"Past Lives" (2023) Ending Explained: Inyeon (in-yun) and Connections

"Past Lives" is a love story woven with the threads of fate, reconnection, and the complexities of relationships. Directed by Celine Song, this semi-autobiographical film takes us through the 24-year journey of childhood friends Nora and Hae Sung. Nora, portrayed by Greta Lee, and Hae Sung, played by Teo Yoo, navigate the turbulent waters of separation, rekindling their connection through the internet.

The heart of the narrative lies in Nora and Hae Sung's relationship, starting with their childhood in South Korea, experiencing the hazy lines of preteen emotions, only to be abruptly interrupted by Nora's family's move to Canada. A dozen years later, their lives take unexpected turns—Nora pursuing playwriting in New York, while Hae Sung grapples with post-military life. The advent of social media reconnects them, setting the stage for a poignant exploration of what could have been.

As Nora and Hae Sung reunite in New York, the film takes us on a visual journey through the iconic landmarks of the city, adding layers of complexity to their shared history. The final scene, where Hae Sung bids farewell to Nora, leaves us wondering, contemplating the intricacies of their connection. What follows is a silent exchange that lingers, a moment where words are not needed to convey the profound emotions.

Plot: The Journey of 24 Years

Nora and Hae Sung were childhood friends who navigated the complexities of preteen emotions in South Korea, in the year around 1998. The film beautifully captures the innocence of their early bond, hinting at an unspoken attraction that remains unexplored due to a sudden twist of fate – Nora's family's relocation to Canada.

Nora and Hae as children - Past Lives 2023 - A24
Image Credit: A24

The abrupt departure marks a poignant turning point, disrupting the evolution of their feelings and seemingly bringing their friendship to an untimely end. As a dozen years pass, Nora finds herself in New York, pursuing playwriting, while Hae Sung grapples with post-military life and begins a new relationship.

The years around 2010s marked the era of Facebook and digital reconnections. Nora and Hae Sung, worlds apart, find each other online and embark on a journey of virtual intimacy through regular Skype calls. The film navigates the delicate dance of reigniting a childhood connection while confronting the challenges posed by distance and the rapidity of emotional closeness.

Fearful of the intensity of their revived feelings, Nora makes a tough decision – to sever all communication with Hae Sung. This pivotal moment sets the stage for the next chapter in Nora's life, leading her to a writers' retreat where she meets Arthur, played by John Magaro. Their love story unfolds, and another dozen years pass.

Nora and Hae in New York - Past Lives 2023 - A24
Image Credit: A24

The midpoint of "Past Lives" marks the physical reunion of Nora and Hae Sung in the bustling streets of New York. The emotional buildup resonates as their paths cross, reigniting the connection forged in their childhood. The film captures the appropriate emotional wallop as they navigate the city together, pondering the what-ifs and exploring the streets that could have been witness to their shared journey.

The second half of the movie unfolds as Nora and Hae Sung traverse the city, contemplating the complexities of their past and the possibilities of their future. The narrative crescendos as Nora walks Hae Sung to his taxi, bidding him farewell. It's in this emotional moment that Hae Sung's last line to Nora resonates, leaving us to unravel the deeper meaning behind his words.

The Final Scene

In the climax of "Past Lives," Nora and Hae Sung embark on a night of reflection, wandering through New York spots that bear witness to their rekindled connection.

Nora, Hae and Arthur - Past Lives 2023 - A24
Image Credit: A24

On their last night together, Nora extends an invitation to dine, creating an intimate setting that leads them to a bar in the quiet hours of the morning. Despite the language barrier with Arthur, Nora's husband, the trio engages in a profound exploration of the heart of their connection. Nora and Hae Sung delve into the hypothetical, contemplating the alternate trajectories their lives might have taken if Nora had never left South Korea. The question of whether their connection transcends different lifetimes adds an extra layer of complexity to their reunion.

