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Why Movies Like Past Lives Are Much Needed in Today’s World


by Xtreme HD IPTV

Celine Song’s directorial debut Past Lives has been the talk of movie fans and critics alike ever since it first debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2023. After its premiere in January, the film came out in Los Angeles and New York City several months later, in June 2023, and audiences were buzzing when it came out. It was named one of the top ten films of 2023 by the National Board of Review and the American Film Institute and recently was nominated for Best Picture at the 96th Academy Awards.

The film stars Greta Lee as Nora Moon, a young girl whose family decided to immigrate to Canada from Korea when she was young, and in order to do so, Nora must leave behind her first love, Hae-sung (Teo Yoo), in South Korea. Years later, she moved to New York City and tried to establish a career as a playwright, having moved on from her life in Korea. However, fate is a funny concept, and she ends up reconnecting with Hae-sung. Despite the intense chemistry the two have with each other, even through Skype and video chats, Nora breaks things off to focus on her career and ends up getting married. More years pass, but when Hae-sung makes the decision to come to New York City and requests to see Nora, it appears some things haven’t changed.

The film touched a lot of audiences, and it feels like a movie that audiences need now more than ever. Two-time Oscar nominee Past Lives is much needed in today’s world — here’s why.

Update February 5, 2024: Past Lives is a very somber Valentine’s Day pick, but one that might be needed so in honor of the holiday and Past Lives Oscar nominations, this article has been updated with more reasons why the movie is so important.

Past Lives

Past Lives

Release Date
August 31, 2023

Celine Song

Slowing Down and Reflecting on the What-Ifs

Nora and Hae-sung in Past Lives

One of the core concepts behind Past Lives is a Korean one. Nora, when hitting on her husband at a writing retreat, brings up the Korean word inyeon. It is essentially a form of fate that people are meant to meet in this life, continuing a cycle from their past lives. It can be a piece of fabric rubbing against each other as they walk past on the street, or a more intimate conversation — that’s inyeon. So, when Hae-sung comes back into Nora’s life so many years later, it becomes a question of inyeon what will happen next.

Then, Nora must grapple with the decisions she made, especially as her husband brings up a small insecurity that he might not be enough for her in the end, especially as Hae-sung is now in town. He thinks he cannot compete with her first love, and they have to reaffirm their emotions for each other before this could potentially undo their marriage. In life, some people can easily become consumed by the what-ifs of a situation, and in Past Lives’ ending, there still isn’t any true closure for the two of them. The film acknowledges the existence of hardships in life and highlights the very real and relatable process of letting certain situations, feelings, ideas, or even people go. While it offers space for all of this, the story always reminds the audience that the pain of moving on from a past love, in this case, is allowed to take center stage, even if a new partner is involved.

Related: Past Lives: This K-Drama Has a Deeper Meaning That Most Fans Missed

Past Lives is for those who like to chew on philosophical connections between people, situations, and places. One of the more obvious aspects of slowing down is the passage of time throughout the movie; it begins when Hae-sung and Nora are children, still in their local school, and ends over a decade later. The movie dances between Korean and English dialogue, and the vast majority of its movement occurs through conversation. Despite this, a thousand words could easily be seen in the acting, as there’s an incredible amount of tension between Hae-sung and Nora whenever they appear together on-screen. But still, they take their time to move through scenes, enjoying each other’s presence while it lasts.

Emotional Lessons in Simplicity

Greta Lee as Nora, Teo Yoo as Hae Sung, and John Magaro as Arthur at dinner talking at the bar in Past Lives

Past Lives isn’t intended to be a visual rollercoaster throughout; the cinematography is gorgeous and subtle as the film progresses through scenes. When Hae-sung heads to study abroad in Shanghai, depressed because Nora ended things for the first time, the world of Shanghai is dark, lit up by neon lights. The juxtaposition between the Asian cities in the film — Seoul and Shanghai — and New York City quite literally implies a split emotionally and mentally between the two. At one point, Nora even mentions how she only speaks Korean to her mother anymore, yet Hae-sung is shown to struggle deeply with English when in New York.

