Bumping into a cherished piece of the past often makes one contemplate how different life would have been if destiny had done things differently. Helmed by Celine Song, ‘Past Lives‘ is a romantic drama movie that explores this thought as well as the second meetings bestowed by fate. Nora and Hae Sung are close-knit childhood friends who are separated when she and her family emigrate from South Korea. Two decades later, Nora is married to Arthur, and Hae Sung is thriving in his career.
Surprisingly, the two best friends’ paths cross again in New York City, leading to a week full of reliving past memories and wondering where they would have ended up if Nora hadn’t moved away all those years ago. Featuring compelling performances by actors like Greta Lee, Teo Yoo, John Magaro, and Isaac Cole Powell, the drama movie leaves a lasting impact on the audience’s mind with its bittersweet portrayal of long-lost connections and the nostalgia for the years gone by. If you enjoyed the Celine Song directorial and are drawn to such emotionally driven stories, here are some recommendations that may suit your taste. You can find most of these movies like ‘Past Lives’ on Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime!
10. 13 Going on 30 (2004)
Directed by Gary Winick, ’13 Going on 30′ is a romantic comedy movie that follows 13-year-old Jenna, who makes an unusual wish on her birthday and magically wakes up as her 30-year-old self the following morning. However, as she struggles to adjust to life as a grown-up, she soon discovers that adulthood is not as impressive as she believed it to be.
The only respite Jenna finds is when she meets the grown-up version of her best friend, Matt, and realizes that the love she always dreamed of is slipping away. Though with quite a comic undertone compared to ‘Past Lives’ and having a fantasy-based premise, ’13 Going on 30′ also features two childhood best friends who reconnect as adults and imagine how life would be if they ended up together. Besides, the magical backdrop of New York City plays a pivotal role in reconnecting both pairs.
9. Atonement (2007)
Based on Ian McEwan’s eponymous novel, ‘Atonement‘ is a British romantic drama movie that grapples with themes like remorse, forgiveness, and what-ifs. The Joe Wright directorial is set in 1930s England and revolves around Briony, whose false accusation ends up ruining the lives of her family’s housekeeper, Robbie, and her own sister, Cecilia.
For years, Briony has lived with the guilt of separating two lovers and getting an innocent man punished for a crime he did not commit. Though the movie’s basic premise centers upon Briony, a pivotal point in the film sees witnesses Cecilia and Robbie getting a second chance at their long-lost love. While Nora and Hae Sung imagine how life would be if they hadn’t separated two decades ago, here, Briony wonders how undoing her actions all those years back would have affected the fates of the two lovers.
8. The Last Letter from Your Lover (2021)
Directed by Augustine Frizzell, ‘The Last Letter from Your Lover‘ is based on Jojo Moyes’ eponymous novel and follows Ellie, a journalist in modern London, and Jennifer, a socialite in the 60s, who stumble upon the same mysterious letter exchanged between two lovers, “J” and “Boot.” Intrigued by the same, both women pursue the letter to uncover a secret affair that changes their lives.
Similar to ‘Past Lives,’ ‘The Last Letter from Your Lover’ ponders how regardless of circumstances, some loves are never forgotten and how the regrets of one’s past decisions often plague the present, however satisfying it may be. Like Nora craves to meet Hae Sung despite her fulfilling marriage to Arthur, Jennifer also seeks a similar closure even while leading a luxurious life.
7. Casablanca (1942)
When former lovers Rick and Ilsa cross paths in the former’s nightclub during World War II, sparks indeed fly but bring along past resentments that threaten to cloud their judgment. Directed by Michael Curtiz, ‘Casablanca‘ is a romantic drama movie considered a cult classic. It revolves around suddenly meeting a lost lover later in life and dealing with all those feelings resurfacing, despite knowing you cannot be together. Like Nora, Ilsa is married to another man and, in fact, approaches her former lover to help save her husband. Both women have peaceful married lives, but meeting their exes complicates their situations bittersweetly.
6. The Best of Me (2014)
Based on Nicholas Sparks‘ bestselling novel, ‘The Best of Me‘ is a Michael Hoffman directorial that follows Dawson and Amanda, two former high school sweethearts who meet again when the former returns to his hometown to attend a common friend’s funeral. As the ex-lovers reconnect, they go down memory lane and realize they still have feelings for each other.
