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Columbus (2017)

J.A.A. Purves

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Brett McCracken:
“When I knew him, Kogonada talked a lot about Postman and cited 'Technopoly' often. He worried about the ways technology might be making us dumber and number; numb to the beauty which is everywhere around us if only we have eyes to see and interest (or attention-spans?) to look.

This techno-skepticism is on display in Columbus. Richardson’s character proudly flaunts her antiquated flip phone, which she calls a “dumb phone” because it has no Internet access. She prefers spending time at libraries and trying to remember facts rather than resorting to Google. Happier and more alive to the beauty of her hometown (refreshingly unburdened by the wanderlust and status envy stoked by the “connected” life), she provides a compelling model for what joyful resistance might look like in a technopolized world.

Indeed, at a time when more and more are noting the disturbing psychological and de-humanizing effects of technology, Columbus offers a glimpse into a world we can have if we want it: a world of serendipitous discovery rather than utilitarian Google search; quiet contentment rather than clattering consumerism; sensory encounter rather than disembodied distraction; a world where the physical nouns (people, places and things) in front of us are more compelling and comforting to us than the digital abstractions we might find on the other side of a hyperlink.

Cinema is often framed as escapism, and indeed it has that quality. We watch movies to visit far away places and times, and to understand the experiences of others. But cinema at its best, and certainly Columbus fits that bill, doesn’t stop at escapism; it helps us return well to reality, with new eyes to see and love the world beyond the screen.”


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I saw this last winter and it's stuck in my craw ever since, mostly because narrative cinema about North Americans' tenuous relationship to architecture and history (especially from a millennial perspective) are not a dime a dozen; personally speaking, this concept is so up my own alley that it hurts quite a bit to see it struggle as much as it does. Namely: somewhere along the way this film's lovely idea got sidetracked into an overly safe, Sundance-Institute-friendly matrix of relationships and capital-S stakes which feel imposed by committee, one fearing a lack of audience interest in the motivating idea. Kogonada lost me at the scene where one character rather clumsily tells another to stop saying what she thinks about the architecture and start saying what she feels and of course we never hear what she says; her voice fades out to be replaced by another anonymous electro-texture/ambient indie score. Instead of mystery and veiled wonder, the effect is of watching an intelligent, articulate young woman flattened into a pixie dreamer before our eyes.

Edited by Nathan Douglas
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