Columbus is a soft-spoken movie full of serendipitous meetings against the backdrop of Columbus, Indiana.
This small-size midwestern town is known for its architecture. Columbus is the home of Cummins, a large engine manufacturer with an oversized footprint on the town. Cummins executive J. Irwin Miller along with the Cummins Foundation was behind the boom in modernist architecture in Columbus that went on for decades. The movie highlights many of the architectural treasures in Columbus as the storyline unfolds—the Irwin house, First Christian Church, the Cleo Rogers Memorial Library, the Irwin Conference Centre, Mill Race Park, the Miller House, the Republic Newspaper Building, Clifty Creek Elementary School, and Columbus City Hall.
The storyline? A world-renown architect is in town for a talk. He and his assistant are at the famous Miller House when he falls ill and is hospitalized. (The Miller House makes appearance throughout the movie. As an aside: the house is well worth a tour.)
The architect’s son, Jin, flies from Korea to be present for…his father’s recovery? His death? As the movie progresses we learn about the strained relationship (or lack of one) with his father, expectations in Korean society about family, and Jin’s own feelings about the situation.
Meanwhile, Cassey, a resident of Columbus and architecture aficionado, encounters Jin. The two of them start a friendship that quickly delves into deep topics. Initially she takes Jin to various architectural sites. Discussions move from superficial talk about the buildings to her feelings behind them to her life.
The discussions with Jin force Cassey to confront her life: she has stayed in Columbus (and told herself she was fine with that) as friends and classmates went off to college. Why, if she has an interest in architecture and was clearly bright, did she not go to college to study architecture? Previously another scholar of architecture offered to take Cassey under her wing. But Cassey demurred.
The discussions with Cassey force Jin to admit to his feelings surrounding Korean societal expectations and his relationship with his father. He is in limbo in Columbus. He is staying in the room his father had at the Irwin House. The movie shows shots of him in the house and views of the gardens. (You can also tour the Irwin House, and the gardens are open to the public during certain hours.)
In the end, there are no clean resolutions. Cassey does move on with her life, clearly scared to leave the town and mother she loves. Jin is stuck, moving from the rooms of the Irwin House to a house he can rent by the month. He is waiting for his father to die or to live. Like real life, the movie doesn’t show us how things end.