"…one of the best films at Sundance"
AFTER YANG (2022)
THE "IMDB" PREMISE:
"In a near future, a family reckons with questions of love, connection, and loss after their A.I. helper unexpectedly breaks down."
OUR [TO THE POINT] REVIEW:
It will forever blow my mind how Kogonada went from making video essays to churning out one of the best indies of the 21st century, Columbus. Just when I thought he couldn’t outdo himself, he’s returned with not only one of the best films at Sundance, but one of the best science fiction films I’ve seen in a long time and potentially one of the best films of the year too.
Adapted from the short story “Saying Goodbye to Yang” by Alexander Weinstein, After Yang takes place in a not-too-distant future where humans and robots co-exist. In the case of the primary couple the film follows (played by Colin Farrell and Jodie Turner-Smith), they’ve purchased a robot to act as a sibling and companion for their adopted daughter. Yang, as he’s referred to, isn’t the average robot audiences expect to see in science fiction movies though. Here he looks, talks, and even acts human.
When Yang begins to malfunction, however, and the family attempts to have him fixed, it’s revealed that there’s more to him than meets the eye. In the process of sifting through his software, they find out that he might have actually been more human than all of them.
Now, what I loved the most about this film is just how minimalistic it was. While technology has advanced much further in this world, there isn’t much emphasis on how different things are. For example, people still drive their own cars and call each other to communicate. The way those things look, however, are just subtly different. The only technological change worth noticing in this future is how much more robots have become integral to the lives of humans. Imagine if Alexa or Siri took human form. We’re probably not that far off from it, but that’s essentially what Yang is.
I didn’t just love the minimalism in terms of design though, I also loved how the entire film hinges on the father’s simple goal to keep his family together. And Colin Farrell really shines as the family’s patriarch. Even though I absolutely adored his performance in Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster, I really do think he’s the best he’s ever been here. When we first meet him, through an exchange at the tea shop he owns, he gives off the impression that he’s the average, rugged father figure. Even when Yang initially breaks down, he shows a real reluctance to get him repaired. As the film goes on though, and he learns more about who Yang really was and what he valued, you literally feel his grip loosen as his outlook on everything (and everyone) slowly changes.
Jodie Turner-Smith also delivers a solid performance here as the family’s matriarch, though she eventually takes a backseat as the story evolves. Without spoiling anything, both her character and Yang’s share one of the film’s most important scenes, which will make audiences feel a lot differently about butterflies.
Justin H. Min absolutely broke my heart as Yang. Between his innocence and introspection, I found myself on the verge of tears several times. Despite being introduced - and peddled - as a robot throughout the film, he is also a child. The sooner the family and the audience comes to terms with that, the more clearly this becomes an allegory about grief.
One thing I wish the film did more of was analyze and criticize the current state of technology. Early on, there is a small gag about not being able to return Yang because he’s “refurbished”. At another point, an attempt to open him up and diagnose him becomes politicized due to the possibility of him being used to surveil the family. To me, those elements felt like rich pockets left unexplored. Nevertheless, I also think the way Kogonada opts to pull back from those conversations creates a much more meaningful dialogue.
In real life, our smart devices can hold our health records, our money, and our memories. They are nothing without us, but the same can’t be said the other way around. Surely it’s ironic that the same technology that was made to keep us connected has slowly caused humanity to drift even further apart. But through that same irony, in After Yang, it takes the death of a robot to teach a man about the beauty of life.