“What’s so great about being human,” a character asks in “After Yang.” Fair question! People are trouble, though not as much as usual in this muted, melancholic tale about being and belonging. Set in a future that’s at once recognizable and enigmatic, the movie envisions a world so outwardly peaceful it can be hard to believe that it takes place on Earth. Tears are shed, yes, but nearly everyone is awfully nice and almost always uses indoor voices, including the clones and androids that — or, rather, who — are part of the family.
The human-machine interface is teased throughout “After Yang,” which was written and directed by Kogonada and tracks what happens when a family’s android, called Yang, stops working. The shutdown rattles the household, especially the father, who is also the focus of Alexander Weinstein’s original, tart story “Saying Goodbye to Yang.” In both versions, the busted android creates logistical hurdles: The parents work and need a caregiver for their child. But what animates the movie, imbuing it with rueful feeling and nosing it down some lightly philosophical byways, is that the father seems almost as broken as the android.
Soon after the movie opens, Yang (Justin H. Min) shuts down, following an amusing, wittily staged and shot family dance contest. A so-called technosapien with a human countenance and — like the people in his life — the tamped-down affect of someone who needs to cut down on his antidepressants, Yang was bought by Jake (Colin Farrell) and Kyra (Jodie Turner-Smith) to care for their young daughter, Mika (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja). Yang teaches Mika, who was adopted from China, about her heritage, rattling off “Chinese fun facts.” He’s also there for her when she wakes up in the middle of the night.
Repairing Yang proves unsurprisingly more challenging than poking around under the hood of a car. Yang is a secondhand model, “certified refurbished,” yet used nevertheless. And while his warranty is still valid, the store where he was procured, Second Siblings, is out of business. “I told you we should have just bought a new one,” Kyra chides Jake with the old I-told-you-so sigh. In the future, men still take care of the big household chores; wives berate their husbands for making foolish decisions; and some families live in swoon-worthy houses with floor-to-ceiling windows and open-floor plans.