'Past Lives': An immigration dream

campus voices

“Past Lives” centers around Nora (born Na-Young), a Korean writer who immigrated to Canada and then to New York to pursue her dream and her romance between her childhood sweetheart Hae Sung and her white American husband Arthur. It’s a heartwarming story about love, immigration and the road not taken.

Nora and Hae Sung grew up together. If nothing goes wrong, they will marry each other and live a stable life in Korea. However, as Nora’s family immigrated to Canada, the two young lovers were separated. Still missing each other, the two grew up in two countries. When Hae Sung finally got a chance to visit Nora, he found her already married to Arthur.

In New York, each of the men represents a part of Nora’s identity. Hae Sung, a traditional Korean Male figure, reflects Nora’s childhood. He provides a sense of comfort and familiarity resembling home while Nora is alone away from Korea. Arthur, on the other hand, hints at Nora’s new life after immigration. He supported her career as a writer and provided her with an American identity, but he never understood Nora’s somniloquy just as he never entered the deepest part of her heart.

At the end of the movie, Nora stands on a street in New York as she watches Hae Sung disappear in a taxi. She loves him, but there’s nothing she can do to make him stay. Like Korea, Hae Sung’s image remained beautiful, yet distant.

The love story between the two lovers may end tragically, but Nora’s story doesn’t. As her mom said earlier in the film: “If you leave something behind, you gain something, too.” Nora never tried to hide her ambition. When asked about why she was leaving Korea, she answered, “Because Koreans don’t win the Nobel Prize in Literature.” The motivation later changed to Pulitzer and Tony Awards, but her quest never stopped. At the end of the story, she is still on her journey. If she never left Korea, her love story might end happily, but would Na-Young fulfill her dream as a writer? Would she ever be satisfied? No one has a definite answer, but as Nora’s family anticipated when making the decision to immigrate, there are surely more foreseeable obstacles in front of a woman in the East Asian society and literary creation field. On the other hand, in the US, Nora might never be a part of the mainstream culture, but she’s never inferior to anyone else. The incompleteness in romance never outshines her accomplishments in the US, it is at most an imperfect side-note to her bright life.

Nora’s story is the story of millions of Asian women who chose to leave. They leave home because they want more than a stable life and a happy family. Driven by the hope of a better, freer life, they cross mountains and seas to a foreign land. As one of them, sometimes I feel like I’m running away, from a future that can be seen through at first glance. Along with that decision, I also left my friends and family and everything that was familiar. Is it worth it? Did I make the right choice? What if it turns out I could be better off staying home? These questions haunt me in the middle of the night. Naturally, no one can give me the answers. In the movie, from the moment Na-Young changed her name to Nora, there’s no turning back. In reality, we don’t get to find out when was the moment that forever changed our lives. We step on the journey with nothing but courage and hope for the future. "Past Lives" gives us a dreamlike view of one of the many possibilities of our lives, but it is up to us to decide where we go from here, and I hope when we go through all the unspoken struggles and look back on our past lives, we find contentment and relief.


Share and discuss “'Past Lives': An immigration dream” on social media.