Columbus - Movie Review by Ben Cahlamer




Written and Directed by: Kogonada

Starring: John Cho, Haley Lu Richardson, Parker Posey, Rory Culkin, Michelle Forbes


Within the first few minutes of Kogonada’s Columbus, the very nature of yin and yang becomes evident, where our characters are struggling with a personal issue, and yet, it isn’t until they meet their opposite that they realize their potential. 

For Jin (John Cho), his father’s coma is the impetus for harbored feelings of abandonment and a lack of appreciation in what his father tried to share with him.  At the same time, Casey (Haley Lu Richardson) struggles with self-abandonment issues, making excuses as to why she is unwilling to move on with her life, chosing to bury herself in the post-modern architecture that surrounds her dilapidated home.

As Kogoanda’s story moves forward, Jin and Casey fall for each other, though they realize that their ghosts must be resolved, becoming betwixt in what each is and what each must become.  The ice is broken quite effectively when Jin asks Casey why she likes a particular structure and she answers as if she’s guiding him through her own life, with monotonous detail instead of articulating why she likes the home.  In fact, Jin stops her, asks her to essentially take a moment and reflect inward to then answer his question.  Even after reflecting, she still cannot get past her own demons.

For Casey, this was a difficult proposition.  She must be the responsible one in the family; her mom, Maria, is recovering from substance abuse and their living conditions reflect their past.  Michelle Forbes plays Maria.  The actress has been known for shadowy, diffused characters and this is no exception. The scene between Forbes and Richardson towards the end of the film is heart-wrenching, but also offers one of the most satisfying resolutions I’ve seen in quite some time, a credit to their performances.  Richardson in particular carried the weight of the film, balancing the character’s demons magnificently.

Jin and Casey try to draw out of each other their own demons, so that they can help one another.  There is genuine care in the way they approach this as is the care Kogonada gives to the emotions he is trying to convey.  For as much as Jin and Casey can help each other, they both required familiar characters to ground their emotions, namely his father’s assistant, Eleanor (Parker Posey) and Gabriel (Rory Culkin).

Elisha Christian’s cinematography is simply stunning, capturing the depth of the human condition through reflections and static camera work conveying themes of opacity, love, regret and ultimately, passion.  There are two scenes that stood out in particular, a scene towards the end of the second act with Cho and Posey as they reflect on what might have been.  Christian shot the entire scene from behind both characters so that the actors were caught in individual mirrors, allowing we the audience to reflect on their relationship.  I’ll leave you to find the other scene, but when you see it, it makes Casey’s decisions, and Jin’s so much more clear.

Sound and music are imperative to this film’s fabric.  As much as Kogonada reflects outwardly, we are caught in a moment in each character’s lives and the intent is to reflect the peace and serenity we find when we are retrospective in our reflections: we are very much alone, and yet we’re not.  A number of scenes carried over dialog or the sounds of the world around us, the clap of thunder or the din of leaves rustling, effectively reconnecting us with the beauty of the world that surrounds us.  Finally, Hammock’s music is hauntingly beautiful.  It is cleverly hidden in the background, allowing the sounds and the imagery to convey the emotional impact of the characters.

Kogoanda frames his film perfectly, as our characters find their own resolutions and Casey and Jin part ways, there is a moment of quiet reflection and just before the end credits role, the once quiet streets fill with cars and life again before he fades to white, signaling the life goes on.  This film reminded me very much of the reflective poetry of Jim Jaramusch’s Patterson from 2016.

Now in theaters, Columbus is stunningly perfect in its reflections on life.

4.5 out of 5 stars