Sadly, the very issues that separated the pair years ago return to haunt them, threatening to destroy things forever. Like Nora and Hae Sung became deeply attached at a tender age, Amanda and Dawson are teenage lovers. Besides, each couple imagines and briefly tries reliving the life they would have had together if they hadn’t parted ways, albeit having different outcomes.
5. When Harry Met Sally (1989)
Rob Reiner’s classic rom-com ‘When Harry Met Sally‘ revolves around Harry and Sally, who briefly become friends only to part ways soon after. Five years later, they bump into each other again and decide to give their friendship another try. On the one hand, Harry believes that men and women cannot be friends, whereas Sally considers otherwise. Yet, feelings suddenly creep up out of the blue, causing confusion and conflict between the pair.
Over the years, the two keep meeting at different points in life and evaluating what they mean to each other. ‘When Harry Met Sally’ and ‘Past Lives’ feature two pairs of friends who have unresolved feelings and suddenly meet again later to assess what they mean to each other. Both movies talk about second chances and living out the scenarios imagined in one’s head with those who drifted apart along the way.
4. Blue is the Warmest Colour (2013)
Helmed by Abdellatif Kechiche, ‘Blue is the Warmest Colour‘ is a French coming-of-age romantic drama movie that revolves around Adèle, a teenager who falls in love with an older art student, Emma. An intensely passionate relationship between the two follows, which changes their lives. Yet, their different perspectives on life and their aspirations soon tear them apart, leading to heartbreak.
A few years later, Emma and Adèle run into each other and realize that despite having moved on, they are still not over each other. Their situation mirrors Nora and Hae Sung’s in ‘Past Lives,’ as they are happy in their current relationships and cannot be together but still feel somewhat unfulfilled, holding on to the memories of their relationship.
3. In the Mood for Love (2000)
Auteur Wong Kar-Wai‘s romantic drama masterpiece ‘In the Mood for Love‘ takes the audience to ’60s Hong Kong and delves into the lives of neighbors Chow and Su. When the two realize that their spouses are likely having an affair, they strike up an unusual friendship to cope with the loneliness and betrayal they feel. Unexpectedly, love creeps in between them, but societal constraints and their moral dilemmas prevent them from acting upon their feelings. Like ‘Past Lives,’ ‘In the Mood for Love’ also explores themes like longing and missed chances through the fateful meetings of two friends, heartbreakingly laced with their unrequited love for one another.
2. Certified Copy (2010)
Helmed by Abbas Kiarostami, ‘Certified Copy‘ is a compelling romantic drama movie that centers upon James, a British author, and Elle, a French antique dealer. The two meet when she attends his book signing in Tuscany, leading to an instant connection between them. What follows is a day around the beautiful foreign region as they discuss art, literature, and the complexities of relationships.
At one point, Elle and James are forced to act as a married couple, but soon, they begin enjoying it, and the lines between pretense and reality get blurred. Though the circumstances under which the protagonists meet differ from Nora and Hae Sung in ‘Past Lives,’ the basic premise is the same. Both movies revolve around a chance encounter with someone that leads to a brief, bittersweet escape from one’s reality. Moreover, they emphasize how soulmates need not end up together romantically but shall always remain connected by fate.
1. Before Sunset (2004)
The second movie in Richard Linklater‘s ‘Before’ trilogy and the topper of this list, ‘Before Sunset,’ chronicles Jesse and Celine’s chance encounter in Paris nine years after they first met in Vienna. The romantic drama movie follows them for a day on the streets of the City of Love as they explore their unresolved feelings for each other and wonder where they would be, had they acted upon them all those years back.
Jesse and Celine possess a lot of similarities to Nora and Hae Sung in ‘Past Lives,’ not only in the way they unexpectedly meet after so many years but also in how they secretly pined for that moment they see each other again all those years apart. Despite being accomplished in their present lives, both pairs still feel something amiss and wish to relive their past together for some sense of closure.
Read More: Where Was Past Lives Filmed?