After Yang is a 2021 American science fiction drama film written, directed, and edited by Kogonada. It stars Colin Farrell, Jodie Turner-Smith, Justin H. Min, Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja, and Haley Lu Richardson. The plot follows a family’s mission to repair their unresponsive robotic child. The film is an elegiac rumination on mortality and what it means to be human.
After Yang is based on “Saying Goodbye to Yang”, a short story written by Alexander Weinstein. The obvious influence of classic scifi writers like Philip K Dick and Isaac Asimov is clearly evident. The film draws us into the immediate future where androids and clones are commonplace and commercially available. Nothing too dramatic or intense, just using the superficially mundane story of an android malfunctioning as an allegory of death. And of course, questioning the very nature of human existence.
In After Yang, writer-director Kogonada utilises the memories of Yang to tell his story beyond the grave, so to speak. Along the course of the film, there is an implied prejudice against androids and clones as lesser beings than humans. But of course, this begs the question – what does it mean to be human? Yang’s ability to select memories to record suggests a certain sentience that goes beyond mere programming, does it not? And what difference does that make from the programming that humans themselves go through in life?
The family itself is ethnically diverse – father Jake (Colin Farrell) is white, mother Kyra (Jodie Turner-Smith) is black and adopted daughter Mika (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja) is Asian, which ties in with the theme of identification. There is a moment in the film where Yang asks the question – “what does it mean to be Chinese?” – which echoes the overall message. Why the constant need to differentiate when the human race needs to find commonality?
After Yang is a beautiful and heartfelt film – thought-provoking and emotionally resonant. Considering the fact that the android Yang had malfunctioned at the beginning of the film, the engagement the audience has with his character and personality in the rest of the film is testament to Kogonada’s stellar ability as a writer and film-maker. Highly recommended.
Now streaming on Showtime.
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