written by: Kogonada
starring: John Cho, Haley Lu Richardson, Parker Posey
Much like the architecture of the in the atypical small town of Columbus, Indiana, the vision of Kogonada’s feature Columbus examines balance and construction in human interaction. Symmetry in life is explored in the rich, centered shots with its revolving action to explore the parallel experience in the lives of Jin (John Cho), a Korean man in town due to his ailing father, and Casey (Haley Lu Richardson), still residing in her hometown due to a recovering mother. Their reconciliation for lives dictated by the needs and deficiencies of others showcases the similarities found on opposite sides of the world.
In the vein of Linklater’s Before trilogy (Kogonada wrote an essay for Criterion’s recent release) and Southside with You, Columbus expands upon the honest interactions of the newly acquainted. For Jin and Casey, there is a clear expiration to their friendship. Casey is acting as tour guide while determining her future, continuing to parent her mother or accepting the opportunity to grow, while Jin battles with fatherly commitment when a relationship seems tied primarily to cultural norms. Melancholy regarding endings surrounds the feature.
John Cho (Star Trek, Harold & Kumar) maintains a rather one-note performance, but Haley Lu Richardson (The Edge of Seventeen, Split) thrives in the consternation. Emotionally wrought from her childhood marred by parental addition, her contentment with a library job and ranking the city’s architecture amazes those around her. Why she seems small town life as a feasible option is counter to her generation’s desire to seek intellectual and career advancement. Haley portrays Casey as a young woman aware of the limits but afraid of what will happen if she leaves. Less due to the hard work or chance of failure, her thoughts are preoccupied with her mother maintaining behavior, an act that requires her direct supervision. There’s an emptiness in the role that Richardson is apt to explore through uninhibited interactions with Cho. Her natural acting has proved an asset in the roles she has been taking.
Much like tilting light in a Modernist chapel or an off-center clock face on a tower, symmetry in life is never a given. It expects clean lines, but life changes with the turning sky, and it sometimes looks better displaced from the norm. Superior to a love story, the frank interaction between Jin and Casey is a story of friendship and growth. The balance they find can be painful, but the results appear to be for the best.