After Yang is a 2021 Science Fiction Drama film by Kogonada, his second feature film after 2017's Columbus. It deals with a future in which life-like androids are often brought into private homes to act as pseudo-siblings to the family's children, particularly in cases where a child has been adopted out of their birth culture.
The Flemings are one such family, with a father, Jake (Colin Farrell), a mother, Kyra (Jodie Turner-Smith), and their daughter Mika (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja). When Mika's robotic companion, Yang, (Justin H. Min) malfunctions, Jake goes on a quest to repair him, delving into Yang's memories and strengthening his bonds with his wife and daughter.
The film debuted at Cannes in 2021 before a theatrical release in March 2022.
This show provides examples of:
- 20 Minutes into the Future: The year is never given, but the world is familiar enough not to feel jarring, while also featuring extremely lifelike machines and fully automated cars.
- Adoption Angst: Mika deals with this, particularly being a Chinese adoptee into a non-Asian family. Yang helps her feel more secure by showing her how branches can be grafted onto trees and become fully a part of that tree—just like Mika and her adoptive family.
- Artificial Family Member: Yang was bought to help Mika connect with her culture, but the entire family seems to struggle with remembering he's just a bot. Jake even talks at one point about "teaching the family trade" to Yang.
- Avoid the Dreaded G Rating: While too mature and complex for children, the lack of violence and sexual content means that the movie is only rated PG because of its few uses of the word "shit."
- Clones Are People, Too: A minor plot point involves the fact that in this time period, it isn't unusual for parents to raise children who are clones of past family members. Jake finds this deeply unnerving and avoids his neighbor George, who is raising 3 cloned daughters. It comes up again when it turns out Yang's theoretical love interest is a clone of a woman he used to know.
- Death Means Humanity: Yang's critical malfunction sets off the rest of the film, with Jake pursuing a way to fix him as well as chasing down leads from Yang's personal life. In the end, the film seems to decide that whatever Yang's level of intelligence, he impacted their lives and the whole family will miss him when he's gone.
- Do Androids Dream?: Much of the film is spend with Jake uncovering things he didn't know about Yang's personal life—such as the fact that he had a personal life. The film never conclusively answers the question of whether or not Yang was sentient—and if not, how close he was—but rather concludes that whether or not Yang was "human" in that way, he had an impact on those around him and they aren't wrong to grieve him.Jake: His existence mattered.
- Family Portrait of Characterization: The opening scene of the film is Yang taking a photo of the family, which has several noteworthy moments. Kyra comments that "He loves that old camera" suggesting Yang has hobbies independent of his core function. Mika insists on Yang joining them for the portrait, followed by Jake also encouraging Yang to come be in the photo.
- Happily Adopted: While Mika does sometimes struggle with her adoption, she also seems to love and be loved by her parents and have a comfortable life with them.
- Interracial Adoption Struggles: The film takes place in a surveillance state where "technosapiens" are common. An interracial couple (Jake is white, Kyra is black) has adopted a Chinese girl named Mika, and to help ground her in her native culture, they have also brought a "Chinese" technosapien named Yang to teach her the language and customs into the family. The plot is triggered when Yang begins malfunctioning, and Jake, not wanting to upset his daughter, goes on a quest to repair him.
- Mourning a Dead Robot: A main arc of the film. While the whole family was aware that Yang was an android, to Mika, he functioned as her beloved big brother who had been with her as long as she could remember. Can anyone blame her for reacting to his malfunction as if her sibling had just died?
- Never Trust a Trailer: The trailer makes it seem as though Jake's arc is about trying to fix Yang. Though that is initially his goal, it's revealed pretty early on that Yang is unfixable, with the rest of the movie being about the memories Yang recorded of the family and their coming to terms with him being gone. There is also an ominous segment with a man telling Jake that Yang is spying on them for the government. In the film, the guy is treated as crazy and is never seen again after that scene (and the museum he recommends Jake to almost rejects him outright for the association.)
- No Ending: The only real conclusion in the story is that Jake and Kyra deciding to donate Yang's "brain" to the museum to research but asking them not to display his memories for the world to see. The final shot is just Jake and Mika sitting on the couch together, both stating that they miss Yang.
- Robosexual: Ada tells Jake that she and Yang "never talked about us like that," but it is clear she felt deeply for him and their relationship is implied to have had a romantic tint, especially when you see Yang's past memories of Ada's "original."
- Sliding Scale of Robot Intelligence: Either 2 or 3, and a core question of the film. Was Yang sentient? Did he feel? Or was he merely emulating human behaviors the way an animal might—copying something it doesn't really understand? And does it really matter when his family is grieving his loss either way?
- What Measure Is a Non-Human?: When Yang breaks down, it throws the family into disarray. Yang was a machine, but they had grown both to rely on him and to view him as part of the family. For poor Mika, losing Yang is like losing a brother. The film then dives into Jake's exploration of Yang's life, including the revelation that Yang had memories and had belonged to another family for years before being purchased by Jake, a family he seemed to have very strong connections to. Yang's brief second owner described his behavior that led her to return him to the second-hand store as something like grief.