‘After Yang’ movie review: Colin Farrell stars in a slow-paced sci-fi meditation on robots and what it means to be human
Adapted by film essayist Kogonada from a story by Alexander Weinstein, “After Yang” chronicles a period in the family’s life when a malfunction in Yang’s operating system throws relationships into turmoil, and Jake in especially in a growing wave of anxiety. The technology has become so sophisticated that it seems inhumane to throw out the surrogate sibling and upgrade to a newer model. When Jake begins to search for alternatives, he discovers that Yang himself was on a similar search – for connection, meaning, and his own version of what it means to become fully human.
Fans of “Columbus,” Kogonada’s 2017 feature debut, will recognize his distinctive style in “After Yang,” which reflects the filmmaker’s overall attention to detail, meditative tone, and preference for slow, deliberate pacing. Like the previous film, this one pays special attention to the spaces the characters inhabit, whether it’s Jake and Kyra’s serene, uncluttered home (they favor quiet) or the car Jake drives while taking Yang on his posthumous trip from the repair shop to a museum where a curator played by Sarita Choudhury is eager to display the highly evolved bot.
Meanwhile, Jake, who owns a bespoke teahouse, is forced to grapple with the messy emotions and unwieldy philosophical questions his highly ritualized existence was carefully designed to avoid.
The outlines of “After Yang” are undoubtedly intriguing, evoking comparisons to such thoughtful recent sci-fi movies as “Ex Machina” and “Her.” But Kogonada’s conscious style begins to work against the material, with its increasingly mannered precisionist aesthetic, the actors’ unaffected characterizations giving the proceedings a numb, distant quality. By design, it turns out that Yang is the closest character to an otherwise cold bedroom piece; Min plays it with just the right balance of attenuation and desire. As “After Yang” delves into the memories he’s collected — and which make him a collector’s item in his own right — the result is poignant, but the surrounding film still feels like it’s set in an empyrean, and frankly rather boring, delete. “After Yang” again demonstrates Kogonada’s mastery of form, framing and composition. But audiences will be forgiven for wanting to step through the screen to spoil it a bit, if only to inject some recognizable warmth and spontaneity.
PG.At the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema Bryant Street; also available on Showtime.
Contains mature thematic elements and strong language. 96 minutes.