Past Lives Review

Monday 25 September 2023

Plot: Nora and Hae Sung, two deeply connected childhood friends, are wrested apart after Nora's family emigrates from South Korea. Twenty years later, they are reunited for one fateful week as they confront notions of love and destiny.

Film: Past Lives

Director: Celine Song

Writer: Celine Song

Starring: Greta Lee, Teo Yoo, John Magaro

The Korean concept of In-Yun explains that as individuals we are connected on a deeper level than what we know in this lifetime and for us to come together in this life it's because in our past, potentially thousands of, lives we have met in maybe less significant ways, leading to a time when we are ready to be more to one another. Nora (Greta Lee) and Hae Sung (Teo Yoo) were friends as children but life took them away from one another, though over the next twenty years that same lifetime brings them back together in this timeless, romantic-drama. 

From being childhood sweethearts to falling in love over skype, nearly 7000 miles apart, it’s easy to fall in love with Nora and Hae Sung’s story. Their undeniably chemistry and being able to pick up right where they left off, even after twelve years, a name change and immigrating twice. Despite being in different places, literally and metaphorically, they make time for one another, spending hours talking about their very different days and trying to find a way for them to reunite. It's the kind of story that people dream of. 


Then Nora meets Arthur. They have a very normal story. Two people who were in the same place at the same time, had a connection that wasn’t forged over decades but in a single moment and they went with it. They fell in love, and I think there’s something equally as romantic about the ordinary. In the film Arthur suggests that had Nora met someone else in his place, that she’d be living with him now and for anyone who has met and shared time with age appropriate, sexually compatible potential partners, you’ll know that’s not how life works.

I think it’s something that a lot of men do, if film and real life, when there’s a pretty girl who pays them attention to them. There’s a line where Arthur says that he doesn’t forget that Nora loves him, but that sometimes he doesn’t believe it. Speaking as a woman; there’s a lot of pressure to being put on a pedestal like that. Nora moved from Korea to Canada, Canada to America, she built a life for herself, followed a career that she enjoys and married Arthur, and while it’s incredibly moving that he’s so dedicated to his wife, he doesn’t owe her something for choosing him. Nora’s ‘I’m just a girl from Korea’ was the perfect answer to this interaction, a lot of women don’t want to be seen as prizes, we’re messy and chaotic and being loved is reward enough.

When Hae Sung finally makes the trip to New York to see Nora, it's obvious that they are still something to one another. The lack of dialogue in a lot of their scenes is just as intense as any monologue, being able to be silent, knowing they have so much talking to do in the short time they are together. Hae Sung is everything Nora wanted in a man, "masculine in a way that's so uniquely Korean", as she says and making her feel both more and less Korean because of his Korean-ness, adding to the immigrant-disconnect that Nora feels from leaving her home country. Does she love Hae Sung, or is she pining for a life she didn't live? 

The whole concept of past lives is highlight the difference missed opportunities and just because you thought your life was meant to go a certain way when you were 12 years old, doesn’t mean that the life you’ve ended up in is any less special. In a time where there is so much pressure on every aspect of your life to be perfect, it's refreshing to see safe and happy being celebrated, while embracing that the past and the choices we didn't make, can still hurt.

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