Colin Farrell appears in After Yang by Kogonada, an official selection of the Spotlight section at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Benjamin Loeb / A24.
In the near future, a father and daughter try to save the life of Yang, their beloved robotic family member.
After Yang is gorgeous in every sense of the word. On the surface, it’s a riff on various common sci-fi tropes. But the way writer/director Kogonada combines those tropes with the film’s emotional core is where the true magic lies. One Part A.I., one part Bicentennial Man, and one part Black Mirror’s “The Entire History of You,” After Yang is a heartwarming rumination on both what it means to be human and the power of memories. Featuring some breathtaking visuals and deeply emotional performances, After Yang is a moving story that’s beautifully executed. And I dare you to walk away feeling cold.
A Story About Grief and the Power of Memories
Everything about After Yang just works. When his daughter’s android companion, Yang (Justin H. Min), begins to malfunction, Jake (Colin Farrell) quickly tries to get him fixed. But as it becomes more and more apparent that there’s no coming back for Yang, Jake learns that Yang’s been recording memories of his entire life. And these memories give Jake a unique opportunity to understand who Yang was – and just how important he was to their entire family. At its heart, After Yang is a story about grief and about humanity. The whole family has to come to terms with Yang’s loss. But through that loss, there’s the chance for something beautiful. For Jake and his family to finally connect with each other – and with Yang, through exploring his memories.
And it’s a chance for them to better understand Yang’s humanity. To fully realize the entire life Yang lived. Because despite being an android, Yang is just as human as everyone else. Maybe even more so. And yeah, that’s a pretty common trope in sci-fi. But the actors, the script, and Kogonada’s direction easily sell that heart. Sure, there are a few specific plot beats I wish had been expanded on slightly. But I appreciate that Kogonada trusts his audience enough to just let the film speak for itself. And there’s honestly little about the movie that doesn’t work.
Gorgeous Performances from Colin Farrell and Justin H. Min
Farrell delivers a brilliant performance as Jake here. From beginning to end, Jake runs the gamut of emotions. Distant, at first. Then, vulnerable, emotional, warm. You easily buy that he’s just trying to help his daughter. And that, as the movie goes on, he genuinely wants to understand Yang – how he thinks, what he feels, and what makes him unique. And Farrell makes Jake’s entire arc so believable and so real. As a father, he’s a bit distant, a bit too content to let others do what he should be doing. And seeing Jake slowly open up more as the film progresses is quite emotional.
Even more impressive is Justin H. Min’s performance as Yang. Playing an android is always a challenge. After all, they’re supposed to be somewhat emotionless by design. And, at first, that’s exactly how Min portrays Yang. But he also brings a warm softness to the role. A feeling that only increases the more layers the film reveals of Yang’s personality. Towards the latter half of the film, Min shares two scenes with Farrell’s Jake and Jodie Turner-Smith’s Kyra that are particularly powerful. Both as succinct summaries of the film’s theses and as brilliant acting showcases. Like Farrell, Min is the other half of the film’s emotional core. And he delivers an absolutely gorgeous performance.
Trippy, Breathtaking Visuals
At first, Kogonada’s visual style caught me off guard. It felt very detached and impersonal. But it quickly became apparent that this almost cold feeling was intentional – brilliantly laying the stage for the film’s emotional journey. And as the film progresses, you quickly adjust to the visual stylings as they work hand-in-hand with the script to wrench open your heart and burrow deep inside. The standout visuals are easily the way Kogonada represents Yang’s memories. Depicted as an entire universe, with each star representing a specific memory, it’s a truly breathtaking sight. And combined with Aska’s deeply emotional score, the whole sequence just hits home in such a moving way.
At the end of the day, After Yang gave me everything I want in a sci-fi movie. It’s deeply emotional, obsessed with exploring the intricacies of humanity. It’s soft and loving and heartfelt. The performances are beautiful and full of vulnerability and nuance. And the whole movie is just one big love letter to the power of living. Everything has a life, and all life is important. And that’s what After Yang communicates best. If you’re a fan of emotionally-driven science-fiction, After Yang is most assuredly worth a watch.
After Yang played in the Spotlight section of Sundance Film Festival 2022.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
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Part-time writer, part-time theatre nerd, full-time dork.