Courtesy A24

Movie Review: Past Lives

09:26 July 03, 2023
By: Fritz Esker

Married Korean immigrant Nora (Greta Lee) experiences feelings of longing after reconnecting with Hae Sung (Teo Woo), her childhood friend from Korea, in writer-director Celine Song's new romantic drama Past Lives.

Nora's family left South Korea for Canada when she was only 12. In her twenties and now in New York City, Nora reconnects with her best friend from Korea on social media. Many online video chats ensue until one day Hae Sung announces he is coming to visit her in New York. Old emotions are stirred, but these feelings are complicated by the fact that Nora is happily married to Arthur (John Magaro).

Movies like these depend heavily on us liking the main characters. Song's script, aided by Lee and Woo's performances, succeeds in this regard. The script also avoids easy characterizations and simple solutions. Arthur behaves in a completely understandable and human way in response to Hae Sung's visit - polite and friendly but clearly a little worried his wife might be contemplating leaving him. And neither Arthur nor Hae Sung behave rudely or badly to each other. No one's made into a villain.

There's also a complexity to how the film looks at Nora and Hae Sung's relationship. Yes, there's feelings of what might have been between the two leads. But there's also an understanding that part of the reason they still feel such a pull towards each other is they remind each other of the children they once were and never will be again. They're chasing a feeling they'll never recapture.

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