The Subconscious Reflections of ‘Columbus’

Kogonada’s quietly sublime debut finally gets the video essay treatment.
Columbus Movie
By  · Published on March 27th, 2018

Kogonada’s quietly sublime debut finally gets the video essay treatment.

Prior to the release of his debut feature film Columbus in 2017, the enigmatic writer-director Kogonada (he has never publicly revealed his last name, and his pseudonym pays homage to Kōgo Noda, the frequent screenwriting partner of legendary Japanese director Yasujirō Ozu) was best known as a video essayist, crafting mesmerizing meditations on the work of filmmakers ranging from Ozu to more contemporary American auteurs like Wes Anderson and Richard Linklater. It’s no surprise, then, that the masterful Columbus displays both Kogonada’s reverence of the cinematic canon and a visual authority that is entirely its own.

A new video by Mikolaj Kacprzak examines how the film uses visual reflections in order to reinforce its lead characters’ sense of connection. Like most of Kogonada’s oeuvre, it has no guiding voiceover, only relying on the juxtaposition of images and an emotive instrumental score in order to make its points.

Columbus centers on a budding friendship between two vastly different people who both end up stuck in the titular Midwestern city — Casey (Haley Lu Richardson), a bright but hesitant teenage girl caring for her single mother, and Jin (John Cho), a Korean-American translator whose estranged father, a renowned visiting architecture scholar, has fallen into a coma. The city is a veritable mecca of modernist architecture, and Kogonada revels in filling his frames with the monumental grandeur of landmarks like the towering red Robert N. Stewart Bridge and Eliel Saarinen’s glass-fronted First Christian Church.

Yet the aesthetics of Columbus aren’t merely empty stylistic trappings — the film focuses just as much on how Casey and Jin observe, inhabit, and even find self-actualization within their built environment. It’s a movie that derives its beauty not just from the sleek, immaculate perfection of modern design, but also the more surprising and sometimes erratic wonder of human connection. Moreover, the moments where Casey and Jin “mirror” each other don’t always occur within sweeping outdoor vistas; they also take place against comparatively mundane backdrops like their darkened bedrooms, a hotel bathroom, or long and lonely hallways (a setting that echoes Ozu’s fascination with “in-between spaces,” a phenomenon that Kogonada himself once explored). In Columbus, visual space is neither dominated by its human occupants nor capable of overwhelming them entirely — instead, the way it knits the world together creates sites of constant and sometimes inadvertent recurrence, always drawing distinct figures closer together.

Watch the video below for a frame-by-frame comparison of Columbus’s reflected images.

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Aline is a writer and student. She is very passionate about campy period dramas, female-driven horror films, and obscure Star Wars lore.