Sometimes, when it comes to the kinds of movies we consume as viewers, we don’t need all the flashy extras. There’s a lot that can be told simply through great direction, captivating camera movements and shots, and acting, and the world simply doesn’t need a lot of flashy things for certain kinds of stories. Past Lives is endearing not only because so many people can relate to the subject it dwells on throughout the film, but also how it manages to capture the mundane in such a beautiful way.

With long shots, it conveys a sense of suspense and builds on the connection between the characters in an intimate way. Instead of jumping from one scene to the next, the camera sits on the interactions between the characters and allows for a real development of their conversations. This is a decade-long reunion in the making, and the subtle approach of filming with long, sometimes even awkward moments manages to really capture human nature and the hardships of life.

A Modern Take on Romance

Past Lives
CJ ENM/Killer Films

One glance at the cover of Past Lives is enough to understand that some sort of romance is the foundation of the story. This might lead many to draw an early conclusion, thinking that the typical romance tropes have been brought back onto the screen yet again. However, Past Lives finally offers a new, more modern approach, which brings fresh air into a dangerously dusty genre. Romance movies have become popular with their, at this point, overused melodrama and often unsettling move of adding a villain into the story. The idea behind this is to clearly add more tension to a relationship in which certain issues might have already surfaced and allow for the audience to be captivated by heartbreak and negativity, maybe even by feeding into their own fears.

Past Lives put this approach to the side and delivered a relatable, straight-out-of-life situation. The connection between Nora, Arthur, and Hae-sung is not only intimate, but it is also realistic. While the constellation of a married couple and an old lover is a familiar one, the film offers a new perspective by refraining from falling straight back into the common villain trope. Arthur could be seen as the one who stands between real, undying love and would certainly work well as the great obstacle for Nora and Hae-sung to reunite, but instead, Nora’s husband unexpectedly calls out this presumed role and puts an end to a negative vibe even before it had the chance to seethe through the story.

Related: Past Lives’ Oscar Snubs Are Bigger Than Barbie’s

The film puts three characters at the center of this love story, introduces each of them, and highlights their relatable trains of thought. Their fears, hopes, and feelings carry the film with such ease, even though the unspoken words between Nora and Hae-sung keep the suspense going from the beginning all the way to the end of the film. There is so much intimacy and genuine human nature in Nora, Arthur, and Hae-sung’s story that there is no room for ill wishes. The viewers are bestowed with a masterpiece, which blurs the line between what happens on the screen and what takes place in real life since many will be able to actually understand the characters’ situation and feel drawn to the arguably open ending.

Above anything else, Past Lives finally takes on the much-needed approach of putting a love story on the screen that doesn’t necessarily have a happy ending. Many other romance films come to an exaggerated conclusion of firework love with a happy ever after, but this isn’t real life. Real life is full of hardships and difficult decisions, and Past Lives reflects just that. The story feels mature and intimate in the sense that it is calm while still dealing with a load of uncertainty. It allows the audience to genuinely connect with characters who truly reflect how life sometimes takes unexpected and overwhelming turns and shows that there is a certain grace in allowing for tough conversations to be held and emotions to be shared.

At the end of the day, one could say art reflects real life. Past Lives, although some of the viewers probably cannot relate to the specific cultural elements unique to the Korean peninsula, is a reminder of what we lost and what we gain from leaving others and places behind. Inyeon may be a Korean word, but it is a simple conclusion many people can draw when they have a sense of déjà vu, or feel comfortable settling into a routine with someone they haven’t seen in months or years. It’s these kinds of movies that are much needed to remind us of broader lessons of what it means to be human and the possibilities that come with such an exploration of the self.

Stream Past Lives on FuboTV and Showtime or rent on AppleTV+, Google Play, Vudu, or Prime Video.

Want to learn more about Past Lives? Check out our video breaking down the film’s heartbreaking ending here.

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by Xtreme HD IPTV

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