Updated: Sep 14
On one of the hottest Saturday afternoons of the year, I escaped to the cool of a darkened room - the wonderful Lewes Depot cinema - and spoke to an audience about the film they were going to watch, Celine Song's debut feature film Past Lives.
It's a lovely, moving film, spanning twenty four years in the lives of two people. Reclaim the Frame, who hosted the screening, had asked me to introduce it, with my added take on the film's themes.
I was delighted to do so. I love public speaking, although the one thing I've never had before is my words up on a BIG screen as I was reading them. I'm used to ad libbing, speaking from notes, and I generally give talks in an 'un-speechy' way. (You can see a clip of that sort of thing at the bottom of my Workshops page, if you're interested). But here, I had to stick to the script - as well as making sure I had no typos in the text.
Luckily, people seemed to really enjoy it, as the feedback was great. I had a couple of good chats afterwards with audience members about the topics I discussed.
Below is the text of my introduction - what do you think?
At its heart, Past Lives is about what you leave behind when you move from one space to another. It’s about destiny, and change. It’s a film of both longing and belonging.
There’s an interesting concept here too, and it’s that of inyun. In the film, it’s discussed as the idea that each person you encounter you’ve met before, in a previous existence.
So maybe the person you’re sitting closest to today, whether you know them or whether you don’t, you’ve met in a life before this one. I wonder what your relationship to them was. Were you strangers who passed one another on a street? Were you enemies? Best friends? Parent and child?
Consider that in this lifetime there’s an echo of that previous existence. Perhaps this time around you get the chance you didn’t get before – whether that’s to exchange a friendly smile, or to make peace with one another, or to connect in a way you yearned to, the last time you met.
Or maybe your destiny was only to sit in this cinema at the same time on this Saturday afternoon, to watch a film that’s about lives left behind, not only in previous existences, but in the one that’s being lived now.
Because this film is about what shifts when you move from one country, and one culture, to another. It’s about what you forego – a language, loved ones, familiarity, and yourself. You leave the person and the life you would have had, if you’d stayed put.
In 1961, my father emigrated from Mauritius to the UK. Mauritius is a small island in the Indian Ocean, and the Chinese Mauritian community is smaller still. It veers towards convention and conservatism, towards not stepping out of line. I have the photo of the day my dad left, wearing a dark-coloured, sober suit, his short hair neatly parted on one side. I also have a photograph of him 11 years later in 1972, when he returned with his new wife. In it, he has crazily long hair, huge sunglasses, and a skintight T-shirt. He was undoubtedly wearing flares too.
My father used to say he would retire to Mauritius (I don’t know how my mother figured in those plans, because she was very vocal about not doing that). He didn’t get the chance, but I don’t think he ever would have done it anyway. The life – and the person – he left behind no longer existed.
Even if – like me – you’ve been neither emigrant nor immigrant, you contain past lives. My mother’s plan was to one day move out of London, back to her home city of Sheffield. In her case, she managed it. But what she tells me is how unrecognisable the city is now. I don’t think it’s only Sheffield that’s changed. She has too.
I wonder how with each move you’ve made, what the past life is that you’ve left behind. Who’s the person you would have become if you’d stayed? How would you have seen the world? And if you’re not from the place where you currently live, how well have you adapted to its mores and customs?
And even if you haven’t moved very far, I consider changing social class to be a type of immigration. If you were born in one class, and now inhabit another, can you ever go back? How does it feel when you return to the culture that made you? You’ll never truly fit in to either space, and I think the more conversations we have about this type of change, the better.
For me, class is the big unacknowledged divide in our society. Maybe because, if you move from one to the other it’s relatively easy to blend in – from the outside. But the divide is still there, even if it’s only noticed by the one who moves. It shows up in familial expectations, in imposter syndrome, in the manifestation of generational trauma, in the knowledge that’s brought, of the sharp edges in the dark.
Class isn’t what this film is about. And yet it is, because everything is. This film, despite its themes of immigration, loss, connection, division, and past lives, is held by this too. I won’t tell you how and why. I leave you to work that out as you watch.
I hope you enjoy the film as much as I did.