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The message behind Parasite

By Rose Sauvage de Brantes, BA English and Japanese

Winner of the Palm d’Or and Oscar for best picture, the Korean movie Parasite dazzled masses across the world. Premiered at the 2018 Cannes Festival, the film stars both established and novice actors, all delivering flawless performances. The film depicts the attempts of a poor family, the Kims, to infiltrate the house of a rich family, the gullible Parks, by duping them to hire its members as seemingly unrelated personnel. Despite the fact that Parasite is perhaps best classified as a psychological thriller, it maintains an air of legerity through its witty humour. Bong Joon-ho showcases his masterful filmmaking with each frame being a visual sensation topped by a perfectly paced 7-minute montage of the execution of the Kims’ plan to replace the Parks established housekeeper with their mother. Parasite also delivers one of the best twists in cinema, or as the director puts it “the movie doesn’t really start until the very end”.

 Parasite also delivers one of the best twists in Cinema, or as the director puts it “the movie doesn’t really start until the very end.”

Bong is known for including political or social messages in his works and in his 7th feature, it becomes increasingly clear what he has to say about the socio-political order in Korean society. He chooses architecture as part of the message vessel. The gorgeous Park’s home is not only an object of desire but also the setting for the majority of the movie. While the Park’s house bathes in sunlight mirroring their position on the social limelight, the occasional rays in the Kims’ basement apartment are more symbolic of fleeting hope than abundance. And as the Kims ascend and descend staircases, so does their place in the social hierarchy. The Kims’ view on their hectic street contrasts strongly with Parks’ calming greenery. To fulfil the function of social indicators the houses have been built from scratch. The first floor of the luxurious family home is a maquette, while the interior of the second floor is filmed on studio-sets and the outside constructed on a green screen. The entire poor neighbourhood, as well as Kim’s family apartment, are created on as a set as well, placed on a giant water tank to facilitate the filming of floods after a powerful rainstorm. 

The floods scene is a pivotal point to the movie, propelling it into social commentary. The way the water flows from the top to the bottom is emblematic of the economic inequality deadlock in the face of natural disasters as well as of the general one-way fluxes of goods and finances that poor families like the Kims are subjected to. Located at the top of the hierarchy, physically depicted in the movie’s landscape, rich families are largely unaffected by the downpour. Mister Park’s young wife even goes as far as thanking heavens for the rain as it made the sky clear in time for her son’s birthday, completely oblivious to the thousands of people displaced due to the deluge and deprived of their belongings lost in the currents. Thus the film also effectively describes how families like the Kims are stuck in perpetual poverty. Bong Joon-ho has even calculated that it would take the protagonist Ki-woo 564 years to afford a house such a the one of the Park’s family, deconstructing ideals of the ‘American Dream’ internalised across cultures, preaching that with a little effort and resourcefulness anyone can live comfortably in financial security.
Parasite points fingers at the semi-willing indifference and oblivion to the struggles of the less fortunate, particularly in connection to climate change caused disasters. It warns against the deepening class conflicts not only between the rich and the poor but most and foremost between the poor and the poor as they compete for a more favourable place in the hierarchy, that this behaviour brings about. The movie can be seen as a sort of modern-day horror as it is both scary and plausible. However, Parasite frames neither the parks nor the Kims as antagonists. The real villain of the movie is the system that made them be who they are, concealed behind the question the audience ultimately comes to ask itself: who is the real parasite?

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