Past Lives: everything you need to know about the acclaimed drama

The haunting and melancholic drama Past Lives is expanding across more Cineworld screens this week, and we'd encourage you not to miss it. Here's what you need to know about one of the year's finest films.


What is the story of Past Lives?

Past Lives unfolds over the course of 24 years through the use of flashbacks and flash-forwards. We are introduced to South Korean pre-teens Nora and Hae-Sung who are about to be separated owing to Nora's family emigrating to Canada.

Some 12 years later, Nora and Hae-Sung (now played as adults by Greta Lee and Teo Yeoo) re-establish contact with one another. However, it takes another 12 years before they are bold enough to meet each other face to face in Nora's adopted home city of New York.

Now married to the kind and loving Arthur (John Magaro), dedicated playwright Nora is curious as to how the reconciliation will go down. Hae-Sung, for his part, appears to harbour unspoken regrets about the separation that occurred so many years earlier. 

Over the course of a couple of days, both individuals must grapple with what has been lost and what can possibly be salvaged. The movie outlines the Korean phrase 'in-yeon', which broadly means fate. More specifically, it means that two people who meet each other have already met each other in a past life, and are destined to do so over and over again throughout the course of human history.


Who stars in Past Lives?

American actor Greta Lee, whose family hails from South Korea, plays Nora in the movie. Lee's credits include the popular series Russian Doll and she also has a voice credit for the role of Lyla in the animated Spider-Verse movies.

German-Korean actor Teo Yoo is perhaps less well-known to Western audiences although he has notched up some impressive credits of his own. He portrayed real-life underground Soviet rock musician Viktor Tsoi in the 2018 Russian musical Leto, for which he achieved positive notices.

John Magaro is a regular fixture in both Hollywood movies and smaller-scale independent productions. His credits include films Carol and The Big Short, and the award-winning series Orange is the New Black.


Who directs Past Lives?

The movie is the feature film debut of South Korean-born, Canada-raised playwright turned filmmaker Celine Song. The movie is based on Song's own experiences and many biographical details are translated directly into the film. At the age of 12, for instance, Song and her family emigrated from South Korea to Canada, as with Nora in the movie.

The idea for the film stemmed from an East Village cocktail bar meeting Song had with her English-speaking screenwriter husband, Justin Kuritzkes, and an old flame from South Korea who didn't speak English.

“I was translating between these two people,” Song told The Guardian. “And at one point, I realised that I wasn’t just translating between their languages and cultures, but also translating between these two parts of myself as well."


What has been the critical response to Past Lives?

The film has received overwhelmingly positive reviews, praised for its performances, sensitivity and truthful atmosphere. The buzz began at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival where the rights were snapped up by indie film darlings A24. Since then, the movie's critical reputation has only continued to grow.

The film currently stands at an impressive 97% on Rotten Tomatoes from 235 reviews. Effusive critic David Rooney, writing for The Hollywood Reporter, is magnanimous when he observes: "Song reveals herself to be a fully formed filmmaker with this accomplished debut.

"She shows a visual command to match her emotional and philosophical insights, a pleasingly understated wit and a grasp of tone that never falters, enhanced by the delicate chiming synths of a score by Christopher Bear and Daniel Rossen, from indie rock band Grizzly Bear. The fluency with which the writer-director moves between time periods and distant places is impressive indeed, with invaluable help from Keith Fraase’s supple editing."


Is Past Lives likely to be an Oscars frontrunner?

It remains to be seen. However, given the unanimous critical acclaim that has greeted Past Lives, not to mention its Sundance track record, it's very likely to receive some form of Oscars recognition. At the very least, a nomination for Best Original Screenplay might be expected, given how structurally concise the movie is with its narrative development, cultural observations and use of language.

Elsewhere, one might expect a Best Director nod for Celine Song and a Best Actress nomination for Greta Lee. Best Picture is, of course, the most coveted category – can Past Lives pierce through the publicity noise surrounding the likes of Poor Things (winner of the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival) and at least receive a nomination? Again, if we're basing it purely on critical acclaim, Past Lives surely has Best Picture recognition in the bag.


Where can we book our tickets for Past Lives?

Click the link below to book your tickets for Past Lives. The movie is on release now at Cineworld.