Back in July, deep in the middle of my summer break, I went to see “After Yang,” the second feature film from YouTube video essayist-turned-film director Kogonada. This artful, incredibly subtle indie flick is a great reminder that technology in movies is rarely as convincing—or frightening—as when it’s boring. Like many science fiction films, this one asks what it is that makes us human in a near-future world where tech has subverted our idea of humanness. But it frames that question in much more quotidian terms than we’re used to seeing on the silver screen.
Instead of treating tech with the awe and reverence that other filmmakers employ, instead of conspicuously pointing at how mind-bendingly fantastic it is, Kogonada presents it off-handedly, almost as a matter of course. The story is nominally about an android companion, but not one that’s super humanly strong or wildly intelligent—rather one that’s literally broken down and in need of repair. The quest to restore him to working order gives us glimpses of unauthorized A.I. repair shops operated by conspiracy nuts; genetically engineered clones so commonplace that the neighbors have them; driverless cars doubling as miniature gardens; massively multiplayer, global dance competitions that whole families join after dinner; and much more.
The result is a supposition of not just of how technology might change the world around us, but of how we might be changed by technology—a more lucid and plausible understanding of the broad impact of tech than any film at least since “Her.” It’s also incredibly touching. All of the delicate, nuanced thoughtfulness that Kogonada brings to his vision of tech is applied in equal measure to the emotional toll those advancements take on his characters. All of the innovations are ostensibly there to make their lives easier, but the director has an uncanny understanding of how it exacts its own cost—not just financially, but also in terms of time, dependence, morality and humanity. His expression of the complex relationships that people form with technology is wonderfully singular, and this movie is very special as a result.
Here are all fifteen movies that I watched in July.
“Jurassic Park” (1993) ★★½ Diverting at times but also a bit of a slog.
“The Fourth Protocol” (1987) ★★★½ Rewatched. Serviceable, late-Cold War spy thriller featuring Michael Caine in a ridiculous 80s dad ski jacket.
This is the latest roundup of my monthly movie consumption. You can also see what I previously watched in June, in May, in April, in March, in February, in January, in 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, and 2016. Also, you can always keep up with what I’m watching by following me on Letterboxd—where I’m also writing tons of capsule reviews.