“Past Lives” was robbed of its Oscar for Best Picture


Lana Altunashvili ’27 is a prospective biology major. She is a James Monroe Scholar and a member of Club Tennis. Contact her at laltunashvili@wm.edu

The views expressed in the article are the author’s own.

Look — I’m not naive enough to have thought that “Past Lives” would get Best Picture during the Oscars. But a dreamer can dream, right? As a person who’s had a Letterboxd account for a while now, I can proudly say that I too liked “Oppenheimer,” having rated it four out of five stars. I should also say that I’m biased because generally speaking, I like films like “Past Lives” where the various possibilities of lives yet unlived loom over the characters and occasionally haunt them despite their present successes. But putting that aside, I want to talk about “Past Lives” a little and how much I wish that just this once, a movie like that had gotten the Oscar instead of the commercial hit that was “Oppenheimer.” 

I remember back in October, wanting to see “Past Lives” for a while but not having the time to do so until I saw one of my friends’ reviews and decided that it was finally time. I settled in my dorm room, turned on the movie and watched. And truly, I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t that. Though I expected to be bored at first, the movie immediately proved me wrong. I was captivated just by how big this film is, how intense the feelings in it are, despite focusing on, well, pretty much only three sets of relationships, all of which keep juggling this idea of inyeon, or “providence or fate” as the main character, Nora, puts it. It is the idea that the tiniest bit of contact with someone stands for a deep connection in a past life of yours, which is a crucial part of the film. This is a film that, in a way, tells the story of the human condition — a life of love, loss and grief, regret and acceptance and the support of each other through it all. 

Something sad about the majority of today’s audiences is that everyone loves a commercial success. It gets hyped up online, gets lots of media attention in addition to normal people raving about it in their posts, tagging the actors, etc. On the other hand, the stories of those that don’t get their own biopics, those that have messages that are just as deep, presented in a less pretentious way — they don’t get a lot of attention. And it’s not that I think “Past Lives” wasn’t popular (in its own circles, it was quite hyped up), but it would have been nice for it to get the recognition it deserved as Best Picture. I feel as though, in chasing and seeking out these blockbusters, we often miss out on the films that reflect what we feel every day, instead of what was felt by these big figures who made great, but at the same time terrible, discoveries. There is always a movie about someone like that, someone who realized only too late what their invention meant to the world as a whole. Still, those are the people we continuously choose to focus on decades later, instead of focusing on the mundane, yet often more interesting explorations of humanity as a whole.

I suppose my frustration isn’t with “Oppenheimer” winning Best Picture and it definitely isn’t with Christopher Nolan or Cillian Murphy — both of whose work I admire. It is simply the frustration of someone who wants films about the reality of most people’s lives to get the credit they’re due. After all, it is something that we can all relate to, something accessible to everyone, something that might give you another perspective on the life you are leading and the relationships you have with other people. You might say this is possible with “Oppenheimer”, but is it really? Did you come out of the cinema thinking about what your friends meant to you, what your past relationships meant to you, being calm or unnerved about the fact that you might be together in another or in a past life? Or were you simply in awe of Cillian Murphy’s piercing blue eyes and Christopher Nolan’s directorial mastery? Both are equally valid, you know — I just have my own preferences.

Going back to the whole idea of inyeon that runs throughout the film, let’s talk about it more because I think it’s worth considering after or even before watching Celine Song’s directorial debut. This idea from the film is that, “It’s an inyeon if two strangers even walk past each other in the street and their clothes accidentally brush, because it means there must have been something between them in their past lives.” Obviously, it made me contemplate a lot of relationships in my life, but it also provided some sort of comfort. Isn’t it nice to think that you know someone because of a connection formed before you were even born? That perhaps nothing is accidental and even the serendipitous links you make with people, are not serendipitous at all? That even if something doesn’t work the way you wanted it to in this life, that means in your other lives, you are bound to be connected to that something in yet another, maybe even a better, more meaningful way? 

Rewatching “Past Lives” now, as part of my ‘research’ for the article, I’ve realized another iteration of inyeon. Because if “Past Lives” was nominated for an Oscar in this life, this close of a connection to the biggest film award in the industry, it must be closer to it in another life, surely? Maybe even in another life, it got the recognition it deserves, it won the Oscar, I didn’t have to write this article and most people love it just as much as I do. But even if it didn’t do any of this in other iterations of this existence, it is still a movie that changed my perspective on many things and, hopefully, it will soon change yours.


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