“Are we losing interest in things that matter? Words on a page, for instance. Maybe that’s not so important. What about everyday life? Are we losing interest in everyday life?”Gabriel
The central theme to Kogonada’s understated yet moving debut is interest — what we find interesting and what we ignore, and the way that interests can connect or separate us from those in our lives. Jin is exploring the architecture of Columbus, Indiana in an effort to understand his comatose father, who had always been more interested in architecture than in his son. It leads Jin to connect with Casey, a graduate with a genuine passion for the buildings that most locals take for granted (“You grow up around something, and it feels like nothing”). The cinematography is exquisite, using architecture to accentuate how we view characters within those spaces, such as isolating subjects by shooting them at a distance in the narrow frame of a series of doorways. The meticulous use of symmetry is a recurring motif Kogonada has adopted from Wes Anderson (he directed a video essay on Anderson’s centered framing), and he frequently uses extended takes from a fixed perspective. Haley Lu Richardson had some strong supporting roles in The Edge of Seventeen and Split, before taking the lead in Columbus alongside the excellent John Cho. Both actors exude quiet grief in different ways — Jin is openly bitter about his childhood whilst Casey’s inner turmoil lies in guilt over the desire to leave her mother. Their unexpected and fortuitous connection is occasionally reminiscent of Bob and Charlotte in Lost in Translation, which is the highest praise as I can give for such roles.