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A24's Past Lives & The Before Trilogy: Chance Encounters & Meaningful Connections

Updated: Aug 11, 2023

You don’t get to decide who’s an important person in your life. You can have one brief random encounter with someone that’s more meaningful than a million other encounters you’ve had with others. You can decide who you choose to engage with, you can decide to cut people out, you can decide to marry people and spend your whole life with them, but you can’t choose who you form a connection with that shapes you.

Love is a tricky word because nobody really knows what it means, some people believe the Romeo & Juliette trope of falling in love at first sight, some believe it's something that develops over time through mutual respect and understanding, some believe it was a concept created by capitalists to sell products on valentines day.

Regardless of how you feel about love, connection and chemistry are undeniable. There’s billions of people in the world, millions in most countries, and millions in cities and many people interact with thousands of people in their lifetime. In our densely populated environments you can start to take people for granted, you meet so many of them and talk to so many of them, a lot of it in these transactional passive manners, that you can really go a lifetime without forming a single meaningful relationship, which is why those connections are so impactful when you do make them.

I love people. I’m temperamentally a hypersensitive person which makes me care a lot about everything, but mainly people. I love every human being that has ever lived for the mere premise that they’re human, then I love every human being that makes my life easier from garbagemen to convenience store owners to firemen, then I love my family and friends, but I’m also naturally reserved, introverted, & shy, which means there’s really only handfuls of people in my life who I have ever connected with on a certain deep & meaningful level, & I think that might be the case for everyone.

During Director Celine Song’s incredible 2023 movie Past Lives – a deeply human film about human connection over time and space – they introduce the Korean phrase “In-Yun”. The concept of “In-Yun” speaks about fate and predestination. It says that the lives you lived previously, and how the minute connections we make throughout our time in the world, reverberate through the layers of life until they finally coalesce for people to find each other when they reincarnate. "If two strangers walk by each other on the street and their clothes accidentally brush, that means there have been 8000 layers of 'in-yun' between them."

The movie Past Lives follows a reunion between two childhood friends as they contemplate their relationship and their own lives. Hae Sung and Na Young formed a genuine connection & fell in love as 12 year olds before she moved to America & changed her name to Nora, he remained in love and looked for her on facebook for a decade but couldn't find her, she looked him up as a joke when she was in college and found him on facebook, they briefly dated through video call but were both too wrapped up in their careers to visit each other, a decade later Nora had a white boyfriend named Arthur but Hae Sung was still in love with her. Hae Sung travelled 12 hours to New York to see her because he was in love with that 12 year old girl he developed a genuine connection with but Nora was a different person, at least on the surface, but that connection shaped them both throughout their lives and the movie depicts this connection masterfully. Hae Sung truly felt like he understood Nora throughout her entire life because he knew that 12 year old girl, and on some level, he did. He knew her unrelenting ambitious nature, her sensitivity, creativity & various other things he would reference that presented themselves in different ways throughout her life as you see these character develop through this 24 year journey.

“ If there's any kind of magic in this world it must be in the attempt of understanding someone sharing something. I know, it's almost impossible to succeed but who cares really? The answer must be in the attempt.”

This is a quote from Before Sunrise, the first movie in the critically acclaimed Before Trilogy. Before I watched these movies I had heard about them from several female friends throughout the years but I always brushed it off as some The Notebook type of love story, no offense to the Notebook, but as a man I’ve never felt like the target demographic for that. About 2 months ago I decided to binge all three of these movies in one sitting and my life was legitimately altered in a way few movies ever have.

The before trilogy attempts to explore this dynamic of meaningful connection through these two characters Jesse & Celine which starts off as a brief and random encounter on a train across Europe in Before Sunrise, where after having a short yet fun conversation Jesse begged Celine to come off the train with him in Vienna and they spend the day together. Nothing really happens in this movie besides two people hanging out and talking, but that’s really where all of the action in the movie is, and it had me more engaged and entertained than any fast & furious car chase scene I’ve ever seen.

Before Sunrise is my favourite movie of the trilogy for a lot of reasons. The rest of the movies are all based on how much the characters loved this one night, and that’s how I felt as an audience member. The protagonists are also the same age as me which helps me relate to the characters more than the next 2 movies that took place 9 and 18 years years after the first movie with the characters growing in real time as the actors aged. It's the most optimistic & inspirational of the 3 movies for obvious reasons.

Before Sunrise is filmmaking at its most earnest & sincere. Both Jesse and Celines perspectives are equally displayed, and it's not a feminist tirade or a patriarchal man, but just two humans truly trying to understand each other and explaining what life feels like for them at that moment, without any judgement or baggage, just curiosity, chemistry and connection.

We all relate to the situation, I have had that type of day even though I’ve never asked someone to get off a train with me in Vienna. The conversations seemed familiar to me, the dynamic was just true and honest and it portrayed that subtle & gradual realization that this person is going to be an important person in your life that shapes you for the rest of life.

“I guess when you're young, you just believe there'll be many people with whom you'll connect with. Later in life, you realize it only happens a few times.” This is a quote from Before Sunset that I believe perfectly encapsulates this idea of the rarity of these truly meaningful connections

Jesse & Celine are both flawed characters yearning for genuine connection & they found it in a random encounter on that train. That 1 night & that 1 date was so incredible it went on to shape the rest of their lives, both when they were together & when they were apart. And that’s what life is like.

We are all shaped by these chance encounters, our parents getting a job somewhere, or a new promotion, or an opportunity that makes us move somewhere where we meet someone who ends up forming our likes, dislikes, tastes, habits, opinions, personality, & maybe even our children, all these things that we share just by spending time with other people, those moments aren’t chosen because we’d make them happen anytime we want, they’re divinely ordained, they’re the reason the concept of soul mates exist & whatever your opinion is on the mystical properties of the idea of soulmates, chemistry & connection is undeniable.

Everyone has that person, those people, those nights, those conversations, those brief moments that have made you who you are today, all that comes from allowing ourselves to experience that, we should all strive to be more like Celine & hop off the train of life to genuinely try & make human connections because that's truly where all the magic resides.

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