Movie review: ‘Past Lives’ is a gorgeous meditation on love, chance — and the choices we make

by Joshua Brown
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"Past Lives" film review

Movie Review: ‘Past Lives’ is a gorgeous meditation on love, chance — and the choices we make


“Past Lives” is a stunning and contemplative film that explores themes of love, chance, and the impact of our choices. Playwright Celine Song makes an impressive debut as both writer and director, delivering a universal yet intricately detailed story that captures our hearts. The film’s understated approach is both urgent and unhurried, allowing for a truly emotional experience that resonates with viewers.

A Heartfelt Encounter

In a brief moment, the film introduces us to a couple on the verge of being separated by an Uber ride. Their silent interaction on the street captivates us, showcasing Song’s confidence as a filmmaker. She chooses subtlety over flashiness, creating a powerful and relatable tale that tugs at our heartstrings. The absence of manipulation in eliciting emotions is refreshing, catching us off guard with unexpected tears.

Flashback to Seoul

The narrative begins in a New York bar, where three individuals engage in conversation. We are kept at a distance, unable to hear their words or grasp their connections. Speculation arises as to who they might be. The story then takes us back 24 years to Seoul, where we witness Nora (then known as Na Young) and her close friend Hae Sung as 12-year-olds. A rivalry over a school assignment threatens their friendship as Nora’s family prepares to move to Canada.

Twelve Years Later

Fast forward twelve years, and Nora, now an aspiring playwright named Greta Lee, resides in New York. Curiosity leads her to search for figures from her past, including Hae Sung, who had been seeking her as well. They reconnect through video chats, initially awkward but soon turning into daily conversations. Nora pursues her dreams in New York, while Hae Sung studies in Korea. Eventually, the distance takes its toll, and Nora calls for a break.

Rekindled Connections

During a writing residency, Nora meets Arthur, a fellow writer with whom she eventually marries. Twelve more years pass, and Nora unexpectedly receives a message from Hae Sung, who is coming to visit from Seoul. Their meeting in a city park lacks the rom-com flair one might expect, instead embracing the authentic and sometimes awkward moments found in real life. Nora’s husband, Arthur, feels a twinge of jealousy as he realizes Nora’s connection to her Korean roots.

Exploring Fate and Choices

As the story unfolds, the characters grapple with the unique circumstances they find themselves in. They discuss the concept of fate, a Korean belief that connections between people can be influenced by past lives. Song draws from her own experiences, incorporating elements from her life, including the bar scene and a similar encounter with a long-lost connection from Korea. The film underscores the notion that choices, even seemingly insignificant ones, have consequences that shape our life paths. Yet, it also suggests that different versions of our lives can coexist and hold value.

A Generous Perspective on Life

Through Nora’s perspective, the film presents a broad and inclusive view of what one life can encompass. She acknowledges the existence of her younger Korean self alongside her current New York persona, emphasizing that both versions are equally real. The beauty of “Past Lives” lies in its ability to evoke expansive and generous interpretations of our existence.


“Past Lives” is a thought-provoking and visually stunning film that delves into the complexities of love, chance, and the profound impact of our choices. Celine Song’s directorial debut showcases her mastery of storytelling, delivering a heartfelt narrative that feels both personal and universal. With its skillful balance of emotion and restraint, this film leaves a lasting impression on its audience

Q: What is the genre of the film “Past Lives”?

A: “Past Lives” can be categorized as a drama film, exploring themes of love, chance, and the impact of choices.

Q: Who is the director of “Past Lives”?

A: The film “Past Lives” is both written and directed by Celine Song.

Q: How long is the running time of “Past Lives”?

A: The running time of “Past Lives” is 106 minutes.

Q: What is the rating of “Past Lives”?

A: “Past Lives” has been rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) for some strong language.

Q: Is “Past Lives” based on a true story?

A: No, “Past Lives” is not based on a true story. However, the filmmaker, Celine Song, has drawn inspiration from her own life experiences.

Q: Can you provide a brief summary of “Past Lives”?

A: “Past Lives” is a beautiful and contemplative film that follows the story of Nora and her journey through love, choices, and the connections influenced by past lives. It explores the consequences of our actions and presents a generous perspective on life.

Q: What are some key themes explored in “Past Lives”?

A: “Past Lives” delves into themes such as love, chance, choices, fate, and the coexistence of different versions of one’s life.

Q: Are there any standout performances in “Past Lives”?

A: Greta Lee delivers a terrific and restrained performance as Nora, the film’s protagonist. Her portrayal captures the nuances and emotions of the character with great depth.

Q: How would you describe the overall tone and style of “Past Lives”?

A: “Past Lives” adopts an understated and contemplative tone, combining moments of emotional intensity with quiet and intimate scenes. The film’s style prioritizes authenticity and realism, allowing the audience to connect with the characters on a deep level.

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