Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB
USA, 2021. A24, Cinereach, Per Capita Productions. Screenplay by Kogonada, based on the short story Saying Goodbye To Yang by Alexander Weinstein. Cinematography by Benjamin Loeb. Produced by Andrew Goldman, Caroline Kaplan, Paul Mezey, Theresa Park. Music by ASKA. Production Design by Alexander Schaller. Costume Design by Arjun Bhasin. Film Editing by Kogonada.
In this film’s images of gleaming brightness of the near future, many households include among their residents an android robot who functions as a surrogate family member, which is the place that Yang (Justin H. Min) holds for Jake (Colin Farrell) and Kyra (Jodie Turner-Smith) and, even more significantly, for their daughter Mika (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja).
When Yang begins to show signs of technical malfunction, his parents have to decide what to do about it: they didn’t purchase him brand new, he came “certified refurbished” as a previously enjoyed item, so when Jake brings him to the original manufacturing company, they suggest he just give Yang back and buy a new one. Knowing that his daughter loves him like a brother, however, Jake is hesitant to give up on the possibility of fixing Yang, particularly as he believes that his daughter’s affection for him is tied to her own feelings about being an adopted child from China who does not resemble either her white father or black mother.
Jake’s next step is to take Yang to an off-the-grid robot repairman, who finds within Yang’s body a small electronic device which he claims is spyware; Jake takes the device to a technological museum where Cleo (Sarita Choudhury, elegant and bewitching as always) tells him that it’s actually a now-discontinued memory device that Yang’s generation of androids were using to record sporadic memories. Logging into the device and downloading the memories it contains, Jake ends up learning about Yang’s past lives and it sparks questions within himself about his own connection with his family as well as the subject familiar to all readers and viewers of speculative science-fiction, what it means to be human.
Director Kogonoda’s gentle direction keeps all emotional devastation under tight control and never overplays the futuristic handle of the story, this is an alternate version of Marjorie Prime that benefits from a much more interesting script (at least on film, Prime is a wonderful play) and appealing characters who are always kept at an intelligent remove.
The pristine cinematography brings its world to life with convincing verve, while the melancholy plot, which is overrun with Black Mirror-esque concern about where the future is headed, is never a preachy diatribe on human existence but a muted, poetic rumination on the eternal search for the existence of the soul.