Past Lives review: Celine Song's story of love and fate will move you beyond measure

The A24 film is out in cinemas now

Greta Lee and Teo Yoo in Past Lives (A24)
Greta Lee and Teo Yoo in Past Lives (A24)
  • 🎞️ When is Past Lives out in cinemas: 7 September, 2023

  • ⭐️ Our rating: 5/5

  • 🎭 Who's in it? Greta Lee, Teo Yoo, John Magaro

  • 👍 What we liked: Celine Song's script, the subtle yet powerful visuals and the chemistry between Greta Lee and Teo Yoo.

  • 👎 What we didn't: As it is an arthouse film, some viewers may lose patience for the narrative.

  • 📖 What's it about? When childhood friends Nora and Hae-sung reconnect after decades apart they contemplate the notion of love and destiny.

Past Lives often asks the question 'what if?', which is something that characters Nora (Greta Lee) and Hae-sung (Teo Yoo) wonder after being separated by circumstances out of their control.

The pair were childhood friends in South Korea but they lost touch when Nora and her family immigrated to Canada. It takes them 12 years to find each other again thanks to social media, and another 12 until they are able to see each other in person by which point Nora is married to Arthur (John Magaro).

Read more: The most exciting movies still to come in 2023

Writer and director Celine Song based the narrative around her own experiences as a Korean-Canadian, as an immigrant, and her own reconnection with someone from her childhood, and has created a thoughtful and incredibly moving story of love, loss, and friendship.

Teo Yoo and Greta Lee in Past Lives (A24)
Teo Yoo and Greta Lee in Past Lives (A24)

Past Lives is named after the Korean concept of fate, called In-yun, which is the belief that two people will have such a deep connection with each other that it will traverse time, and they will find each other again in every lifetime.

Read more: Celine Song on How Making ‘Past Lives’ Led Her to Fall “So Hard in Love With Filmmaking” (The Hollywood Reporter)

In-yun is the perfect way to describe Nora and Hae-sung's relationship, they feel like they were always meant to be together and Lee and Yoo are utterly captivating in their respective roles, making these people, and their connection, feel real.

Teo Yoo and Greta Lee in Past Lives (A24)
Teo Yoo and Greta Lee in Past Lives (A24)

The actors convey so much with a single look. Even in scenes where they say nothing at all, the audience will understand everything that is going through their head thanks to their performances, and it is also a testament to Song's skills as a writer and director.

What other critics thought of Past Lives:

The Telegraph: This wondrous debut is the finest love story of the year

Variety: Celine Song’s Understated Sundance Stunner Will Have Art-House Audiences Swooning

Every scene feels deliberate, every word essential, and the visuals that Song incorporates adds countless layers to the characters and their relationships, not only between Hae-sung and Nora, but for her and Arthur as well.

Teo Yoo, Greta Lee and John Magaro in Past Lives (A24)
Teo Yoo, Greta Lee and John Magaro in Past Lives (A24)

There is a moment in the film where Arthur says Nora and Hae-sung's connection would make the perfect story and he is just "the white man standing in the way", and it's true that the audience will see him in that way despite Nora's clear devotion to him.

It's a scene that shows the cleverness of Song's writing and the amount of thought she has put into telling this story, and it's also why the movie is so effective because Song has such a strong grasp of the story and what it is meant to convey.

It is beautiful how Song approaches each chapter in Nora and Hae-sung's story in Past Lives. It's told in an understated way, but even if it is subtle and quiet, this is a love story that will move you beyond measure.

Past Lives is out in cinemas now.

Watch the trailer for Past Lives