One of the most profound pains in life is dealing with the death of your child. It’s a unique feeling that’s similar, but very different from the loss of a parent or a pet. To be responsible for a life, and to have that taken away from you is pain few know.
After-Yang is a new film from acclaimed visual essayist and filmmaker kogonada (who previously directed Columbus) that directly examines this feeling, but with a twist.
Set in the future, we meet Yang (played by Justin H Min from the Umbrella Academy) who is a techosapiens. Essentially, Yang is a humanoid android. He was purchased by Jake (played by Colin Farrell from the Batman) and Kyra (played by Jodie Turner-Smith from Queen & Slim) to essentially be an older brother for their adoptive daughter Mika (played by Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja).
One day, Yang appears to break down. Jake takes him to various specialists to try to fix him before his body decomposes. However, nothing seems to work until one technician is able to discover a hidden memory drive. While Jake attempts to find any way to save his technochild, he starts looking through his memories of him and is surprised by the humanity he sees.
The film is a visual delight that never calls attention to its style. Kogonada spent most of his career making video essays about famous filmmakers on Vimeo, and his studies have clearly paid off. He frames each shot in this film like a master filmmaker, giving a clear view into the characters state of mind without ever traveling into their minds like Jake does with Yang.
One example of the director’s framing that works impeccably is the use of video calls. Every call operates like a shot/reverse shot set up, with the camera focusing on the person speaking. But because they’re calling each other from different locations, the camera frames each caller in the center of their shots. Two people in completely different environments, but constant match cuts between them to show their connection. It’s a moment of connection between the two on the call, and yet they feel so distant.
This formal intensity is shared amongst the production design and blocking as well. A character who believes in conspiracies is always shown working in a tight, narrow setting. While another character who is open to the studies of technosapiens works in a very open, large setting frequently traversing it.
The visual style of the film, while impeccable, takes a backseat to Farrell’s lead performance. Playing a man who feels like he’s losing a child, but everyone else tells him he’s merely losing a product, he plays a man struggling with everything in his life. All he wants is to save Yang, but nearly everyone else sees him as a spyware device, a humanoid computer, or just a second class citizen.
It’s a subtle performance, from a man figuring out how he’s supposed to feel about what’s happening as well as how he actually feels. There are no bombastic moments, just small glances and movements to perfectly encapsulate his mental state.
The only person who joins Farrell’s character in feeling this way is his daughter. She struggles the most, not sure why her brother de ella is not able to come home or why she can see him. Through the relationship and scenes shared by these two, the film shows an incredibly familiar intimacy to us even is a setting that feels strangely different. Both actors are fantastic in the role, and their strengths lay entirely in their slight motions. While the film may be about Yang, the relationship of these two characters is the anchor that makes the film work.
After Yang is a very heartwarming, yet bittersweet film. It’s painful, playful, and provocative. You can watch this film in select cinemas now.