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Film notes: Past Lives (2023)
“Past Lives” begins with a captivating prologue that sets up the premise of "destiny" in the East Asian cultures, and then creates a cosmopolitan vibe that resonates with my worldview - not because of the interplay of Seoul and New York, my favorite world cities, but rather because of its romantic realism that is universally relatable.
I was moved by how candid the relationship between Nora and Arthur was, when she told him, “You’re forgetting the part when I love you,” and he replied, “I do not forget that. I have trouble believing it sometimes.” This exchange reveals their vulnerability and sincerity, as well as the challenges they face as an interracial couple. I admire how Arthur always provides rationality and empathy whenever Nora gets confused with her emotions - this is what makes him a husband, not just a lover.
On the other hand, Hae Sung is a very typical East Asian man who suffers from the noble-idiocy mindset due to his deeply internalized masculinity ideals. As an Asian who was influenced by western values at an early age, thanks to my extended family of mostly U.S. immigrants, I find those Asian masculinity ideals primitive while still acknowledging that they are ingrained in our genes, and we cannot completely reject them.
Unlike timid Hae Sung, our ambitious Nora represents the emotional struggle of Asian immigrants. As Arthur says, “Speak in English, but dream in Korean.” Beneath this competitive, outgoing, liberal woman lays a very lonely Asian little girl. She has not fully left behind her past self in South Korea, nor has she fully integrated into her new homes in Canada and the U.S.
While “Past Lives” balances realism and melancholy with skill and grace, I would give all my praises to the screenplay for its clear and complementary character arcs, as well as its subtle and poignant symbolism.
The film deserves a spot on my list of the best movies of 2023 so far.