Movies set in the near future rarely have much faith in humankind, as we’re often living in a dystopian world — but we sure do have a lot of faith in the technology awaiting us just around the corner. Consider “Swan Song,” which is set about 20 years from now, when a dying husband can opt to replace himself with a clone. Or “The Tomorrow War,” where the technology of the mid-21st century allows humans from 2022 to travel to 2048. Then there’s the upcoming “The Adam Project,” with Ryan Reynolds traveling back in time to present day and meeting his adolescent self.
A24 presents a film written and directed by Kogonada, based on the short story by Alexander Weinstein. Rated PG (for some thematic elements and language. Running time: 101 minutes. Screens Wednesday at Landmark Century Centre and opens Friday at Landmark Century and on Showtime.
Of course, the technology is often … problematic. For example, you could purchase a sentient, humanoid “older brother” for your daughter, to act as her mentor, educator and best friend — and then the thing can unexpectedly fizzle out on you, and what do you mean the warranty won’t cover repairs?
The brilliant filmmaker and video essayist known as Kogonada delivers an exquisitely constructed and deliberately mind-boggling adventure of the minds — human and artificial — in “After Yang,” which moves at a deliberate pace and can be opaque at times, but ties together beautifully in its final moments and leaves a LOT of food for thought on the table for you. This is a movie that raises questions that get to the heart of the matter in more ways than one, challenges our perceptions of what it means to be human — and has a wonderfully strange vibe while doing so. It’s unsettling, in the best possible way.
What a week for Colin Farrell. He’s outstanding as the future Penguin known as Oswald Cobblepot in “The Batman,” and he gives one of the most empathetic and moving performances of his career in “After Yang.” Farrell’s Jake and Jodie Turner-Smith’s Kyra are a (mostly) happily married couple with an adopted Chinese daughter named Mika (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja). Rounding out the family: a gently used aka recycled robot known as a “technosapien” named Yang (Justin H. Min), who serves as Mika’s older brother, friend and mentor — and her link to her cultural heritage, as Yang has been constructed as Asian.
When Yang suddenly shuts down and can’t be recharged by conventional methods, Jake enlists the services of a conspiracy-minded repair specialist named Russ (Ritchie Coster), who is convinced the technosapiens are equipped with spyware and extracts the memory bank from Yang. Jake learns Yang had a previous life, perhaps multiple previous lives, and eventually comes into contact with the mysterious Ada (Haley Lu Richardson), a key figure from Yang’s past.
“Did Yang want to be human?” asks Jake.
“That’s such a human thing to ask, isn’t it?” comes the reply.
The technosapien museum curator Cleo (Sarita Choudhury) fixes up Jake with a viewer that allows Jake to see Yang’s memories, which open Jake’s eyes to the complexity, the humanity and maybe even the thoughts and feelings of Yang. We won’t get into details about what happens after that; as is the case with many a movie about humans and A.I. entities, it’s the robots who often teach the people a thing or two about the true values of life and love.