Past Lives

Past Lives is a 2023 American romantic drama film written and directed by Celine Song in her feature directorial debut. Starring Greta Lee, Teo Yoo, and John Magaro, the film follows the relationship between two childhood friends over the course of 24 years, as they contemplate their relationship when they grow apart to have different lives. The plot is semi-autobiographical inspired by real events from Song’s life.


Past Lives may ostensibly be about relationships but a deeper examination will reveal that the film is really about the decisions we make and how these decisions impact our lives. Tied to that is a metaphysical perspective related to reincarnation and alternate realities. While not immediately obvious, these deeper themes weave their way around a simplistic plot and character development that belie the auteur’s true intent.

It may be argued that the protagonist of Past Lives is Hae Sung (Teo Yoo). Once his best friend Nora (Greta Lee) leaves Korea for Canada with her family, there is only one goal in his life – to reunite with her somehow, somewhere – the quest crystallises in his mind when performing his National Service duties. Hae Sung tries to discover Nora’s whereabouts via her film-maker father’s Facebook page. The couple re-connect via Skype, 12 years after separation, but Nora decides to put a halt to their Skype meetings as she moves to Montauk, where she meets her future husband, Arthur.

Another 12 years pass, before Hae Sung visits Nora in New York, ostensibly as part of his vacation, though clearly Hae Sung has decided to take action to resolve his relationship with Nora, once and for all. They ultimately do, when Hae Sung accepts that he could never have a romantic relationship with Nora and the story ends. In their final conversation, Hae Sung wonders whether they were a couple in a past life, or have they always been fated to be friends only. The classic “what if”?

In the final analysis, Past Lives is about the mystery of love. Considering that Hae Sung and Nora were not even in the same city for over two decades and yet the mutual feelings between the two of them still remain close to the surface says a lot about the human connection. Perhaps, as suggested, there is a spiritual bond that has existed over time that transcends any other consideration. Food for thought. Highly recommended.

Watch now on AppleTV+ | Now showing in Singapore cinemas

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