- Review by Alison Traynor
Columbus is the debut film of South Korean writer Kogonada, and it is a wonderful piece of cinema that has marked him as a director to watch out for in the future. The film is an understated and slow paced drama which could be compared to the works of directors such as Richard Linklater and Kenneth Lonergan. The premise itself is simple but the themes it deals with are grand, yet it never becomes convoluted or self-conscious in its discussion of these themes.
It is by some sort of divine coincidence that the two protagonists, Casey (Haley Lu Richardson) and Jin (John Cho), cross paths. They are polar opposites in some ways, but they also share a certain affinity which marks the beginning of a burgeoning friendship. Casey lives in Columbus, an Indiana town renowned for its various modernist architectural works, and is an architecture fanatic, finding joy and solace in these local buildings. Jin, on the other hand, comes from Seoul and is the son of an acclaimed architectural historian, but he proclaims to have little interest in architecture. Jin’s father, whom Casey admires, is in a coma and on the verge of death, yet he views him with a bitterness and resentment, feeling little connection to the man but also feeling immense suppressed pain. From the offset, architecture is a major theme, and it is explored beyond the physicality of bricks and mortar. Architecture in this film is a lens which can be used to examine life, a method of healing and a source of both wonder and comfort.
I was delighted by Kogonada’s decision to shirk the traditional romantic subplot for something much subtler. In this way, the film could look at the importance of human relationships beyond the heterosexual romantic relationship. While there may have been romantic feelings between Casey and Jin, what was much more significant was their deep friendship as they helped each other to grow and process their realities. By luck or perhaps fate, the two find themselves thrown together, their touching relationship cemented by a mutual exploration of love, life and the power of architecture.
Likewise, the relationship between Casey and her recovering meth addicted mother, is also a welcome addition to the plot line. This facilitated discourse about addiction without ever demonising the addict herself is something which is unfortunately common within the media. The realities of the impact of addiction on those close to the addicts are acknowledged honestly. The relationship between Casey and her mother is a traditional role reversal in which Casey acts as a mother-like figure to her own mother and avoids attending college so that she can take care of her. Overall, Columbus is a deeply human portrayal of peoples interconnected lives, and is a must-see for any film fan