Greenbelt Access Television’s Phoebe McFarb reviews Parasite, which runs in our Auditorium until Friday, November 15, when it moves to the Pop-up.
However, Parasite is undoubtedly Bong Joon Ho’s tour de force. It’s a social satire about individuals, rich and poor, who serve as fleshed out characters as well as metaphors. “Metaphor” is a word the film craftily pokes fun at through its overuse, with a character obsessed with the metaphorical implications of a stone said to bring wealth. But the real metaphor has to do with the way the characters are used to represent oppression and exploitation of the poor in a system designed for the rich. We can see this metaphor in the literal placement of the family dwellings—the poor families live in basements, below street level, whereas the rich live in a dwelling on an incline, which requires stairs to reach the main level. Some real Upstairs Downstairs vibes…
Now before I get too deep into the metaphorical implications of the film, I’ll give you a brief synopsis of the plot. It follows an extremely poor family, all unemployed and trying to find work. The son, Ki-Woo, has a friend who asks him to take over as a tutor for a rich family while the friend studies abroad. Once Ki-Woo is hired, he and his family set a scheme in motion to trick the rich family into hiring each of them. Honestly, I don’t want to say any more on the way the story unfolds because only watching the film can do it justice. There is painstaking care to make the imagery as beautiful as it is telling and the acting is so well done that a character’s expression can give you all the context you need to understand their motivations. Or to be left purposefully unclear about them. Another thing I have yet to mention which deserves as much praise as everything else is the humor. The film is almost more dark comedy than anything else—and I mean it’s genuinely funny—but done in such a way that when the tone becomes serious, it doesn’t feel out of place. This film does not make it easy to pinpoint a genre, so if you are going in expecting anything? Stop it. I know the trailer gives people the impression that it will be more of a horror film, I thought that initially especially given the title, but if you don’t like horror films don’t count this out because there is nothing scary about it aside from the themes.
So, as I mentioned, this is a social satire and it’s a commentary on economic inequality, similar to the Joker movie that just came out. However, this film does something interesting and different with its characters by portraying the rich as more ignorant than consciously immoral, and the poor as more deceitful than ignorant. And I don’t mean either of those in a negative sense. The poor families are clever and resourceful because they have to be, and the rich family is nice because they can be. The reversal of tropes served the plot by emphasizing the desperation of the poor families versus the easygoing convenience of being rich. In one scene, we see this visually manifest with the poor family having to literally wade through sewage water in their flooded house during a torrential downpour, while the rich family get to watch a nice little thunderstorm storm from the comfort of their home. Even with this juxtaposition between the families the film allows us to see the humanity of both and doesn’t need us to hate the rich family in order to understand the poor family’s growing resentment towards them. There are actually two poor families we meet whose views on the rich family have manifested in opposite directions. One towards cynicism and one towards respect, so that where there could be class solidarity, there is conflict between them instead. It’s a great commentary on the way lower classes are pitted against one another despite competing over a sliver of pie that is nowhere near enough for the amount of people who need it.
I think the most interesting thing that has emerged from this film is how universal the theme is. Bong Joon Ho even expressed surprise in an interview saying “I tried to express a sentiment specific to Korean culture…all the responses from different audiences were pretty much the same. Essentially we all live in the same country, called capitalism,” I genuinely think this is the best film I’ve seen all year and I hope it is being seriously considered for Best Picture and not just Best Foreign Film. Not that I care what the Academy has to say about it!
Just go see it already.