Home Film & TV Past Lives: Demonstrates Power in the Silence & Impact of What is Unsaid

Past Lives: Demonstrates Power in the Silence & Impact of What is Unsaid

by Neil Bui

A24’s upcoming romantic drama, Past Lives, will leave you absolutely gutted by the last frame before the credits begin to roll. It is as much a story of closure as it is a story of discovery.

Celine Song’s directorial debut centers on the life of Nora played by actress Greta Lee, across three different points in time:

  1. 24 years before the present, during her childhood right before her family immigrated from South Korea to Canada
  2. 12 years before the present, as a young adult when she reconnects with her childhood friend Hae Sung (played by Teo Yoo) over the internet
  3. Present day, when she is wife to fellow author Arthur (played by John Magaro) and Hae Sung comes to visit her in New York

The film is based on a screenplay Song wrote, which is somewhat based on her own life experiences. And to the audience’s benefit, Song is able to weave Past Lives as a film that feels so real and personal, that it’s a story just as much about human experiences as it is about its characters. Unlike a typical romantic film, her dilemma isn’t rooted in romance or a choice about romance, but rather learning to process and live with complex emotions that are the result of the decisions she makes as a fully realized person. She understands what life is and how she should live hers. But it is in that space and freedom to just be, that each star’s performance shines – they’re able to show vulnerability and emotion without a traditional external conflict.

In addition to the beautifully written script by Song, she knows how to best utilize the silences. There are scenes with characters saying nothing which carry just as much weight as the dialogue of the film. When there are silences, just the sight of these characters interacting without speaking evokes so much tension as their emotions about their circumstances will tug at a viewer’s heartstrings. These moments demonstrate how the things that are not said can have an even larger impact than what is vocalized. It’s a lesson that Nora and Hae Sung clearly needed multiple attempts to fully learn.

While at first it may be natural to assume this is a film about relationships and love, it’s very much about a person’s relationship with their past, hence the title Past Lives. In contrast to last year’s A24 hit, the highly acclaimed Everything Everywhere All At Once, this film reminds us that real life doesn’t allow for multiverses or alternate timelines. We simply have to live with the decisions that we have made and accept the things we have given up in the past, while looking forward to what we may gain in our future.

Catch Past Lives in theaters beginning June 2, 2023.

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