May 22, 2024 Breaking News, Latest News, and Videos

Film Review: Past Lives

FILM REVIEW
PAST LIVES
Rated PG-13
105 Minutes
Limited Releases June 2nd and June 9th, Full Release June 23rd

The Korean concept of “In Yeon” is the heart of this film, a beautifully made movie written and directed by playwright/filmmaker Celine Song. Song was born in South Korea to artist parents. Her family emigrated to Canada when she was twelve, and she went on to earn her MFA in playwriting from Columbia. She now lives in New York City with her husband. Several of her plays have been produced, and she landed her first TV writing job on Amazon’s The Wheel of Time. Past Lives, her first feature film as a writer/director, premiered at Sundance in January 2023.

Song wrote this story largely from her own experience of loneliness, leaving her life and culture behind as a youth.  “In Yeon” is a guiding belief in Korean culture and philosophy, the belief that relationships are part of our destiny. The concept, similar to the Asian-Buddhist-Hindu belief in past lives, can be awe-inspiring in that it suggests that you are connected through history to thousands of lives before you. These relationships don’t have to be linked to love and romance – they can be friends, family, species connections, spirit connections, and everything in your life that you are tied to. It’s the idea that all living things are connected through past, present, and future. The person you meet on the street, you may have known in a past life. Even if you balk at believing in previous lives, this story will inspire you to really “see” all the strangers around you, suggesting that thousands of lives throughout history have come together in a moment of time to cause two people to meet – the idea that life is a recurring story which is part in the moment, part memory and part hope for the future. The film will bring up recollections of past acquaintances and a deep sadness for losing touch with friendships.

Song’s directing style is informed yet simple, and she effectively shows the characters at different ages. She created this story from her own personal experience, kept it simple, and let the characters speak for themselves. It works. The flashbacks add depth rather than interference because we are introduced to our protagonists as children in the beginning. The sense of place is vivid and plays a major part in the relationships as they move through Seoul, Montauk, and New York City.

The actors are remarkable. Greta Lee, who was born and raised in a Korean household in Los Angeles, plays “Nora.” You may recognize her from Russian Doll and The Morning Show. “: Hae Sung” is portrayed by Teo Yoo, who is Korean but was born and raised in Cologne, Germany. John Magaro, who plays “Arthur” is a seasoned actor whom you may have seen in The Big Short, Carol, Orange Is the New Black, First Cow, and Big George Foreman.

In the US and Canada, those who are not indigenous are descended from immigrants, many of whom left behind childhood places and friends, moving from another country or culture. Those who are indigenous often have stories of forced displacement in their history. We are all in a very mobile culture, often moving through multiple locations in our lives. To me, in yeon is reflected in the popular song by Canadian artist Talk, who asks lyrically, “What If I run away to Mars? Would you find me in the stars? Would you miss me in the end if I run out of oxygen…” Talk is reaching out for connection here, for in yeon.

Kathryn Whitney Boole has spent most of her life in the entertainment industry, which has been the backdrop for remarkable adventures with extraordinary people.  She is a Talent Manager with Studio Talent Group in Santa Monica. kboole@gmail.com

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