A Real Review of Columbus (2017)

Last month, I made a pitifully vague and uninteresting post about this wonderful and super cool film. Won’t even link it—hate it that much. I have now re-watched it, so to repent for my lazy sins, this will be dedicated to actually sharing my thoughts on this.

I cannot recall the last time a film has stumped me like this off-hand. Children of Men comes to mind, though I wish to say that there was something more recent. mother! was another anomaly. “Stumped” is kind of a vague term, implying that I wasn’t really sure what to think of it. Generally speaking, I know how I feel about a film the first time around—oftentimes I’m quite proud of how few I care to re-watch. Time will inevitably sway my mind to double-check, though my current self feels as comfortably “myself” as has ever been. What I think now will probably last.

Columbus is yet another rarity that has come about where my first viewing felt incomplete. Like one was peering into binoculars, trying to find some exotic bird along a mossy cliffside—unsuccessfully. Something is there… at least it feels as though it is. No one has ever actually pinpointed the location of this bird, nor have they ever scientifically confirmed it existence. Yet one keeps searching for it, confident in knowing that the bird will eventually grow tired of staying hidden. Deep down, they just know.

Planning to find the bird.

You can tell I really like this because I’m being faux philosophical and pretentiously worded. Situated on a more pragmatic scale, the effort I’m trying to convey is that this is a very artistically designed film. Disney, this is not; what a bizarre thing it would be for someone to enjoy this as much as the loud bombast of Marvel films. My prior “review” described my experience with this as very “Zen,” which still applies upon second viewing. The cinematography alone ensures that one will be treated to a barrage of interpretable images.

Among my favorite qualities to this is the manner of perspective. Columbus stars two main characters at the forefront: Jin (John Cho) and Casey (Haley Lu Richardson), different characters dealing with different situations. Jin is in town due to the deteriorating health of his father, an architecture guru, while Casey is a native also fond of architecture. Their personal histories with their surroundings, upbringings, and relationships will ultimately shape the trajectory of the plot, however loose that term may be here. Seeing them come to terms with their inner conflicts through one another is what makes this ultimately immersive.

Wish I could talk to someone under the light of a random building.

Getting to that point is another matter. One thing I will mention as a sort of “warning” for those going in is that this is a pretty slow film, particularly the first 15-20 minutes. Very easy to find yourself questioning the methods the director (Kogonada) took in showcasing progression through a bunch of distorted, seemingly meaningless shots (albeit pretty). Truly, the characters allow this to flourish past a pretty slideshow of cinematic scenery.

Haley Lu Richardson embodies the inquisitive, hopeful kid stuck within her own head, with her chemistry with John Cho making this into a sort of psychological study of passion, humanity, perspective, etc. Jin is more practical, cynical, and uniform from his age and relationship with his father, which helps to challenge and influence Casey’s view of the world. Despite that, Casey’s enthusiasm and passion for architecture ends up allowing Jin to take interest in something, even if only as a distraction from his father’s condition. Having these two interact on such deeply emotional planes—something beautiful sprouts.

I believe every actor does a good job in this, though it is admittedly on varying degrees. Haley Lu Richardson is phenomenal, effortlessly portraying someone juggling life as it comes to her at such a young age. John Cho is slightly weaker, though his position in the film might not ask as much to convey. Parker Posey as Jin’s father’s partner (I think?) was also fairly strong, even if she didn’t get too much screentime, which can also be said of Rory Culkin, playing Casey’s somewhat stuck-up friend. More than anything though, Richardson and Cho are what make this move, make it work, and make it impactful.

Reflections.

There isn’t too much dialogue in this film, with a lot of scenes simply taking the time to show the characters interact with their surroundings in a variety of moods. Very quiet, very willing to show life through an unfiltered lens, even trivial acts such as making food or taking a shower. Regardless, I found a lot of very simple, yet profound statements made throughout that provide insight into the mental make-up of the characters. Never going beyond where it needs to be, though some may complain it may not go far enough. Characters say what they need to say.

What do you think of when I say something is “Zen”? Relaxing? Calming? Intoxicating? Columbus‘s quiet nature also extends to its soundtrack, which, like with the dialogue, is very minimal. I only recall one instance where it’s intentionally set to be blaring and loud, mirroring the inner rage of a character in a given moment. Otherwise, a lot of ambience, accompanied every so often by soft hums of technological echoes (which can actually be sampled online; would personally recommend “Meier”). Not something I would recommend outside the context of the film, but its minimal use in significant scenes did wonders for my immersion.

The focus, confined to such little space.

Circling back to that pretty cinematography, Kogonada has a knack for visual storytelling. Whatever inferences I made to the psychological nature of the film is supported substantially by the framing of scenes. Lots of still-camera placement, with characters moving around and shown within different lenses (sometimes literally). Aesthetically pleasing placement of objects and buildings, literally designed to convey some sort of mood. Gorgeous shots of nature, of the massive power of everyday structures, and wisely manipulated to appeal to emotions. Even in silence, Columbus says quite a bit.

It is in my professional opinion as a makeshift reviewer, with years of experience in appearing knowledgeable in anything, that you give this a shot. If anything stated in this review makes you even moderately curious, I would take the shot. This re-watch was well-deserved and only made me better appreciate the overall product, improving upon the tentative score provided last time. It’s lovely—nothing more really needs to be said. Whatever “mess” of myself remains from the first time, the second welcomed with no hesitation.

Final Score: 9/10

The rating for all other films can be found on my Letterboxd.

For more reviews (and review-esques) on this topic, check out the archive of film reviews!

Thank you for your time. Have a great day.

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