- Director Celine Song weaves a delicate drapery of human connection, tracing the intertwined lives of two 12-year-old childhood friends.
Written and directed by Celine Song, “Past Lives” is a tender and evocative exploration of natural bonds formed during childhood. The unfathomable loss experienced by breaking of childhood ties. The loneliness and void of adulthood. The relentless passage of time. The ceaseless quest for connecting with a soulmate. The “other half” of ourselves, who will accept and love us unconditionally.
I am deeply indebted to Celine Song, who has made us realize so much more than she intended to share in her directorial debut feature film. Song weaves a delicate drapery of human connection, tracing the intertwined lives of two 12-year-old childhood friends who come together in the playground of life in Seoul, Korea, only to separate, when one of them moves to New York City.
I can see my own “girl-child” in the powerful performance of Seung Ah Moon as young Nora (then called Na Young) — a “sensitive crybaby” who finds comfort in the gentle companionship of Hae Sung, portrayed by the sincere Min Yim.
As the two protagonists navigate their lives across passing decades and far-flung continents, they are bound by the undying echoes of childhood memory and grown-up longing.
“Past Lives” is bittersweet in its rendition. Very much like life experienced by sensitive souls. When they reconnect after several years over the internet, their life is punctuated by great sorrow, ebullient joy, and quiet reflection. Should they meet? Should they reconnect? Can they turn back to their time in Seoul and snuggle into the “comfort” of their past lives? But they have changed.
After seven years the 12-year-old is now known as an accomplished artist Nora Moon played by Greta Lee with deeply anguished eyes. Moon’s life is with her husband Arthur (John Magaro), whose quiet presence serves as the proverbial Rock of Gibraltar in an ever-changing world. After all, there is a reason Na Young is with her writer husband because as per Korean folklore, she shares 8,000 layers of In-Yun (fate). I loved his performance as a secure spouse who is learning Korean just so he can comprehend what his wife is saying in her sleep. Not to cross-examine her or to spy on her but to be able to love her more.
Song’s screenplay is a masterclass in restraint. As Na Young and the sincere Hae Sung (played by Teo Yoo with a gaze that lingers longer on vast horizons) navigate the complexities of love and loss, their conversations brim with a quiet intensity, each word, each gesture laden with unspoken longing and regret.
I found myself clinging to the unspoken silences between the words, the spaces between the rare moments when their arms hold each other in an embrace… only to separate and perhaps meet again in another life. The movie reignited the hurt of separation from childhood friends, cousins, teachers, grandmothers, pets, and my kindred souls: my son… my father… my mother. The compelling quest of belonging.
In a world consumed by the noise and distraction of social media, this semi-autobiographical tale is a quiet, meditative tug on our consciousness of the undeniable appeal of human connection. The fleeting nature of love. The enduring beauty of the human essence. The unbearable lightness of being.
“Past Lives” is an important feature film to watch with family, share with children, and muse upon the elusive meaning in moments of solitude. The lyrical storytelling flows like an ancient ballad of love and loss. Simple Heartfelt performances, and stunning cinematography by Shabier Kirchner’s cinematography from the two roads the kids take, (one high, and one low) remind me of Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Less Traveled.”
The limited palette, and artistic frames of the kids peeping out through a “play house.” Their smiles and the uncomplicated happiness that permeates their being endow the film with a dreamlike quality, brushing each scene with warmth and intimacy from the bustling streets of Seoul to the tranquil shores of Montauk.
“Past Lives” is a visual feast that lingers in the mind long after the credits roll, illuminating the world around us.
With one foot in Huntsville, Alabama, the other in her birth home India, and a heart steeped in humanity, writing is a contemplative practice for Monita Soni. She has published hundreds of poems, movie reviews, book critiques, and essays and contributed to combined literary works. Her two books are My Light Reflections and Flow through My Heart. You can hear her commentaries on Sundial Writers Corner WLRH 89.3FM.