“The one that got away” can be both escapist fantasy, and very real in how formative that fantasy can be. Where so many stories, and particularly films, indulge the escapist fantasy, Past Lives is instead interested in considering how we can acknowledge the weight of the fantasy within the real lives with which we move on.
We begin at the end, as childhood sweethearts Na Young / Nora (Greta Lee) and Jung Hae Sung (Teo Yoo) reconnect as adults – alongside Nora’s husband, Arthur (John Magaro), before we take a round trip through their lifelong journey toward this point. Through sensitive performances, captured in Shabier Kirchner‘s gorgeous cinematography, we learn where these three are now, and how they honestly feel about it.
Writer-director Celine Song seems to be as interested in quiet vulnerability as she is confident that it is interesting for others to watch – and we’re all richer for it.
Past Lives never devolves into melodrama, but instead gives its characters time and space to gently express vulnerability with sincere, and in some moments enviable, emotional maturity.
In the current cinematic landscape, Past Lives might be considered the opposite of a multiverse movie: instead of visualising paths not taken, it sits with the ghosts of those paths in the here and now, rich with nuance and gentle ache for other people and the possibilities they represent. Ultimately, Past Lives is a patiently beautiful sonnet about simple, unadorned longing in circumstances which are no more and no less complicated than just life.