After Yang Kogonada's exploration of the meaning of life
The past is tricky thing to get at, it exists, if one is to believe scientists, as permanent moments captured in the amber of space and time. I have, over and over again, watched videos explaining the concept of time. You can’t go back in time; you can only travel forward. However, if something has happened it cannot be erased. If you could look back at a specific moment in space and time, you’d see the past as it occurred. Memory on the other hand is tricky: it is subjective and changes all the time. ‘After Yang’ is a movie about a family who live in an AI-integrated future. Yang (Justin Min) is a human-like android bought by Jake (Colin Farrell) and Kyra (Jodie Turner-Smith) to act as a caregiver and cultural aid for their adopted Chinese daughter, Mika (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja). One day, after a rather rigorous dance battle, Yang shuts down. Jake takes Yang from one repair shop to the next in search of a remedy, but his options and hope diminish over time. All the while, Mika is in mourning; she appears to be the only one who is truly alive to the gravity of Yang’s loss. Once restoration is deemed impossible, seconds-long snapshots of Yang’s memories are given to the family. These snapshots, they are told, are what Yang deemed worth saving in his limited memory. Jake and Kyra, mostly Jake, watch the snapshots. They see Yang in his previous life with his previous family, and they see themselves through his eyes. Yang’s three second snapshots are tender and incredibly moving. Kogonada crafts a contemplative point of view for Yang. He is always on the outside looking in with curiosity and tenderness: A quality Justin Min pulls of perfectly. It’s in these memories that the movie truly comes alive. ‘After Yang’s’ tone before the discovery of the memories is one of stillness. The calm aesthetic and an introverted performance by the actors, lends the movie a zen-like vibe. A counterbalance to the stillness is the propulsive pacing of the story; each answered question leads to a new mystery or new character depth or new thematic insights. Yang’s memories are childlike in their simplicity; his gaze is one of purity and admiration. In his memories, the air flows and the sun shines. There is a preciousness in Yang’s memories that echoes an emptiness in the family’s life. Watching Yang’s interpretation of his life, and his family awakens something in Jake. Jake is pensive, lonely and searching for something, be it in his work with tea or his quest to save Yang. One gets the feeling that something is missing in Jake’s life, and that the missing piece is only just out of reach. At some point Jake asks Yang’s friend, Ada (Haley Lu Richardson), if Yang ever wanted to be human. A question she dismisses as human minimalism, but one that reveals Jake’s desire: He wants to know what constitutes a meaningful life. Yang is present in the moments he shares with his family, even more than Jake or Kyra whose everyday distractions, and human limitations take them away from their daughter. Taking into account Jake’s question to Ada, maybe Jake and Kyra are disadvantaged by their humanness. As human beings are we disadvantaged by the high value we attach to our limited perspectives? “There is no something without nothing.” Yang says this to Kyra in one of her memories. To die is to have existed, to have lived. Yang’s death opens up the family. His memories don’t just serve as a demonstration of his service and reverence for the family, they are a reminder that as you are searching for life it’s happening all around you.