Looking Back at 2010s Films: Columbus (2017)

11 Nov

By Tanner Smith

One of the bonus features on my Criterion DVD/Blu-Ray collection for Richard Linklater’s “Before” trilogy is a wonderful video essay called “On Cinema and Time.” It looks at many of Linklater’s films (including the “Before” trilogy, of course) and Francois Truffaut’s “Antoine Doinel” film series (spawned by “The 400 Blows”) to look into the styles of distinctive filmmakers who can be labeled as “auteurs.” And it was done brilliantly. (Side-note: please watch it here.)

Who made the video? A filmmaker best known for his video essays, simply known as Kogonada (or, : : kogonada). He’s all about content, form, and structure of film, and his video essays are about trademarks and aesthetics used by filmmakers. Other sources for his essays include Wes Anderson, Quentin Tarantino, Stanley Kubrick, among others.

I remember thinking, this is a fascinating “movie buff” (for lack of a better word) and he should write/direct a feature film some day. Well, he did–a wonderful conversation-driven comedy-drama called “Columbus.”

The film takes place in Columbus, Indiana. One of our two main characters is Casey (Haley Lu Richardson), a young architecture enthusiast who graduated high school, works at the local library, likes to walk around local architecture and pretend she’s a tour guide providing important information to people, and also cares for her mother, who is a recovering drug addict. The other is Jin (John Cho), an American who works in South Korea translating literature to English and comes to Indiana to care for his estranged father, who is now in a coma after he was supposed to give a lecture about architecture.

Jin and Casey meet by chance, strike up conversation, and find they share a rapport. Jin hates architecture, leading Casey to tell him about her favorite buildings, which then leads Jin to ask WHY they’re her favorite structures. In talking about this stuff, they also open up about themselves, such as how Jin feels resentful towards his father since he buried himself into his work and how Casey would love to pursue her dreams of working in architecture but feels pressured to look after her mother. The two help each other out, even when they both stubbornly state they don’t need help.

I mentioned the “Before” trilogy and how Kogonada’s video essay was used to illustrate Linklater’s style of presenting philosophy and time through cinema. Watching “Columbus,” I can’t help but feel like this is the style Kogonada took inspiration from. Most of it is not so much “dialogue” driven as it is “conversation” driven, as the “Before” trilogy was. That’s not to say he steals Linklater’s style; he just puts his own spin on it, with his own writing, characters, and style. He’s telling his own story through words, and he’s also doing it through architecture–many of the film’s static shots are framed in such a way that we can appreciate the design of the setting just as Casey appreciates the structures of her favorite buildings. He’s practically forcing you to look at what he has to show you.

Jin and Casey are two interesting people communicating both through conflict and despite conflict. They need each other to talk with/to, and as a result, we learn more about each one of them and what they have to go through. That makes the scenes in which they’re with other people, such as Jin with his father’s assistant (Parker Posey) and Casey with her coworker Gabriel (Rory Culkin), all the more interesting when you note the contrast between they want to talk about and what they’re afraid to talk about. Thus, each time Jin and Casey revisit each other to talk some more, I’m all the more invested in what they have to say next.

John Cho is very good as Jin–it’s great to see the guy who was known as the “MILF guy” in the “American Pie” movies and the first half of “Harold & Kumar” get opportunities to shine as a dramatic actor. (He was even better in “Searching” in 2018.) But the real star of the film for me is Haley Lu Richardson as Casey. I’ve liked her in movies like “The Edge of Seventeen,” “Split,” and “Support the Girls,” among others–“Columbus” gives her the role she was born for. She’s brilliantly natural, she has great screen presence, I feel for her character from beginning to end, and she delivers a true heart to the film that I can’t praise enough. I want to hug her when she’s upset, I want her to follow her dream, I feel bad for her when something goes unexpectedly, and I smile for her when she does something she even remotely likes. She’s nothing short of wonderful here.

There’s a lot of sadness in “Columbus,” which is why Jin and Casey need their outlets to let out their emotions. But there’s also a lot of possibilities for them to move past it all and embrace what they have and what they could get. Much of it has to do with love–the sacrifices for it as well as the avails…kind of like what goes into architecture as well.

Kogonada has another feature in the works: a science-fiction drama called “After Yang,” starring Colin Farrell. With this guy at the helm, I look forward to seeing that film as well.

One Response to “Looking Back at 2010s Films: Columbus (2017)”

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  1. Prepping for My Top 20 Films of the 2010s | Smith's Verdict - November 26, 2019

    […] and Jesse Forever,” “Mistress America,” “Private Life,” “Columbus,” “Chef,” “Brittany Runs a Marathon,” “Bridesmaids,” “The […]

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