After Yang: A Tremendous Sci-Fi Tale of Pursing the Elusive
In a near future, a family reckons with questions of love, connection, and loss after their A.I. helper unexpectedly breaks down.
Sundance 2022: After Yang
In Kogonada’s films, everything leaves a long, satisfying finish in your mouth: the themes, set design, costumes, score. His first film, Columbus, premiered at Sundance in 2017. This year he brings his second feature After Yang, an enthralling futurist exploration of our connections to our past and the environment. Kogonada displays his inescapable knack for entrancing imagery that guides us through his mesmerizing journeys in search of the ineffable.
Jake (Colin Farrell) lives in a time of inescapable technological convenience. He leans away from the modern trappings as best he can by indulging in his fascination with tea. His attention is diverted when Yang (Justin H. Min), an android, malfunctions. Jake and his wife (Jodie Turner-Smith) purchased the refurbished ‘technosapien’ in order to help their adopted daughter Mika (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja) connect to her Chinese heritage. Jake’s attempts to get Yang repaired begin as a menial task and evolves into a quest that leads to the underground and ground-breaking discovery.
The future Kogonanda constructs is infused with natural flourishes, from domestic interiors to the driverless cars. Companies like the Apple-esque Brothers and Sisters created laws that prohibit people from exploring parts of their products that hold privacy shirking secrets (riffing on a real Apple policy). The world’s design, from architecture to clothing, has heavy Asian influences. Jake’s family is multicultural but this future retains subtle references to underlying prejudices that remain in the world.
Jake discovers short clips that make up Yang’s “memories.” The clips resemble the serenity of certain Instagram feeds –full of trees, slivers of magic hour sunlight, selfies and geometrically intricate designs. This discovery triggers Jake’s own memories of interacting with Yang. He remembers a creature curious about the natural provenance of things and a desire for deeper connections to the world. One of Jake’s memories surrounds explaining where his interest in tea comes from to Yang, complete with a Paul F. Tompkins level impression of Werner Herzog. Kogonada uses camera angles and repetitive edits to subtly infer the mechanical nature of Yang. This retroactive bonding changes the Jake’s motivation to get Yang repaired –from a chore to make his daughter happy to an emotional obligation he has to what was his son.
Kogonada takes the sci-fi trope of asking ‘what is human and what is machine’ and manages to give it a fresh perspective. After Yang blends elements of Spike Jonze’s her and Steven Spielberg’s A.I. with Kogonada’s own brand of organic contemplation. It’s a special film that, like its malfunctioning subject, considers not only the intellectual dilemmas but the beauty of life.
The 2022 Sundance Film Festival will be held January 20-30 online and on Satellite Screens across the United States. For more info, please visit the official website.