Past Lives: The latest addition to the heart wrenching ‘In Another Life’ Cinematic Universe

by Ysabel Maranan

Celine Song’s Past Lives (2023) joins its contemporaries like La La Land (2016) in the way that it makes you want to rot in bed for three days straight and think about every person you have ever met and every decision you have ever made. In the best way possible.

This powerhouse of a film centres around the Korean Buddhist philosophy, ‘In-Yeon’, which believes that people are tied to one another by fate across past and next lives.

“It’s an in-yeon if two strangers even walk past each other on the street and their clothes accidentally brush, because it means there must have been something between them in their past lives. If two people get married, they say it’s because there have been eight thousand layers of in-yeon over eight thousand lifetimes.”


The film follows Nora (Greta Lee) from childhood in Korea to adulthood in New York City, exploring the relationship she shares with her childhood sweetheart Hae Sung (Teo Yoo). Over the course of 24 years, the two weave in and out of each other’s lives, both long distance and finally in person. Only now, Nora is married to her husband Arthur (John Magaro). But for me to review this story as merely a ‘love triangle’ would be so disrespectfully reductive.


It’s a love story, for sure, but Song’s screenplay does not once fall flat in its depiction of the diasporic experience. From little details like Nora using certain keyboard combinations to message Hae Sung in Korean, to bigger things like explaining her relation to Arthur, a white man, to border security. I’ve never emigrated myself but these scenes that highlight cultural differences are still so relatable. Not in a depressing or alienating way, but more just in a way that nods to the experience of living in a Western country away from home. Any second-generation immigrant won’t help but think of their parents who have left their homes and people that they love for a new life.

One (out of many) scenes I thought was quietly poignant was where Nora tells Arthur how she feels “so not-Korean” and simultaneously “more Korean” when she is with Hae Sung. When she meets him as an adult, she also meets herself as Na Young; the girl whom Hae Sung shares memories with which Arthur will never be able to translate.

“You dream in a language that I can’t understand. It’s like there’s this whole place inside of you where I can’t go.”


This film leaves an almost frustrating ache in my chest because there is no one to hate or blame. Arthur says himself that Hae Sung’s return in Nora’s life would make such a good story in which he would be the “evil white American standing in the way of destiny”. If his character was written or portrayed in any other way, yeah, sure, he might have just been. But he wasn’t. I found myself actively looking for and welcoming any depiction of Arthur’s insecurities because of how refreshing it was to see male vulnerability handled so gently on screen without a touch of machismo.

By centring the film around the idea of in-yeon, I think Song has set Past Lives and her characters apart from other ‘In Another Life’ films. Their relationships with one another never feel final. The ending of La La Land, for example, similarly leaves you with your heart in your stomach but there is a sense of finality to their closure. In Past Lives, there remains a sense of hope that in-yeon allows. Hopeless romantics are given something bigger to believe in; that there is another lifetime to look forward to. In other words, it’s perfect for people who hate the idea that everything with a beginning must also have its end. 


The film acts as such a powerful, but painful, reminder for cynics and hopeless romantics alike that what is meant to be will be. More powerful (and believable) than those tarot readings on TikTok, I can assure you.

So while I’m still not completely sure if I believe that past or next lives exist, the pure hope and heartache in the last line of dialogue made it so easy for me to pray that they do.

Ysabel Maranan is a fifth-year student studying a dual degree in International Studies and Media (Screen & Sound Production). As someone who spends her time on Spotify as if it’s her day job, she’s probably listening to that song you just posted on your Instagram story.

Blitz Editor

Anandi Ganguly

A Definitive Ranking of the Beloved Papa Louie Games

Alexa ranks our the childhood cult classic, Papa's Pizzeria games. Where does your favourite lie in the ranks?

Read More

Harry Styles Love on Tour Review / 04.03.23

Lana dotes on her experience at Harry's Love on Tour in Sydney, at Qudos Bank Arena.

Read More

Why Do We Play Life Simulation Games Over Life?

Prudence dives deep into the temptation to play life simulator games over life.

Read More

Read More