Kogonada's debut film Columbus is a spellbinding feature about architecture, beauty and human connections. A stunning vehicle for co-stars Haley Lu Richardson and John Cho, Columbus goes to show that small movies can have a huge impact, and stay with you long after the credit rolls. Possibly the best movie of last year, Columbus is a stunner - a movie you shouldn't miss out on.
As the title itself suggests, this is first and foremost a movie about places. Physical places, such as the city of Columbus, Ohio, in which the entire movie takes place; but also places of the mind - with Haley Richardson's Cassandra and John Cho's Jin being the two souls stuck not just in a city, but in a state of mind, for a fleeting few days.
Indeed, "Columbus" is also a movie about being stuck. Jin, Cho's character, is called to Columbus when his father - one of the most prominent architects of the 20th century - goes into a coma following a stroke. Cassandra, masterfully played by Richardson, has lived in Columbus her entire life, and is now faced with the choice of either going to college or staying at home to care for her addict mother.
Both characters have significant baggage, and it would be easy for "Columbus" to fall into the trap of becoming a cliché feel-good movie about overcoming adversities with the help of strangers. Luckily, Kogonada's incredible script manages to steer the entire cast away from this disaster, and makes the movie an incredible, ethereal, out-of-this-world experience about being lost together.
And what a wonderful place Columbus to get lost. "Meth and modernism are really big here", jokes Casey about her city, and sure enough, both play an important role in the movie. Meth is the addiction Casey's mother suffers from - and the reason why she is reluctant to leave Columbus, despite having an offer from a good college and a prestigious architecture firm. Modernism, on the other hand, defines Jin's frayed relationship with his father, an architect who always cared more about his work legacy than the relationship with his son or partner.
But modernism, and architecture in general, is also the driving force behind "Columbus" spellbinding visuals, photography, and atmosphere. Both characters find comfort in the spaces around them: "in the middle of all the mess" - explains Casey in one of the most beautiful scenes of the movie - "I felt like I had been transported somewhere else". And indeed, this movie does transport us somewhere else - with his ethereal soundtrack, incredible photography and amazing framing of some of America's best known architectural masterpieces; and with most scenes featuring Jin and Casey being also devoid of any other human presence, making it look as if Columbus is no longer a physical city, but their own beautiful, personal, place to find comfort together.
Sure enough, comforting is probably the one word that best describes "Columbus" as a movie. It is not a grand story about heroes, nor an epic tale of life and love. It is just a beautiful, touching portrait of two regular people in a regular city, who choose to see the beauty around them instead of simply accepting it as it is.
"Most people, they don't really have any idea. I mean, they know some things, but they really don't give a shit" tells Casey to Jin.
But that's not the case for the characters here, nor for everyone involved in this beautiful gem of a movie. Cassandra and Jin do care about the people around them, and while both characters are defined by the short stay in the beautiful places Columbus has to offer, they also end up leaving their mark on the city and on each other.
And they also end up leaving a mark on the viewer, for "Columbus" is one of these movies that will stay with you long after the credits have rolled. Perfectly constructed and brilliant to boot, with incredible performances not just by the leading characters but by the supporting cast (Carter Posey and a melancholic Rory Culkin to name a few), and featuring an amazing soundtrack by Hammock, "Columbus" will end up building a place in your mind as homely as its architecture, and as beautiful as its characters. "Columbus" is a stunning debut, one of the best movies of last year, and an absolute, definite must-watch.
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Is this brilliant or dumb: Every track in Hammock's ethereal ambient soundtrack for "Columbus" is also named after a famous architect 💁