The student news of St. Paul Academy and Summit School

The Rubicon

The student news of St. Paul Academy and Summit School

The Rubicon

The student news of St. Paul Academy and Summit School

The Rubicon

[COUNTDOWN TO OSCARS] Past Lives explores unrequited love in its simple, yet profound plot

SPEAKING WITH THEIR EYES. Greta Lee (Nora Moon) and Teo Yoo (Hae Sung) do a spectcular job of conveying their emotions from their body language and expressions. (Screenshot from offical Past Lives trailer)

Though Past Lives is not as well known as the giants Barbie or Oppenheimer, director Celine Song’s debut is a simple yet profound story, that will leave viewers sobbing at the end.

It all starts with a date. Twelve-year-old Na Young (Seung Ah Moon) and her childhood sweetheart of the same age, Hae Sung (Seung Min Yim), go on a date set up by their parents. Na Young’s mother asks her who she fancies at school, and Na Young tells her about Hae Sung. Their mothers take them to a park where they play among the sculptures in the rain. The reason is that Na Young’s mother wants to create good memories for her daughter before they leave. Shortly after, Na Young’s family emigrates to Toronto, Na Young and Hae Sung lose contact. Na Young also changes her name to Nora Moon. The grown up Nora Moon (Greta Lee) moves to New York, where she pursues writing, and also meets and falls in love with her husband, Arthur (John Magaro).

Hae Sung (Teo Yoo) contacts Nora and the pair meet again at a park in New York two decades later. Arthur expresses his fear to Nora that she might leave him to be with Hae Sung, but Nora affirms that she chose to be with Arthur, not Hae Sung.

While most films rely on soundtracks to bridge narrative or fill silence, the lack of music is striking: the soundtrack exists solely in the ambient sound of the city. Cars and trucks pass by; wind rustles the trees. The natural ebb and flow of city life draws attention to the actors’ body language and facial expressions. Creating this chemistry was an essential part of the filmmaking process.

Song purposefully did not allow Magaro and Yoo to meet in person until the very scene in the movie when Hae Sung and Arthur meet for the first time. This separation made that scene even more natural, as Magaro and Yoo were meeting for the first time in real life.

The unique connection between Moon and Sung is amplified by language: they only speak Korean to each other. Nora’s continual switching between English when she is with Arthur (her husband) and Korean when she is with Hae Sung makes us feel this stark contrast between her identity and how she is trying to navigate those two sides of herself. In fact, in an interview, Lee talks about how she was afraid to take this role in the first place because she was not sure if her Korean was good enough. Lee is the daughter of South Korean immigrants, and she was born in Los Angeles. She grew up speaking Korean as a first language, but as she assimilated into American culture, she lost some of the language. Just like Nora. When she and Hae Sung reconnect and talk more, she becomes more comfortable speaking in Korean after being out of practice for many years.

But that is the point the movie is trying to make; it is not about who Nora ends up with, but the complicated yet profound relationship she has with both men.

The core of the film is the concept of fate, or “Inyeon,” but it is a little more complicated than that. Inyeon refers to the relationships between people, and the nature of the relationship shows how the people might have been connected in their past lives. Nora and Hae Sung have wonderful chemistry, leaving one thinking that maybe it is their destiny to be together. Then again, Nora and Arthur also have a beautiful relationship in the movie. It begs the question, “Who do we root for?”
But that is the point the movie is trying to make; it is not about who Nora ends up with, but the complicated yet profound relationship she has with both men.

Past Lives has been nominated for Best Motion Picture of the Year and Best Original Screenplay at the 2024 Oscars. Beautiful in its simplicity, the film explores the idea of destiny and how things may or may not meant to be. Perfect for viewers who want to take a moment for themselves and seek refuge in this tranquil story of building love and trust through strong relationships, this movie proves that a film does not have to have a star-studded cast, a two-hundred-million-dollar budget, or dramatic plot twists to be worthy of an Oscar.

Rating: ★★★★★

Leave a Comment
More to Discover
About the Contributor
Nabeeha Qadri
Nabeeha Qadri, Staff Writer
My name is Nabeeha Qadri (she/her). I work as a Staff Writer for The Rubicon, RubicOnline, and Ibid yearbook. At school, I’m involved in tennis, Science Alliance, the Muslim Student Affinity group, and USC. I love to play piano, violin and ukulele, and spend time with family and friends. I can be reached at [email protected].

Comments (0)

Comments are welcomed on most stories at The Rubicon online. The Rubicon hopes this promotes thoughtful and meaningful discussion. We do not permit or publish libel or defamatory statements; comments that advertise or try to sell to the community; any copyrighted, trademarked or intellectual property of others; the use of profanity. Comments will be moderated, but not edited, and will post after they are approved by the Director of RubicOnline.  It is at the discretion of the staff to close the comments option on stories.
All The Rubicon Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.