Sundance Film Festival: ‘After Yang’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

As technology advances, humans grow more attached and forget what life can be like without it. As each year passes, we get more wrapped up in the social aspect of technology and forget to make connections in person. Maybe the connections we make online have more of an emotional depth because they are not physically present in your life, thus causing an illusion of intimacy that has recently developed. Eventually, these advancements will move further into artificial intelligence, fully removing the emotional connectivity to feed the human soul. If our relationships are already so dependent on online validation, then what would happen in the future when AI’s become the replacement of that connectivity to another human?

In Kogonada’s sophmore film, After Yang, we meet a lifelike, artificially intelligent android named Yang (Justin H. Min). Jake (Colin Farrell) and Kyra (Jodie Turner Smith) purchased him as a companion for their adopted daughter Mika (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja). One day, Yang abruptly stops functioning, and Jake just wants him repaired quickly. But having purchased Yang “certified refurbished” from a now-defunct store, he’s led first to a conspiracy theorist technician and then a technology museum curator. Instead of Yang having spyware in his core, they discover that Yang was actually recording memories. As Jake learns more about his companion through his memories, he realizes that he lost a piece of himself and his connection to the world he is currently living in.

Kogonada created such a futuristic atmosphere while grounding the rich colour palette in nature. There are some great framing choices, especially when Kyra and Jake speak to each other; the editing allowed them to speak face to face and have them in the full frame with a change in aspect ratio. This is a technical feat for Kogonada because of how he visually shows Yang’s memories. After Jake put on those glasses, he stepped into Yang’s mind and it felt like it was virtual reality. Imagine being able to step into someone’s memories and pick them out like a file from a cabinet. Then being able to rewind, fast-forward or stop the memory entirely.

The only issue with After Yang is the pacing of the film. We get deep, emotional moments between Yang and every member of the family, but those moments faded into the background when the focus shifts back to Jake trying to fix him. If the film focused more on that human connection with the AI, it would have resonated with me a bit more. There was this feeling of detachment from Jake and Kyra that kind of overpowered the deeper meaning of the film. Perhaps the feeling of detachment from the characters is something Kogonada wanted you to feel, in order to parallel our detachment to our fellow people and nature itself.

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