Wednesday, June 19, 2024


Film: Past Lives
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on basement television.

My default genres are science fiction and horror more than anything else. This blog is testament to the fact that I don’t shy away from much and definitely don’t from any specific genre, but most of my comfort movies are in those genres. Because of that, I don’t spend a lot of time watching what amounts to a fairly melodramatic Korean drama like Past Lives. Still, this was nominated for two Oscars that I care about, so I knew I would be getting to it sooner or later. I found it at a local library and I’m right on the edge of some off-time, so I figured now was a good time to give it a watch.

This is not a complicated movie. That doesn’t mean that it’s not a good one, but it’s worth saying that it is a very simple story, one that is easy to follow and understand, and importantly, one that is very easy to relate to. Anyone who has any level of introspection in their life at all has lived through some level of plot, even if only mentally and emotionally.

The basic story is this—we have two young kids, Na Young (Seung Ah Moon) and Hae Sung (Seung Min Yim) have a sort of puppy love relationship. In school, Na Young tends to be the one who wins academic competitions with Hae Sung coming in second. They’re a natural couple, but Na Young and her family move to Canada, leaving the relationship behind. Na Young changes her name to Nora (and is now played by Greta Lee) while Hae Sung (now played by Teo Yoo) stays in Korea.

Twelve years pass and Nora learns that Hae Sung is looking for her on Facebook, and she reaches out to him. They begin Skype calling each other regularly and more or less rekindling their relationship, albeit across thousands of miles. After some time of this, Nora decides to temporarily pull the plug on the relationship, wanting to focus on the life that she is building in New York as a writer. At the same time, Hae Sung is heading to China to work on his Mandarin skills, so the break seems a logical one, and Nora promises that it will be only temporary.

But it’s not a short break. Twelve more years go by. In that time, Nora has meet a man named Arthur (John Magaro), and Hae Sung has a girlfriend as well. In those twelve years, Hae Sung’s relationship ends, but Nora marries Arthur. Wanting to see what happens, or get closure, Hae Sung goes to New York to meet Nora, and a few things come out in the relationships. Arthur harbors fears that Nora married him for a green card and that she will eventually run off with Hae Sung, her original soulmate.

Past Lives focuses a great deal on the concept of Inyeon, the idea of repeated connections over a series of lives. The idea is that people are drawn together by a supernatural force of some sort, one that causes them to be a part of each other’s experience in life after life and reincarnation after reincarnation. Strike up a conversation with the person sitting next to you in a bar and Inyeon suggests that you had some connection in a previous life, which caused the connection in this life. Repeated connections only get stronger over time, and after many lifetimes of connections, soulmates can essentially be created.

And that really is the story—Hae Sung wonders where he and Nora might be on that cycle of Inyeon or if different choices had been made, what their lives might be like. If her family hadn’t emigrated to Canada, would they have dated, fallen in love, and gotten married? Would they still be in Korea, and happy? Would they have kids?

Anyone who has even a modicum of an inner life has asked this question of their own life and experiences. Where would you be if you’d taken one job over another, gone or not gone on a particular trip, struck up a conversation with a different person. This is the butterfly effect writ not large, but personally. All of us can point to a random decision that had huge repercussions in their lives down the line. A random conversation I had with a customer when I worked at a Cinnabon (don’t judge me) led me to a different job, which introduced me to a particular guy, who alerted me to an opening at a company that got me my first professional job. Taking a journalism class on a whim put me in a classroom with the person who I’d eventually marry.

And that’s all Past Lives is. It’s not at all the first movie to explore this idea, but it’s the one that probably touches on it with the most tenderness and care. It’s uncomplicated, and a story that isn’t going to shake the rafters, but it’s a story that anyone can easily see themselves in, and for that, it’s a rare thing, indeed.

Why to watch Past Lives: It’s entirely relatable.
Why not to watch: Despite its world-trotting aspirations, it’s a very small story.


  1. I liked this film though my only gripe about was when I was watching it on Amazon Prime. The captioning and subtitles tend to come in at the same time and it kind of killed my enjoyment of the film. I still think it's amazing though it's not as great as many claim it is to be.

    1. I think it's very good for what it is. It's sweet and poignant, and sometimes, that's really all you need.

  2. I thought this was a really sweet movie. Definitely a smaller story, but I fell in love.

    1. I agree. I was very pleased to be able to see it.