The End of ‘After Yang’ Examines the Meanings of Life, Death, and Beyond

Science fiction is typically the best media for conveying metaphysics. The most challenging questions about the nature of existence are inevitably plagued by stories in which humans discover other worlds, travel through time, or construct powerful artificial intelligence. Stories about artificial intelligence in particular, particularly when they involve beings that, in their actions and appearances, closely resemble humans, make us wonder what it means to be human and conscious. After Yang, a film by Kogonada that tackles issues of sorrow, loss, and humanity via the story of a family grieving the loss of their adopted A.I. companion, is one such example.

Jake (Colin Farrell) and Kyra (Jodie Turner-Smith) have raised their adopted child Mika (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja) with an A.I. companion named Yang (Justin H. Min), who is like a sibling and educates her about her Chinese heritage in an unspecified future that is more technologically advanced than our own. Yang becomes unresponsive one day. Because Jake purchased Yang secondhand, he must locate the original vendor, who advises him to replace Yang with a newer model because his body will deteriorate otherwise. Jake is determined to help Yang because he does not want to hurt Mika.

He takes him to Russ (Ritchie Coster), an underground repairman who discovers a chip within the android. Jake takes the chip to Cleo (Sarita Choudhury), a specialist at the Museum of Technology, on Russ’ advice. Cleo discloses that the chip is Yang’s memory bank; he belonged to an older model of technosapien capable of recording a few seconds of key moments. She believes there is no prospect of recovering Yang and suggests that he and his memories be donated to the museum for research purposes.

Jake returns home and revisits some of his memories. When Jake sees the world through Yang’s eyes, he learns he didn’t know Yang at all – especially after seeing video of a young woman named Ada (Haley Lu Richardson). Jake discovers family photos, including ones of Mika as a baby and toddler, as well as a chat between Jake and Yang in which Jake explains his tea obsession. Yang wishes he had a genuine relationship with it instead of merely knowing a lot of statistics about it.

Smaller moments, such as beams of sunlight, tea leaves in a glass, or a rainy afternoon, are also remembered. In another scene, Yang explains to Mika that, despite being adopted, she is still a member of her family. When Kyra puts on the glasses to view the memories, she notices them debating whether Yang’s belief in an afterlife is incompatible with his programming.

His fondness for Lily Chou-Chou, and in particular “Glide,” reflects his desire to be free of his sense of estrangement. His life is marked by active desire: even though he never felt truly, his recollections demonstrate that he tried hard. That scene of Jake and Mika together is then paused, much like one of Yang’s memories, which remains static until the viewer tells it to play.

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