A Modern Tale of What Love Is: "Past Lives"

A Modern Tale of What Love Is: "Past Lives"

By Bessy ADUT 

Dear readers and movie lovers, today I am writing my review for another successful international film of this year. The film has 2 nominations for Oscars 2024: Teo Yoo and Greta Lee earned Best Picture and Original Screenplay nominations at the 96th Academy Awards.

As a person who grew up watching a lot of romantic movies and TV series in Turkey, this film somewhat felt familiar. However, it was a modern take on our usual romance and had a very different tone.

Apparently, the film was inspired by Celine Song’s childhood friend encounter. The film won many awards from the Women Film Critics Circle (WFCC). Looking at the wins and nominations there is a big list. Some of these impressive awards are of course Independent Spirit, DGA, AFI, Alliance of Women Film Journalists, and many more.

It’s bravely acclaimed as one of the "Best American Independent Movies of the 21st Century" by IndieWire. It also made it to the list of "20 Best Drama Movies of the 2020s So Far" by Collider as being a movie focusing on an immigrant woman’s conflict between 2 love interests... One in the present time and reality and one from childhood, the true essence of home. The question is who our protagonist will choose at the end to be with... It’s a must to go through the spiritual and philosophical process to reach the conclusion answer.

Past Lives was praised by renowned filmmakers such as Christopher Nolan and Daniel Scheinert; great reviews on Rotten Tomatoes as well. The film had its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival.

The story is simple and yet touching. It might be moving immigrants more than others, that is a possibility. The film starts by introducing us to a sweet, innocent childhood romance. Back in 2000, in South Korea, Na Young and Hae Sung had become friends through their parent's friendship at 12. They then went on a childhood sweethearts sort of date set by their parents. However, right after Hae Sung has his first childhood crush, Na Young disappears as her family immigrates to Toronto and they lose contact. Na Young changes her name with a name petition to Nora Moon. Many years pass. We see Nora living a busy and lonely life, although she is satisfied with her life and career.

When Nora moves to New York City, she notices her childhood crush Hae Sung posted on her father’s wall that he is looking for her on Facebook. They reconnect and start talking again via video chats. However, their life paths take them to very different places. Nora is about to attend a writer’s retreat in Montauk whereas Hae Sung is about to go to China to learn Mandarin. Nora invites him over but he says he can’t go yet. Afterward, Nora thinks things through and requests to stop talking for a while as she wants to focus on her writing and present life in New York. Hae Sung gets very sad and disappointed by this but he accepts it with respect.

As a twist of life, she meets another writer Arthur Zaturansky at the retreat and they start dating. Hae Sung also meets and starts dating someone else.

After 12 years, Arthur and Nora are married and they live in New York. Hae Sung decides to finally go visit Nora. Arthur feels like he is in the way of two lovers, he thinks maybe she married him for a green card. Nora tries to prove her true love to Arthur, she invites him to the meeting and they all go together. Nora and Hae Sung speak in Korean. Arthur takes all of this very civil and maturely.

Arthur says he is glad to have met him, although Nora likes Arthur and gives Hae Sung a nice touristic tour and may have rekindled feelings for him after many years. She believes the right thing to do is to stay with Arthur who aligns with her current personality and life. Maybe she makes a choice of logic more than heart, who knows... They return to Nora’s apartment and Hae Sung invites them over to South Korea before he leaves. They look at each other as longing lovers and friends before he leaves not knowing when or if they are ever going to see each other again. Maybe they had something in their past lives or they may have met again in their future life but in this lifetime they depart again. Nora runs to Arthur’s arms and cries emotionally overwhelmed. It seems like she does the fair thing but we never know if she missed a lifetime of an opportunity finding and losing true love.

I would sum up this film as a modern tale and a philosophy of what’s love. Can one person love more than one? And so on… I recommend this beautiful film and hope for its win in Oscars ‘24.


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