Past Lives: Heartbreaking portrait of affection and ambition, America and Korea, contentment and compromise

To me, Past Lives just isn’t a romantic movie. It’s a coming-of-age story, the place two people come of age twice, at 12, 24, and 36 respectively. In all three situations, they stick with the identical sample — draw shut to one another, realise that the opposite is all they have been lacking all by way of, after which separating like they did the primary time round. As they get older, they solely get extra expert at concealing their emotions, as a substitute of coming to phrases with them, as adults ought to.

Past Lives is now streaming on Lionsgate Play

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Love vs ambition

Celine Song’s directorial is not the primary movie to handle the battle between love and ambition by any stretch. Yet, it appears contemporary due to how understanding the yin and the yang are of one another’s energies. The movie begins with 12-year-old Nora and Hae Sung strolling again from college in South Korea. When their path forks, and Nora tilts in the direction of the steps she has to take, Hae lastly breaks the silence and asks her why she’s not speaking to him. She stays mum, just for Hae to level out that it is the solely time he scored greater marks than her.

This units the very tone of their lifelong relationship: she’s relentlessly bold and a sulker when she does not have it her method, and he is the extra confrontational of the 2, demanding that his emotions be reciprocated. As Nora migrates along with her mother and father to New York for a ‘better life,’ Hae Sung has no possibility however to sulk in silence. He cannot cease Nora, as a result of she needs to go, however he is once more the one to interrupt the silence and never depart his goodbyes unsaid when the 2 take their separate paths.

Seoul vs New York

‘Twelve years cross’. That’s what the textual content throughout the display says. Not ‘12 years later,’ as a result of ‘passing’ is related to an inevitable fluidity, like time spent away from dwelling. Nora, performed by Greta Lee, is now dwelling the American dream as a struggling playwright in New York. Hae Sung is pursuing engineering in a prime faculty in South Korea. Greta right here is in full Stella mode, her character from Apple TV’s The Morning Show. Aggressively bold, she’ll give it her all to safe her area within the crowded New York.

When the 2 regain contact by way of the web and spend extra time alive on Skype than IRL, they rediscover the lacking piece of themselves. He reminds her of the little 12-year-old woman she was, bold like a dreamer, and never like a hustler. And she reminds him of a time when dwelling felt homier.

Cinematographer Shabier Kirchner lights their respective areas in a method that they by no means share the identical grade of color. She’s at all times scuffling with sleep throughout late hours of evening, bathed within the cinematic but artificial yellow lamp mild; and he seems contemporary within the soothing pure mild of the day. When she begins giving up on sleep and waking up early morning to be able to meet his time zone, she realises how her craving for her previous life is getting in the way in which of her future one.

They resolve to take a break. She firmly says it is sensible. He reluctantly says it is a good suggestion.

Contentment vs compromise

Twelve years cross. Nora is now married to a fellow author. Maybe that is her method of surrounding herself with who she needs to be: American, artistic, and striving to achieve success professionally. He’s part of the American dream bundle: one which makes her overlook her compromise. But when he tells her that she nonetheless desires in Korean, she dismisses it by saying, “I must be talking mostly gibberish.”

Hae Sung comes on the lookout for Nora in New York, regardless of realizing she’s married. He asks her if she nonetheless needs to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, the rationale she claimed emigrate from South Korea in childhood, or is it the Pulitzer, as she claimed after attending to New York. Nora jokes it is now a Tony Award, suggesting that she’s been compromising not solely by dwelling away from dwelling, but in addition on her American dream, which will get diluted daily.

After the 2 have a heart-to-heart at a bar as her husband seems on, sitting in addition to them, Hae always tries to probe Nora in regards to the what ifs, making an attempt to get her to succumb. But with a steely entrance, Nora tackles all the chances with a shrug. That’s when Hae reveals her the mirror and says, “I know it’s not your fault. You’re just someone who always leaves.”

When Nora is seeing him off and ready for his Uber, they share no phrases. Just like they did not again within the first scene, when she’s about to depart South Korea. But this time, as a substitute of strolling silently facet by facet, they stare into one another’s eyes, at full peace with their choice, however with the latent gnawing ache of separation intact. He carries a suitcase, which has the identical darkish blue shade and uneven floor because the storage door in her background. He’s taking a little bit of her with him, but once more.

It’s solely within the last scene, when Nora walks casually again to her door, solely to have her husband ready to embrace her, that we see her cry her eyes out for the very first time. The breakdown is not simply an instinctive response to letting part of her go, however a symptom of the deep-seated concern of whether or not it will ever be again. She’s not crying due to the compromise – in spite of everything, she selected this life – however as a result of she does not know whether or not she’ll ever be as content material as she was in her previous life.

Past Lives is now streaming in India on Lionsgate Play.

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