Nora and Hae wait for Uber - Past Lives 2023 - A24
Image Credit: A24

The film's final scene unfolds as Nora bids farewell to Hae Sung, seeing him off in an Uber destined for the airport. In a raw and unfiltered moment, the two stand silently in front of each other, their gaze conveying a depth of emotion that words cannot capture. The cinematography, devoid of cuts and close-ups, presents a wide two-shot, allowing the audience to witness this poignant exchange.

As the Uber arrives, Hae Sung raises a thought-provoking question about their potential reunion in the next lives. This query lingers in the air as he heads off to the airport, leaving Nora to navigate a wave of emotions. The scene encapsulates a powerful blend of longing, nostalgia, and the unspoken complexity of their connection. Nora, torn by the weight of what could have been, walks back to her home, where the tears that burst forth in Arthur's arms encapsulate the emotional turmoil of the moment.

In this final scene, "Past Lives" masterfully captures the bittersweet essence of love and the intricate dance of fate, reflecting on the impermanence of connections and the enduring impact of what might have been.

Hae Sung's Last Line

The last scene unfolds with Nora walking Hae Sung down the New York street to the pickup point, sharing a silence that speaks volumes. The absence of words is replaced by a lingering gaze, a silent conversation between two souls grappling with the complexities of their shared history.

Hae Sung's Last Line - Past Lives 2023 - A24
Image Credit: A24

As the moment unfolds, Hae Sung breaks the silence with a question that resonates with the thematic underpinnings of the film. Referencing their earlier discussion on past lives, he wonders aloud if the life they are currently living is a past life.

The conversation takes a turn towards the future, as Hae Sung asks Nora about the kind of relationship they will have in the next life. Nora, honest and uncertain, admits she doesn't know. It's in this moment that Hae Sung imparts a sense of optimism that punctuates the movie's melancholic undertones. With a simple yet powerful declaration, he says, "I'll see you then," before stepping into the waiting Uber bound for the airport.

Hae Sung's final line injects a refreshing hint of optimism into a narrative that has, until now, grappled with the inevitability of missed connections. The belief in the cyclical nature of relationships, growing closer with each new incarnation, lends a hopeful touch to the farewell scene.

Nora's Emotional Breakdown

Nora's emotional breakdown after bidding farewell to Hae Sung paints a nuanced portrait of love, loss, and the intricacies of life's choices. The complexity of her tears goes beyond a simple longing for a past love, delving into the intricate tapestry of emotions that make up the human experience.

Nora sobs into Arthur's arms - Past Lives 2023 - A24
Image Credit: A24

Nora's breakdown is not a straightforward lamentation of choosing one life over another. It's a multi-faceted emotional response to the unexpected intensity of saying goodbye to Hae Sung. The regret that life's twists and turns got in the way of their connection weighs heavily on Nora, casting a shadow on the joy she has found in her current life with Arthur.

In the final scene, we witness there's a palpable connection between them, a lingering sense of what could have been, and the awareness that, for various reasons, it simply cannot manifest.

Hae Sung's mention of "Inyeon (in-yun)" adds another layer of complexity to Nora's emotional turmoil. He suggests that their paths in this lifetime, though not leading to a shared future, may contribute to a destined reunion in the next. It's an acknowledgment of the intricacies of fate and the belief that their connection transcends the limitations of the present.

Nora's sobbing into Arthur's arms upon returning home showcases the conflicting emotions she grapples with. While content in her current life, the encounter with Hae Sung serves as a poignant reminder of the road not taken.

Nora and Hae Sung's Feelings

Nora and Hae Sung undeniably share a deep bond, evident in the seamless way they pick up their connection over the years. The closeness they experienced as 12-year-olds blossoms into something more profound as they reconnect online and later reunite in person in the bustling city of New York.

