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Do you remember your first love? A childhood sweetheart? Or a childhood crush? I think most of us do. Past Lives was directed by Korean-Canadian playwright and film director Celine Song. This film was her directorial debut and it did not disappoint. This movie left me curious about what her next project will be like and if it will pick up from this current one.
This story is about two star-crossed lovers named Nora and Hae Sung who were also childhood best friends in Seoul, Korea. Their infatuation was short-lived since Nora immigrated to New York City because her parents found better work opportunities overseas. Her father was a film director and her mother was an artist. Nora left everyone and everything that she knew behind, including her friendship with Hae Sung.
Twelve years later in 2012, Nora is in her twenties and searches people from her past on social media. Nora discovers that Hae Sung commented on her dad’s movie Facebook page asking for her then sends him a friend request. The pair catch up and Nora is in New York City working as a playwright. Hae Sung is a military veteran in Korea and is studying to be an engineer. They video chat daily despite the time zone difference and make up for lost time. They happily engage in conversation until the topic of seeing each other in person comes up.
Unfortunately, the stars were not in alignment with Nora and Hae Sung. Nora does not want to step back into the past and decides to take a break from talking to him. She realizes that she should be focusing on her career and not on someone from her past. Hae Sung planned on going to New York to see her but it never happened since they both grew apart. Nora distracts herself at a writer’s residency in a well-furnished countryside home and meets a man named Arthur who is an author. She begins to fall for him and eventually they both get married.
Another twelve years pass and in 2024 Hae Sung reconnects with Nora on social media once more. He makes the effort to take a vacation in New York to visit Nora and her husband. The friends finally see each other for the first time in person after twenty-four years and Nora takes Hae Sung places around the city. The pair make new memories as adults and they happily spend time together. You will have to watch the movie to know how it all ends since I would rather not spoil the rest.
However, this movie definitely provided realism in the sense that love is not going to be cut and dry or what we expect. Past Lives definitely conveys the complexity of love, loss and friendship. Many films are cliched and very predictable. This movie is not predictable in any sense and leaves you wondering how it will end. Will Nora forever stay with her husband? Or will she end up with her childhood sweetheart?
Much of the film is centered on the leitmotif “In-Yun” which means “providence” which is the fate that connects two people through reincarnation. It is the belief that two souls have gone through 8,000 layers of history or lives in order to be together through fate. The Buddhist concept of In-Yun is new to me and makes me wonder about the past lives I may have experienced. Or if I have experienced In-Yun with the people in my social circle. If that is the case then how would I know?
The film does make one wonder how things would have been different if Nora never left Seoul. I do believe that it was somewhat unhealthy for Hae Sung to be so absorbed in the past despite him having relationships of his own throughout his lifetime. It is also possible that he partly took a pause from his current relationship to pursue Nora even though she was married. He was likely attached to the idea of what could have or should have happened between them. We all have that one person that we cannot forget about no matter how hard we try.