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Past Lives Review & Reaction: "An Intersection of Film & Life"

“Past Lives” – An Intersection of Film & Life

by Rachel (@tootsiepop6)

I had the opportunity to watch the movie “Past Lives” recently. This Celine Song-written and directed film is Oscar-nominated both for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay. The Oscars award ceremony is set to air Sunday, March 10.

(Note: Movie spoilers ahead)

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“Past Lives” Shines With Thoughtful & Heart-Tugging Storytelling

“Past Lives” follows two childhood friends over a span of 24 years. In the first segment, characters Na Young and Hae Sung develop a close friendship as 12-year-old classmates in Korea. Shortly after this relationship develops, Na Young and her family emigrate to Canada, and the two lose touch. Na Young changes her name to Nora Moon upon this move.

These two characters reconnect 12 years later when Nora, now living in New York, discovers on Facebook that Hae Sung was looking for his childhood friend.  They correspond over video calls for a while until Nora decides it is best for them to stop talking. They were both enmeshed in their respective studies and unable to visit each other, so it didn’t make sense to Nora for them to continue. The two were living separate lives.

Jan. 7; Beverly Hills, Calif; Greta Lee (Nora) at the 81st Annual Golden Globe Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. Photo Credit: Dan MacMedan – USA TODAY

Jan. 7; Beverly Hills, Calif; Greta Lee (Nora) at the 81st Annual Golden Globe Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. Photo Credit: Dan MacMedan – USA TODAY

Fast forward another 12 years and Nora is living in New York with her now husband Arthur. Hae Sung takes a trip to visit her there. These two characters hadn’t seen each other since they were those 12-year-old kids in Korea. In conversations, Hae Sung wonders what the two were to each other in their past lives and what would have happened had she not left Korea.

These three characters go out to dinner one night. Nora translates for Arthur at the beginning but then exclusively carries on the conversation in Korean with Hae Sung. Arthur sits by silently in an awkward yet patient way. At the night’s end, Nora waits with Hae Sung for his Uber, and they share a longing look. He wonders what their relationship would be in their next life, and she says she doesn’t know. After he leaves, Nora returns to her apartment and collapses into Arthur’s arms, crying.

This quietly-paced movie consists of minimal dialog and minimal production. The performance by Greta Lee as Nora Moon is understated yet captivating. It’s surprising she was overlooked in the Oscars Best Actress category. The look on her face when she sees Hae Sung (played by Teo Yoo) after 24 years says more than words can express. In the final scene, the catch in her breath and her collapsing into Arthur (played by John Magaro) demanded my attention. As Lee portrayed the arresting emotions of Nora seeing her childhood friend again, I couldn’t keep my own tears from falling.

On the forefront, the premise of this story is simple. It could have easily been told as two long-lost lovers reuniting and kicking the Arthur character to the curb. But yet, the intricacies and layers embedded into this story suggest that life and relationships aren’t so one-dimensional. Perhaps we all have “past lives” we go through, and each is full of its own meaningful relationships that may not transfer into our new lives. It doesn’t diminish what they mean to us at the time.

Looking Back While Moving Forward

I had a similar reconnection a couple of years ago with a man I knew in my younger, wilder days. Though I hadn’t thought about him in years, being in the same city brought up old memories and old feelings. I was reminded of the woman I was in that “past life” and how the two of us were together.

I couldn’t help but succumb to emotions that couldn’t be rationalized or understood in the current “life” I was in. He and I both moved on with no desire to reunite. Yet, reminiscent, nostalgic feelings came to the forefront, and I couldn’t help but feel the complex emotions. It wasn’t that I was upset over not having him in my life. Instead, I think maybe I was grieving the loss of that past life and the loss of the woman I was then. Is that what Nora was feeling in the film?

I’m finding myself at an impasse right now with a friendship in my life. I know it’s nothing new for friends to come and go in our lives. I’ve experienced this many times, and I know you have, too. Whether they are friends from school, work or what have you, sometimes those friendships end as our trajectory in life changes.

With this current friendship, I can feel the distance widening between us lately. This friend was someone I could talk to about anything and everything. And yet, things are different now. We both have been gradually veering off onto different paths in life. We don’t talk much anymore, and truthfully, it hurts my heart.

Despite that, I am starting to realize maybe I’m like Nora when she was in New York. There are things in my life that are my focal point and in the direction I want to go. In order to move forward, maybe this friendship is something that remains in a past life. This doesn’t take away what this friendship has meant to me.

Life is meant to keep moving forward. And some of the people in our lives will change. Nora Moon moved on. She was no longer the 12-year-old Na Young who shared a childhood friendship with Hae Sung in Korea. Nora chose to build her life in New York with Arthur, and that is her life moving forward. This doesn’t take away how much Na Young loved Hae Sung and the importance of their relationship. But the feelings shared between the two are from a past life, and there’s no changing that.

Award-Worthy Writing

Celine Song’s film may be simple in premise, but the layers of complexity and the comprehension that we all have past lives is something I have never seen in a movie before.

The Oscars Best Picture category is stacked full of strong contenders this year. With minimalistic dialog and production, this film is unlikely to stand a chance against the competition. Yet, I wouldn’t count out Song getting the nod for Best Original Screenplay. It’s been over a week since I’ve seen this movie, yet I can’t get it out of my mind.

That is what impeccable writing does. It stays with you. It makes you reflect. This film led me down a path of deep introspection into my own “past lives” and the meaningful relationships therein. And for that, Song deserves to be awarded.

Thanks for reading my “Past Lives” review and reaction. Follow me on Twitter @tootsiepop6 for more entertainment and football content!

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