'After Yang': A Gorgeous, Thoughtful Meditation on Memory, Grief, and What We Leave Behind
Every now and then a film comes along that so beautifully and effortlessly explores what it means to be human, that it leaves me stunned and thinking about it for hours. I am always impressed when a film can capture such deep aspects of the human condition with authenticity, as it is no easy feat. After Yang, the latest film from visionary director Kogonada, manages to do just that. It's a unique masterwork that meditates on grief, memory, life, and the legacy we leave behind. The film explores these themes with such maturity and care, and makes for a moving film without feeling cloying or heavy-handed. And when paired with Kogonada's incredible direction, the film becomes warm, meaningful, and a beautiful tale about human connection.
This film takes place in the near, yet undetermined, future, where a family must confront the potential loss of their android companion, Yang. Jake, the patriarch of the family, tries to find a way to repair him, and in the process, confronts his own mortality, and wonders what kind of legacy he will leave behind. The film deals a lot with memory, and specifically how we will be remembered. It's something that really spoke to me, as every person has likely asked themself some version of the question "How will I be remembered?" I myself have asked that question a handful of times, and the way the film explores this is so honest and resonant. It's a true testament to Kogonada as a filmmaker, as he is able to explore such human concepts in a realistic way that will likely connect with others.
The film also continues to show Kogonada's fascination with human connection. Specifically, we see the impact that one life has on another, and why it is important to make time for the ones we love. The film's futuristic setting allows this to hit close to home without relying too much on the technological aspects of it. It would be easy to make this more of a film about technology causing a divide, but Kogonada is more concerned with the heart of the matter, and focuses more on the humanity at the core of the story. The film is all the better for it, and allows the film's message to come across clearly.
Kogonada is known for having strong visual components in his work, and this is no exception. The production design is top-notch, and helps create such a unique vision of the future that feels plausible and authentic. I also loved the film's visual representation of memory, as it is an eye-catching illustration that takes something abstract and makes it feel more concrete. And of course, there's the cinematography. Benjamin Loeb's work is so beautiful, and his use of different aspect ratios, along with how excellently he captures both the futuristic elements and the film's more intimate moments is astounding. Not to mention that the film has one of my favorite opening credit sequences of the past several years. It's one of the best looking films I've seen in a while, and the work from everyone involved comes across so gracefully.
The film also has an excellent score from ASKA that complements the film perfectly. The use of piano, along with a more futuristic sound, serves as a great encapsulation the film's beauty and setting. In addition, we also get a great original song from Mitski called "Glide" that plays over the film's credits. It is the final button on the film and lets the audience leave on a high note. Furthermore, the sound design is quite good, and is used effectively over the course of the film.
Anytime Colin Farrell shows up in a movie, I'm happy, and his performance as Jake might be one of my favorite performances from him. It's very understated, and a rather internal performance, but he pulls it off with great aplomb. There is one particular scene where he gives a monologue about tea that stood out to me, and he is spectacular in the film's quieter moments. Justin H. Min is also fantastic, and takes on the role of Yang in a way that highlights the humanity of the character, even though he is playing an android. It's skillful work on his part, and he downplays the robotic parts of his character to create something fuller and with more depth. The film also has a great supporting cast, with Haley Lu Richardson, Clifton Collins Jr., and Sarita Choudhury specifically doing standout work here.
This is one of those films that I feel like I could write a lengthy essay on, and only feel like I am scratching the surface. There is just so much about it that it does well, and so much of it that speaks to me. On top of that, this is one of those films that you should know little about before going into it. I knew very little about it before I watched it, and I feel that it enhanced my viewing experience. This is such a poetic film that is heartbreaking, yet will leave you feeling healed. It is full of heart, and is such a soulful and meditative experience. While I have no idea how I will be remembered after I'm gone, I have a feeling that After Yang has the potential to linger in the minds of many, and could go on to have a long, endearing legacy.