Making his big screen debut, director and writer Kogonada captures a deeply human story about life and family, carefully framed within the built environment that surrounds it. Columbus, situated in the city of Indiana that shares its name, is as much a story about the unique peculiarities of its Modernist architecture scene as it is the people who live amongst it. Its understated score (composed by ambient duo, Hammock) sits comfortably alongside a simple yet stunning array of cinematography. The film features a modest cast, lead confidently by John Cho (Jin), a Korean-born man who finds himself stuck in the city where his father, a world-renowned architect, is in a coma; and Haley Lu Richardson (Casey), a young woman torn between staying with her mother, a recovering addict, and chasing her own dreams.
Following their chance encounter, Jin, isolated by his father’s precarious hospitalisation and their difficult past relationship, is given a pseudoarchitectural tour of the city’s Modernist monuments by Casey. In addition to her almost encyclopedic knowledge of the city, Casey reveals, building by building, her own sincere and emotional connection to the architecture of her home. This structures the film, directing the story and conducting their dialogue, from the architecture to their own lives, and from their difficult pasts to their possible futures. This, of course, is not without moments of tension. Jin’s cynical perspective, born out of the relationship, or lack thereof, with his father, often clashes with Casey’s more heartfelt interpretations of the buildings that have shaped her understanding of the world. “You grow up around something, and it feels like nothing” he believes.
As their relationship progresses, Jin struggles with the sudden responsibility of attending to his unconscious father and the ever-increasing possibility of his loss, whilst Casey finds herself at a personal crossroads. She must decide between staying in Columbus to ensure her mother’s delicately balanced sobriety, or moving away to a beckoning career in architecture.
Orbiting this burgeoning connection are supporting cast members Parker Posey (Eleanor, long-serving assistant to Jin’s father), Michelle Forbes (Maria, Casey’s mother) and Rory Culkin (Gabriel, Casey’s librarian co-worker). Interspersed with long, gazing architectural shots, each character brings a different perspective to the story; whether that be through Eleanor’s emotion-gripped impatience, Maria’s vulnerability or Gabriel’s offbeat humour.
In short, Columbus is an eloquent story about relationships, weaving them together through the difficult choices those involved often have to
make. This, of course, is a well-trodden path, and Columbus finds its success in the way it brings a new perspective to this topic, approached through the lens of architecture, and more importantly, its connection to people.
Image: Greg Hume via Wikimedia Commons