Blog Directory CineVerse: Leech lessons

Leech lessons

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

When a foreign film earns the Best Picture Academy Award (the first and only time that’s ever happened) and enjoys high critical and commercial success, it must be something special. And Bong Joon-ho’s 2019 modern masterwork Parasite certainly is, providing a delicious narrative that intersects several genres and a thoroughly satisfying layer of subtext that will keep you thinking and theorizing about the film for days. Last week, our task as CineVerse investigators was to perform a filmic autopsy on this picture and identify precisely what makes it so infectiously entertaining and thought-provoking. An encapsulation of our discussion follows below (to listen to a recording of it, click here).

What did you find different, unexpected, surprising, memorable, or satisfying about Parasite?

It’s a combination of many different genres: it’s a heist movie, a horror movie (considering the violence and talk of ghosts), a black comedy, a suspense thriller, and a social satire. It also plays with genre tropes and conventions, such as substituting bombs and weapons for, respectively, cell phones that can send incriminating videos and peaches that can overwhelm a target.
Tonally, Parasite oscillates between comedy and knuckle-biting conflict. The extremely violent final 15 minutes feel much more shocking because we’ve been conditioned into funny mode for most of the movie.
The film is replete with symmetries and ironies. Consider how there are two sets of families of four, each with a husband, wife, daughter, and son, and two very different domiciles. The ironies include the son being seriously injured by the scholar’s stone he had been clinging to, the fact that the toilet in their lower-level home is on a higher plane than they are, how the father and his family have to crawl out of the Park house like cockroaches, and how the Kim family is more intelligent than the Park family even though they are less prosperous/fortunate.

Major themes

  • Class warfare and the social and financial gap between the haves and the have-nots. The title “Parasite” is fitting because both families – the Kims and the Parks – feed and capitalize on the other family as a parasite would.
    • The film depicts the dichotomy between two levels of class, the rich and fortunate versus the struggling lower and middle class, with the former exemplified by a deluxe home where the family lives on the top level and the latter signified by the struggling Kim family who lives in a sub-street level dwelling that gets flooded during the monsoon season and constantly has to descend staircases to reach their true habitats.
  • The promise and the perils of capitalism, which can rely on a symbiosis between a parasite and its host.
    • The film’s title also suggests what Karl Marx believed: “Capital is dead labor which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labor, and lives the more, the more labor it sucks."
    • People who live in capitalist societies believe that if they work hard and strive for upward mobility, they will be rewarded monetarily and enjoy a better quality of life among a higher class.
    • The son holds steadfast to a hopeful belief that he can aspire to greater things and that capitalism will reward him; he clings to the scholar’s stone that his friend gave him, who told him it would bring good fortune to his family. His father, however, embodies a harsh truth about capitalism: that most people are cogs in a machine who don’t advance and end up not achieving their dreams, unable to climb up the rungs of the ladder.
    • Forbes writer Travis Bean wrote: “The drive to become part of the higher class can push us to be better, to fully utilize our talents—but it can also persuade us to wear a mask, to pretend we’re something we’re not. We happily give ourselves over and become a cog in the machine because of the future it promises. But in doing that, we could end up sacrificing a part of ourselves…Perhaps the system does drive everybody to try their hardest. But it also leaves so many people in the dust. No matter how hard you try, you’re just part of the pyramid. For capitalism to truly work, there always needs to be somebody standing up at the top—and then the people who want to be up there as well.”
    • Even though the Kims pushed out a previous parasitical family and assumed their jobs, ultimately, Mr. Kim sympathizes with the original housekeeper’s husband, whom Mr. Park finds aromatically offensive; recalling how his boss also commented negatively about his smell, Mr. Kim finally hits a breaking point and, perhaps caught up in the crazed violence around him at the moment, decides to kill Mr. Park – insinuating that the host has finally succumbed to its parasite.

How do you interpret the ending of the movie?

  • We discover that the father has been living secretly in the sub-basement of the Park home and attempting to send Morse code messages to his son. The latter interprets these messages and is encouraged that his father has survived. We hear how the son plans to study hard, get a good job, and eventually earn enough money to purchase the house and free his father from his prison below. That suggests a hopeful conclusion to the story.
  • But that fantasy sequence ends, and we are brought back to the original low-rent apartment where we first saw the family at the movie’s start. The son is sitting in the darkness, reflecting on his hopes for his father. But this suggests that there is little hope he can achieve his dream and be reunited with his father.
  • The director said in an interview: “It’s a surefire kill” in describing the final shot. “Maybe if the movie ended where they hug and fades out, the audience can imagine, ‘Oh, it’s impossible to buy that house,’ but the camera goes down to that half-basement. It’s quite cruel and sad, but I thought it was being real and honest with the audience. You know and I know — we all know that this kid isn’t going to be able to buy that house. I just felt that frankness was right for the film, even though it’s sad.”

Similar works

  • Us
  • The People Under the Stairs
  • Burning
  • The Servant
  • The Ruling Class
  • Society
  • The Rules of the Game
  • The Ladykillers
  • High and Low
  • Squid Game

Other films by Bong Joon-ho

  • Memories of Murder
  • The Host
  • Mother
  • Snowpiercer
  • Okja

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