Nora and Hae look at each other - Past Lives 2023 - A24
Image Credit: A24

Hae Sung wears his heart on his sleeve, unmistakably madly in love with Nora. His enduring feelings persist throughout the years, evident in his desire to be with her, even if only through the lens of a long-distance friendship in their current lives.

However, Nora's side of the emotional spectrum introduces a nuanced complexity. While not explicitly in love with Hae Sung, she harbors undeniable strong feelings for him. Nora's heart is committed to Arthur, her husband, and she reassures him of her devotion. Yet, beneath the surface, there exists a lingering curiosity about the alternate path her life might have taken if she hadn't lost touch with Hae Sung.

The movie navigates the intricacies of love, presenting a narrative where destiny, timing, and life's unpredictable course play pivotal roles. Nora's acknowledgment that Hae Sung will always hold a special place in her heart is a recognition of the enduring impact of their shared history. The love between them may not fit neatly into conventional labels, but its depth is unquestionable.

Nora's Life with Arthur: Navigating the Impact of Hae Sung's Visit

As life unfolds its unpredictable chapters, Nora's journey takes an unexpected turn when she finds lasting love with Arthur Zaturansky. Their story begins at a writer's retreat in New York, where Nora, in the pursuit of her passion, crosses paths with Arthur. What ensues is a connection that transcends the retreat's creative atmosphere, blossoming into a deep and meaningful relationship.

Nora and Arthur - Past Lives 2023 - A24
Image Credit: A24

Nora and Arthur's compatibility is evident as they get to know each other better, eventually culminating in the celebration of marriage. The cozy cocoon of their shared apartment in New York becomes the canvas upon which their life together is painted.

Amidst the stability of Nora's married life, Hae Sung's unexpected email brings a gust of nostalgia and complexity. Learning of his imminent visit to New York, Nora realizes the orchestrated nature of Hae Sung's trip—a deliberate effort to reconnect with her. Yet, Arthur, Nora's understanding husband, steps aside, recognizing the importance of this reunion for Nora's self-discovery and growth. His supportive stance reveals a mature understanding of relationships, acknowledging that sometimes revisiting the past can illuminate the present.

Hae Sung's visit becomes a catalyst for introspection, not only for Nora but also for Arthur. It prompts a confrontation with self-doubts, fostering an environment for honest communication between the couple.

Navigating the intersection of past and present, Nora's life with Arthur displays the resilience of love and the capacity for growth within the boundaries of a committed relationship. As the past momentarily resurfaces, Nora and Arthur confront it together, solidifying the foundation of their bond.

"Inyeon (in-yun)" in Past Lives

In "Past Lives," the exploration of the Korean Buddhist concept of "inyeon (in-yun)" is a thematic element that weaves the narrative's intricate layers together. This concept is deeply rooted in Korean cultural and spiritual beliefs, shedding light on the intricate tapestry of fate and relationships.

Nora and Hae as children in the Past - Past Lives 2023 - A24
Image Credit: A24

"Inyeon (in-yun)," in its essence, encapsulates the notion of fate and destiny, particularly concerning the connections forged between individuals. In the film, Hae Sung contemplates whether his current life is a mere layer of inyeon away from a lifetime of happiness with Nora. This introspective inquiry delves into the intricate web of past lives and their influence on present relationships.

Rooted in Buddhism and the cycle of rebirth, "inyeon (in-yun)" also revolves around the interconnectedness of individuals across various lifetimes. The film suggests that everyone present in a person's life, whether in a romantic or platonic capacity, is there due to the echoes of past interactions in previous lives.

It's crucial to recognize that "inyeon (in-yun)" extends beyond romantic entanglements. Nora elucidates that marriage is perceived as the culmination of multiple layers of "inyeon (in-yun)". The belief posits that two individuals, bound by the threads of "inyeon (in-yun)", have traversed near-infinite lifetimes, inevitably converging to be together.

Understanding the significance of "inyeon (in-yun)" provides a profound lens through which to interpret the film's narrative and its poignant ending.

