Directed by Kogonada, After Yang tells the story of Jake (Colin Farrell), a husband and father who’s family has purchased an android named Yang to help around the help. With his warm spirit, Yang (Justin H. Min) has become an important part of the family over the years, especially to their young daughter, Mika (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja). After Yang malfunctions, Jake begins to look for a way to repair him. However, as he does so, Jake is surprised to discover that there may have been more to Yang than simply ‘just another model’ and it shakes his views on family, love and the world.
Pacing itself with an air of quiet meditation, After Yang is the very definition of a mood. A sci-fi drama with the sensibilities of Terrence Malick, Yang gives itself space to reflect on the nature of grief, family and what makes us human. With slow camera movements and little music, Kogonada forces the viewer to sit and reflect on the silence that exists within the home. (Of course, the great irony of this is that it opens with a dance sequence, but I digress.) In many ways, Yang was the glue to the family and, with his death, the emotional gaps between them continues to widen. Then, as the film progresses, the story itself begins to gradually melt away, leaving fractured memories and peaceful imagery in its wake.
Once built up to be a sexy, action superstar, Colin Farrell has now built a career as a transformative actor in a number of unexpected pieces. With roles in The Lobster, The Killing of the Sacred Deer, The Beguiled and more, Farrell has successfully deconstructed his own masculine stereotype and come to demonstrated his range as a performer. (Even his latest role in The Batman as arch-nemesis, The Penguin, buries himself into the character so much that one would be stunned to find out that it’s actually him.)
In Yang, he continues this trend by taking on a quiet, pensive role as a father attempting to understand the importance of his family’s “property“. To Farrell’s Jake, Yang has always been valuable as their android. However, the more he learns about Yang’s experience in their family, the more he begins to wonder exactly how ‘alive’ his robot may have been. As a result, while he discovers the memories that made Yang special, Jake becomes increasingly reflective about his own humanity and begins to reconsider what makes his own life valuable.
With its eye on what lies beyond, After Yang leads to a much deeper conversation about what makes us human. In essence, there is a spiritual pursuit embedded within this film that is willing to explore some of life’s biggest questions. If our lives and memories are made up collectively of moments, which are the ones that matter? And, of those, which are the ones that define us? After Yang has a deeply affectionate humanism about it that focusses on the immediacy of our lives, even if we are unsure about what happens next.
Though they are (relatively) happy, this is a family comprised of people who one might assume are not necessarily pieced together. An adopted daughter, an interracial couple, an android and clone all create an atmosphere of people coming together in an effort to live their lives together. In many ways, they gain meaning simply by pouring into each other’s lives. Grieving the loss of their android, Jake and his family begin to focus on the moments that matter now and how they can pour into one another with love.
In this way, there is a heavy emphasis on what matters ‘today’ within the film as opposed to what comes later. Even so, neither does it judge those who believe in something more. (It’s interesting to note that Yang himself is completely comfortable conceiving the world without an afterlife but, at the same time, he also refers to the fact that a caterpillar ends his life in order to become something new.) This story is unique in that it is not one with any clear agenda other than to ask questions and to sit in the ambiguity of the response. This is a conversation about the meaning of life now and the opportunities that are presented after our days to heal. There is a sadness within the film yet, somehow, it also maintains its sense of hope.
Admittedly, there are those who may lose interest in After Yang as it progresses simply due to its pacing and narrative structure. For me, personally, I couldn’t look away. There’s a peaceful sensibility to Yang that I found fascinating from start to finish. With love and affection, Kogonada’s film asks some massive question regarding who we are, why we matter and our place in the universe.
To him, what happens After Yang matters as much as what happens before him.
After Yang is available in theatres on March 11th, 2022.