Movie Room Review: Past Lives

past lives
Directed by: Celine Song
Stars: Greta Lee, Teo Yoo and John Magaro
Studio: A24
Running time: 1h 45m
‘Past Lives’ A24 trailer

How would you react, or feel, meeting your first love after 20+ years of physical and emotional distance? This is what Nora (Greta Lee) had to confront when her past materialized from her childhood Korea. Twenty years earlier, she was a little girl hanging out in the park with her best friend Hae Sung (Teo Yoo). Suddenly, Korea wasn’t good enough for her writer family, and they did what writers and artists do, move away to feel that their work means something.

Nora embraces the new adventure, not looking back to see her best friend’s broken heart. Ten years later she discovers that Hae Sung has been looking for her and she reaches out. They pick up from where they left off with late-night and early-morning video chats, and playful texts throughout the day until Nora leaves again.

She finds love, gets married, and creates a whole life for herself in New York. But as the universe often does with unfinished business, Hae Sung comes back, this time at her doorstep. The result of this meetup is why this film is an indie masterpiece.

Forget what you think this movie is. It’s not a long-lost lovers reunite kind of film. It’s an internal exposition of self with some serious questions about connections to the past. Nora’s question isn’t just about Hae Sung, but her missed love affair with her home land.

She is Korean and feels Korean. But director/writer Celine Song adds a looming layer of what it is like to be an immigrant and to shamelessly integrate. Not only does Nora love living in New York, but she marries a white guy, Arthur, who at one point even tells her he should be the ‘bad guy’ of the story.

When Hae Sung comes to meet her, that is her past, asking the question. The trio Greta Lee, Teo Yoo, and John Magaro have done a masterful job of bringing the audience to that point of understanding what Past Lives is. Greta with her cheeky smile and an ambition that lacks any offputting qualities of an investment banker. Teo is the shy, but determined character who acts as the constant little voice in Nora’s existence. And, what turned out to be my favorite, John Magaro is electric as his role of ‘the husband’ and what that means. What a surprise that he doesn’t turn out to be a villain or a two-dimensional chess piece.

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