When a renowned architecture scholar falls suddenly ill during a speaking tour, his son Jin (John Cho) finds himself stranded in Columbus, Indiana – a small Midwestern city celebrated for its many significant modernist buildings.
It is here that Jin also strikes up a friendship with Casey (Haley Lu Richardson), a young architecture enthusiast who works at the local library.
Their friendship leads to Jin and Casey exploring both the town and their conflicted emotions: Jin’s estranged relationship with his father, and Casey’s reluctance to leave Columbus and her mother. Whilst Casey shares her passion for the local architecture and the solace that she finds in the sometimes misplaced works of arts that are part of the landscape, hidden amongst petrol stations, malls and hospitals.
Casey shows Jin the restorative power that architecture has had on her life, whilst helping her manage her dysfunctional relationship with her mother during her upbringing. This, in turn, impacts Jin’s own understanding and relationship with Architecture, which he severed as a response to his father.
What is striking about the film is the movie is that given the stillness Kogonada’s style and the focus with which he films the buildings, it’s intense and completely engrossing. COLUMBUS is a showcase for its director’s striking eye and his use of the way physical space can affect emotions. Few contemporary American films operate on this level of aesthetic precision.
Although with the third main character being the buildings that surround the two leads they too are as misplaced and at odds with their environment. It is this juxtaposition that also results in the Architecture never being more romantic than in COLUMBUS, by the single-name director Kogonada’s stunningly beautiful feature film debut.