell you a newer model.
Jake takes it upon himself to try and find a solution that keeps Yang in the family. However initially it is unclear if it is for his daughter or for him. An enterprising businessman, Yang allowed Jake time to focus on work instead of his family and is he looking to reinstate that buffer. The robotic buffer was just another way that technology had set up barriers between him and his wife and daughter. Interactions took place over phones or video screens rather than real life.
For all the touchscreens, the irony is Jake is out of touch. Similar to John Cho’s protagonist in Columbus, he is lost and it takes someone else to show him the path. While trying to repair Yang, he discovers a memory drive that contains a lifetime of two second clips from each day. Tiny moments that Yang’s computing deemed worth saving. As Jake trawls through the data, he sees his life through the eyes of another.
There are shades of Blade Runner here as a man who failed to fully embrace life is shown how to find beauty in the world through a robot who wished for nothing more than to experience it for himself.
Colin Farrell has an excellent track record when it comes to A24 films. The Lobster and The Killing Of A Sacred Deer showed he could embrace humour and pathos, authenticity and absurdity. Here there is a sadness that gives way to hope and warmth as he gets in touch with his emotions. There is a wonderful moment where Farrell is talking to Yang about tea and he comes alive in that scene. Yang acting almost like a therapist, asking questions designed to get Jake to tap into his feelings. It is a beautiful, tender scene that bizarrely, but wonderfully, evolves into him doing what appears to be a Werner Herzog impression.
Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans. Kogonada is a master at remembering that and both this and Columbus allow their characters and the audience to hit the pause button and let the present moment just wash over them. The director along with cinematographer Benjamin Loeb find the beauty in the mundane. A t-shirt. A tree. The sun. A bowl of warm ramen. Little flashes of everyday life that remind you why it is worth living.
After Yang is science fiction at its most meditative. We can look to the future in wonder but we should never lose sight of the now. Live in the moment. Because as a famous android once said, these moments will be lost in time like tears in rain.
After Yang screens at the Sundance Film Festival
Stars: Colin Farrell, Jodie Turner-Smith, Justin H. Min, Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja
Runtime: 101 minutes