Past Lives (2023) Review: The Conflict between Nostalgia and the Future

Compelling, thought-provoking, beautiful to watch
  • 8

“You’re dreaming in a language that I can’t understand. It’s like there’s this whole place inside of you where I can’t go.”

I’ve watched Past Lives (2023) for the first time a few weeks ago, at Union Film, and I don’t think I could handle seeing it for the second time. It’s a film that makes you rethink all the choices that led you to where you are now, and think of: what if?

The story follows Na Young (Greta Lee) and Hae Sung (Teo Yoo), two childhood friends reuniting after decades, following her emigration from South Korea to Canada, where Na Young chose to go by the name Nora Moon. It follows their friendship over the course of twenty-four years, where the changes in the dynamic of the relationships are shown – drifting apart, changing, and growing. Separating at the age of twelve, reuniting twelve years later, only to lose the contact and come together again at the age of thirty-six.

By the time they meet again, Nora is married to Arthur Zaturansky (John Magaro), who she met at a writer’s retreat in Montauk.

“You make my world so much bigger, and I’m wondering if I do the same for you?”

Hae Sung, Nora and Arthur all get together at one point. The conversation between them is very personal, real and raw, however since it occurs in Korean, Arthur is left on the outside of it. Though he took his time to learn Korean for her over the years, he still struggled to follow their conversation, which the viewer stays aware of. It shows the contrast between Nora’s relationship with the two: nostalgia, and present time.

As a person who emigrated the country at a young age, and is dating someone who was born and grew up here, I felt this film on many levels. The homesickness and nostalgia of who you once were, and who you could be if you never moved. Seeing it with my partner also helped me understand his struggle when at times I’m speaking in my mother language around him out of necessity, and he struggles with understanding, though he takes great care in learning it.

My only problem with the film was Nora’s indecisiveness, and lack of dedication to her relationship with Arthur. When he asked whether she’s attracted to Hae Sung, she answers with ‘I don’t think so’. It didn’t sit well with me, however, it may just be her reflection of relationship between her home country and where she currently lives (New York).

Celine Song, the director of the film, took the inspiration from her life events. She’s done fantastic job and I recommend the movie with my whole heart to anyone who hasn’t seen it yet – warning, it’s very easy to cry!


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