Life is a tapestry of choices and paths not taken.
What if? A seemingly innocuous pair of words, yet they often bear the weight of a lifetime's worth of pondering. What if I had chosen differently? What if you had stayed? What if we were destined for one another in a different life? Past Lives, the directorial debut of Celine Song, delves into these contemplations, weaving a narrative of connection, longing, and reconciliation. As the centerpiece feature at the San Francisco International Film Festival, Timid Magazine is treated to a preview of the film, followed by a Q&A with Song and lead actress Greta Lee, who portrays Nora Moon. While Past Lives skillfully navigates the realm of "what if" scenarios, at its heart lies a deeper introspection on acceptance and moving forward.
Past Lives is a profound exploration of love, fate, and the connections that bind us, transcending cultural and temporal boundaries. The film’s delicately constructed narrative follows the poignant journey of two childhood friends, Nora and Hae-sung (played by Teo Yoo), who find themselves reunited twice after a span of 12 years. It probes deeply into the characters' interiority and peels back layers of decisions that have shaped their existences, or the lives they might have lived.
As I waited for the film to start, I had little idea of the introspective journey I was about to embark on. Unbeknownst to me, Past Lives was not just a film, but a reflective surface, mirroring my own history of relationships over the past few years—the ones I had newly formed, the ones I had strengthened, and the ones I had let go. These connections, regardless of their magnitude, form the essence of Past Lives, as it beautifully unravels the nuanced concept of In-Yun. When I spoke with Song, she thoughtfully described In-Yun as “the feeling of fatedness or the connections that we have with one another. For example, the feeling of someone brushing up against you. Or even this interview we’re having.” According to Song, these are moments of In-Yun. They may not be as strong as the In-Yun between spouses or family members, but they’re still connections. Song adds, “Even a small connection can have reverberations or histories beyond this life.” And indeed, it's in these everyday moments of our lives where our encounters can create meaningful ripples that lead to profound outcomes. Past Lives is a slow-burn film that makes you contemplate the different life paths you've taken and could have taken as you watch the characters navigate their own decisions.
At its core, Past Lives elegantly traverses time and space, illuminating various forms of In-Yun through the intricate dynamics between Nora, her partner, Arthur (played by John Magaro), and Hae-sung. From the initial scene, we, as the audience, are drawn in, both as observers and active participants. Viewing the trio from across the bar, we find ourselves debating their relationships. This curiosity sets the narrative in motion as we travel back in time to Korea, where we meet a young Nora and Hae-sung. In these tender moments of their youth, we glimpse the possibilities of a blossoming romance, only for Hae-sung—and us—to discover that Nora is about to emigrate to Canada. As the story progresses, we bear witness to rekindled bonds, newly formed ties, and missed connections that weave the complex fabric of these characters' lives. At the crux of their journey, Nora, Hae-sung, and Arthur find themselves at a crossroad, compelled to make decisions that will define how they view love and their relationships in the present and beyond.