Starring: Colin Farrell, Jodie Turner-Smith, Justin H. Min, Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja
After Yang is written, directed and edited by Kogonada, which is based on the short story Saying Goodbye to Yang by Alexander Weinstein. It’s a sci-fi story about death and what it means to be alive. It stars Colin Farrell as Jake and Jodie Turner-Smith as Kyra. They have an adoptive daughter (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja) as well as robot family member, Yang (Justin H. Min). Without warning, Yang stops working and Jake sets out to try and find a way to fix him. At first sight Yang is completely human and his character really blurs the lines of the difference between robots and humans.
The entire cast is fantastic, especially Colin Farrell who just seems to be on top form in every film he’s in, constantly giving outstanding performances. Equally as great is Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja as Mika, who gives a really convincing and emotional performance as a young girl who’s lost her best friend and doesn’t quite understand how to process the emotions she’s feeling. There’s so many great scenes between Farrell and Tjandrawidjaja and their relationship is one of the best things about the film.
While it’s a sci-fi story this is still a reflection grief coming to terms wit the loss of Yang. Each member of the family processes it in their own way, and through their memories you learn more about his character and the impact on their lives. It’s genuinely moving, and each scene is elevated by a reflective score by Aska Matsumiya and Ryuichi Sakamoto. It works on that level, but the sci-fi element is really well done as well, with questions being raised about what it means to be life and whether artificial intelligence can be really alive. There’s also a really interesting idea where Jake accesses Yang’s memories and sees life from his perspective, highlighting how much he didn’t know about him and how he saw the world. It’s really thought provoking, not just the artificial lifeform questions, but just how differently each one of us sees the world.
Frustratingly the film does leave some distracting questions about the futuristic world that it presents. At first it seems to be telling the story of an almost dystopian world, with the family struggling for money as business is down, and Yang has an issue with his core that no one is allowed to open by law. There’s a conspiracy belief that the government are watching them. While the film uses a more standard dystopian thriller set-up it becomes so much more than that, but you still want to know more about the world the story inhabits. It’s only a small distraction, from what otherwise is a masterfully reflection on life.
After Yang is a powerful and emotional meditation on grief and life through the lens of science fiction and artificial intelligence. It asks big questions that will more than likely become very pressing in future years about what being alive means, but at its heart it’s about a family losing a member and trying to come to terms with that, and it hits really hard. Filled with brilliant performances, and a moving score, Yang is really worth watching.
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