Ending Explained

The majority of the film grapples with Hae Sung's reflections on the past and the possibilities of a different present had circumstances been altered. However, the ending reframes the narrative lens, shifting from the realm of 'what could've been' to 'what could be.' Hae Sung's contemplation about being closer to Nora in the next life unveils a resilient sense of hope for the future, even if that future unfolds in a lifetime yet to come.

Before his visit to New York, Hae Sung harbored a fleeting hope that circumstances might align for a romantic connection with Nora in the present life. However, witnessing Nora's happiness with her husband, Arthur, and acknowledging Arthur's genuine character, Hae Sung embraces the reality that their connection in this lifetime is destined to be a long-distance friendship. Yet, rather than surrendering hope entirely, he redirects it towards the prospect of the next life.

The ending of "Past Lives" intricately communicates that hope endures, transcending the limitations of the present. The story avoids the conventional narrative trope of a love triangle, emphasizing Nora's unwavering commitment to her love for Arthur. The film challenges the binary perception of love, rejecting the notion that love must solely manifest as a romantic connection.

Nora and Hae Sung's relationship, rooted in shared experiences and a profound connection forged in their formative years, defies simplistic categorizations. The film resonates with those who have experienced the challenge of creating a new life and identity in a different place. The bond between Nora and Hae Sung, while infused with elements of attraction and romance, is depicted as a complex stew of emotions.

In the final scene, as they gaze at each other, what becomes evident is a boundless love that transcends the conventional boundaries of romance. The film portrays two individuals deeply connected yet grappling with the realization that their individual paths are not seamlessly compatible. This nuanced portrayal of love adds depth to the conclusion, making the acceptance of their circumstances all the more moving.

Alternative Perspectives on "Past Lives" Ending

For those inclined to view "Past Lives" through the lens of a classic 'will she or won't she' narrative for Nora, the film allows room for diverse interpretations, adding layers of complexity to the characters' relationships. Throughout the narrative, Nora introduces the concept of "inyeon (in-yun)" a Korean term encapsulating the belief in predestined or fateful connections echoing interactions from past lives. This concept, foreign to Western audiences, might evoke parallels with the idea of a soulmate—a singular destined love in one's life.

Interpreting Nora and Hae Sung as soulmates can significantly alter the perception of the final scene. In this lens, we might see Nora grappling with the choice between staying with her husband or following a deeper, fateful connection with Hae Sung. Her tears after Hae Sung's departure could be construed as regret, a moment of reflection on a potentially misguided decision.

However, it's crucial to approach this interpretation with caution, as it inadvertently undermines the significance of Nora's relationship with Arthur and their enduring marriage. Arthur himself raises the notion that their story could be perceived as a narrative where he, as the white character, impedes the Korean woman (Nora) from being with her childhood sweetheart. Embracing a narrative of romantic devastation might inadvertently reinforce this notion, stripping away the humanity and agency inherent in Nora and Arthur's twelve-year journey together.

The film challenges the simplistic dichotomy of choosing between two loves, presenting a nuanced portrayal of relationships that evolve over time. Nora's tears may not necessarily signify regret for a 'wrong' choice, but rather a complex emotional response to the bittersweet acknowledgment of what could have been. In this way, "Past Lives" invites us to consider alternative readings that honor the depth and authenticity of the characters' experiences, acknowledging the richness of their intertwined lives.

Watch "Past Lives" on Apple TV+.

Past Lives (2023) Ending Explained Inyeon (in-yun) and Connections

Author: Jaimy Green

Author/Writer - Jaimy Green

Introducing Jaimy Green, the nature-loving dynamo! She's a master of the great outdoors, from hiking to hilltop conquests, and her Movies & TV shows obsession is second to none. Jaimy's life is a whirlwind of passions, and she spends every moment doing what she loves. By day, a responsible citizen, but by night, she's an Entertainment superhero!

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