This is a quiet little film with so much going on that it sneaks up on you. It’s a movie about place, finding ones comfort in the world around us. It’s about the healing properties of architecture and environment, be they real or mythic. The movie is about place, and leaving it. It’s about coping with losing a parent, no matter how that parent is lost to you.
The only knock I have read that’s been issued to Columbus, the film by first time director Kogonada , has been that the film moves slowly. “Slow” is not a word I would ascribe to this film. The better word is “deliberate”.
The story centers around a man named Jin (John Cho), a book translator from South Korea who finds himself in Columbus Indiana. He has come to Columbus due to his father, an architecture professor of some note, suffering an apparent stroke and the prognosis is that he will not recover. Jin does not have a good relationship with his father and that creates a sort of stoicism within Jin as he comes to grips with his father’s impending death. He is there, because he feels he must be, but doesn’t seem to know what to do with himself.
Jin runs into a young woman named Casey, (Haley Lu Richardson) who is fresh out of high school and working in a public library. Casey has delayed college so she can take care of her mother, a recovering addict, who worries Casey quite a bit. Casey is a self described “architecture nerd” who takes comfort in the wonderful architecture and public art that Columbus Indiana is known for.
Jin and Casey strike up a wonderfully sweet relationship, given their age difference,it’s not a romantic relationship in the typical sense. Theirs is slightly reminiscent of the relationship depicted in Kogonada’s obvious influence Richard Lanklater’s trilogy Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight,in that it ‘s intimacy is built through conversation, but not exactly. (Kogonada has previously published a video essay on Linklater) The relationship is more along the lines, emotionally speaking, of the relationship between Bob and Charlotte in Lost in Translation.
Like the Sofia Coppola film, this is a very quiet but heartbreakingly beautiful film. An unbilled star of the movie is the art and architecture of the city of Columbus itself. I didn’t know that the city makes architecture and public art a priority as a civic initiative and is home to multiple architectural landmarks. I guess that dedication to art makes up to some extent for being the birthplace of the loathsome Mike Pence The buildings act as an active backdrop to the conversations of Jin and Casey and the director not only features that, but gives the art room to breathe, with moments of reflection within the dialog
Haley Lu Richardson as Casey is a revelation in this movie, conveying curiosity and deep seeded worry for her mother and expressing it with the more reserved but equally worried Jin.
Columbus is a deeply emotional and beautiful motion picture, every shot is captivating. One exchange from the film reminds me of my own home town of Syracuse, a city with so much depth and so much negativity that gets in the way;
“Most people don’t have any idea,” how beautiful Columbus is, Casey says, Jin replies. “You grow up with something and it feels like nothing.”
Columbus is definitely something.