Is Past Lives Based on a True Story?

Image Credit: Jon Pack/A24

Directed by Celine Song, ‘Past Lives’ is a romantic movie that explores the idea of love in a way never seen before. The story revolves around Nora, a South Korean woman who moved away from her home to another country about two decades before as a child. Now happily married to her husband Arthur, her life takes an unexpected turn when she reconnects with her childhood friend, Hae Sung. While still in love with her husband, she has to navigate her feelings for Hae Sung and decide just who she wants in her life and how.

Starring Greta Lee, Teo Yoo, and John Magaro, the love-filled cinematic story easily connects with the viewers. However, the realistic nature of the movie has certainly made many people wonder whether or not there might be some truth behind this complicated tale. Well, if you are eager to learn whether or not the movie is based on real-life events, we have your back!

Is Past Lives a True Story?

‘Past Lives’ is partially based on a true story. Celine Song is not just the director of the movie but is also the person who penned the script. As it turns out, she got the idea for the film after a specific incident in life, which led her to explore three complicated characters and the concept of past, present, and future when it comes to romance. That being said, the director has admitted that not everything we see in the movie is a direct adaptation of her life’s story.

Image Credit: Jon Pack/A24

It all started when Celine was sitting in a bar with her husband, Justin Kuritzkes, and a childhood friend from Korea, with herself in the middle. Suddenly she was struck by the fact that some people might find this sitting arrangement a bit odd, leading them to be curious about the story of the three people sitting in a bar. “Sitting there, I felt very empowered, or I felt something special was passing through the three of us,” Song shared with Little Gold Men. “And I was sort of looking around the bar and seeing how the people who work there and the other patrons of that bar looked at us, and I just realized that they were all wondering who we were to each other.”

“Sitting there, being the bridge between these two men, but also these two cultures and these two languages, I felt unbelievably powerful, you know?” Celine explained to Variety. Indeed, the pivotal moment inspired Celine to write a film script that would soon become ‘Past Lives.’ Given how close the film is to her heart, the similarities between the writer and the film’s protagonist, Nora, are certainly easy to spot.

Not unlike Nora, Celine left South Korea as a child, with her family settling in Canada. The writer once again moved, this time to New York, to attend college and soon became a playwright. All of these elements the director shares with Nora. That being said, there is much to the script, according to Celine, that does not come from her own life. “It’s a truth of something that happened to me. It’s more about the existential crisis that I was going through,” she confessed to Vanity Fair. “But it’s not really a transcription of my life. It’s more like an inspired bio and adaptation of what it’s been like to be myself.”

Image Credit: Jon Pack/A24

Of course, one has to wonder what the two men who became the inspirations for characters Hae Sung and Arthur think about the movie. “So, how does he feel about it? He loves it. He’s so proud,” Celine elaborated for her husband, Justin Kuritzkes, who is also a writer. While the writer did not go much in depth about her childhood friend, she insisted that everything between them was strictly platonic. “He has his own personal life. He knows, we’ve talked about it, but it’s really an adaptation or inspired by a certain event more than reflective of our relationship,” she explained regarding the man on whom Hae Sung is based.

As it turns out, writing something based on her real life is not a new concept for Celine. “Every single thing that I’ve written, regardless of it being about immigration or being in love or being married or reconnecting with your first love, regardless of what it is, it is always going to be about what feels true to me as a person.” the director shared. Her active involvement in her directorial debut, ‘Past Lives,’ saw her using many unexpected tactics.

Some of the methods employed by Celine include her insistence on making sure that Greta Lee never came in physical contact with Teo Yoo to make their reunion scene feel authentic, as it was their first hug ever. Similarly, Teo Yoo and John Magaro were kept apart until the shooting of the scene where their characters meet each other for the first time in the movie. Hence, the only things that they knew about each other came through Greta, creating a simulated version of the events going on in the film.

Celine Song and Greta Lee//Image Credit: Jon Pack/A24

Overall, ‘Past Lives’ is inspired by some real-life elements that took wings of their own thanks to the imagination of Celine Song. The characters are relatable, likely due to the fact that they are based on actual people with their own pros and cons. While the complex dynamics between the leading three characters might not be the true story of their real-life counterparts, it does easily prove how a sweet memory from the past can change what one perceives of their present and future.

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