Greetings from Beautiful Columbus

The first time I came to Monmouth University, I was in awe of Wilson Hall. Its marble floors, stained glass ceiling, and grand staircase were striking. The enchantment of this building continued into my freshman year, when I had a political science class on the third floor. The gorgeous painted walls and picturesque views outside the window were breathtaking (and no, not from climbing up those stairs).  Now as the years go on, I and many other students overlook the beauty of Wilson Hall. However, a film like Columbus brings architecture to the forefront, while reminding viewers of the grandeur they may take for granted.

After the collapse of his father, Jin (Cho) flies in from Korea to be with his father as he recovers in a Columbus, Indiana hospital. Jin is a translator, who has a distant relationship with his father. During Jin’s stay, he accepts a cigarette from Casey (Richardson), a library employee whose appreciation of architecture is fervent. The two hit it off well, and Casey becomes Jin’s architectural tour guide of town. Although there is an age gap between the thirty-something-year-old Jin and twenty-year-old Casey, what brings them together is the small conversations that negate from the daily grind.

When the couple first come together, it makes for one of the year’s best moments in camerawork and choreography. Casey shares her cigarette with Jin, who is on the other side of a brick wall with columns. The two slowly walk straight as they break the ice. Once there is an opening in the gate of the fence, Jin steps towards Casey and introduces himself. This shows that Jin and Casey will have nothing to hide in their forthcoming conversations and beautifully sets the tone.

As we eavesdrop on Jin and Casey’s conversations, we slowly gain a better understanding of the characters. Despite Jin’s lack of appreciation for architecture, he still has an idea of its purpose. While Casey explains the textbook importance of a bank’s all-glass exterior, Jin asks her, “why does it move you?” These sorts of questions expand into deeper talks, like when Casey discusses her issues at home and in the town.

Casey sums up her home and Columbus’s issues in three words to Jin with, “meth and modernism.” While they are outside the First Financial Bank’s glass clerestory structure, Casey discusses her mother’s meth addiction. This, along with her financial troubles, has grounded Casey in Columbus. Although she is anchored to the small town, Casey has gained an appreciation for its architecture. Considering her love of architecture, Casey desires to attain her degree in the field. However, her socio-economic position restrains her from getting out of Dodge. Casey’s situation shows how amid the beautiful buildings and grounds, there are still real problems that affect the town’s citizens.

 The quiet conversations between Casey and Jin about everyday life are reminiscent of the directorial style of Yasujirō Ozu. Ozu was known for zeroing in on the common person’s issues, while restraining from film’s commercial norms like overly dramatic acting or a powerful soundtrack. Take for example Ozu’s Tokyo Twilight, where two sisters discover that their dead mother is alive. Throughout this feature, there is hardly any score because Ozu wanted to focus on their conversations. Also, the performers carry out their discussions in a somber and sincere way. However, when there is an uptick in drama, it is well known. The directorial debut of Kogonada emulates these characteristics of Ozu in Columbus, by not only focusing on the issues of the common person, but how he depicts their lives.

 While Kogonada brings the everyday struggles to light, he also brings architecture to the forefront. Every time Casey and Jin are together, the two are outside of a stunning building. Normally, when one thinks of achievements in architecture, structures like the Eiffel Tower, La Pedrera, or the Colosseum come to mind. On the other hand, the elegant structures in Columbus, Indiana, consist of banks, churches, libraries, high schools, or bridges.

 On their own, each structure serves as another piece to the story and plays an important role. Architecture not only brings out the best in each character, but suffices as the way out of town.

 Columbus begins and fittingly ends with a shot of the cable Robert Stewart Bridge. With this shot being the first and last thing we see, Kogonada seamlessly takes us in and out of this small Indiana town.

 When the trip is over, it feels refreshing. This is a realistic, yet relaxed experience into the lives of two normal people. The issues they face might be similar to our own, which makes this relatable. Above all, the architecture gives perspective not only to the characters, but audiences as well.

 Next time you are in Wilson Hall, just look around. Admire the beauty that surrounds us and how lucky we are to have it.

 Sometimes it takes the power of film to put into perspective the little things in life that may go unnoticed, even if they are big structures on campus.