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Parasite: Cruel portrayal of the 21st century class struggle

  • Published at 06:58 pm August 8th, 2020

No matter who lives in that luxurious mansion or that filthy basement, the situation is always the same: the rich will feed on the poor, while the poor will always struggle to live at the mercy of the rich

“Money is an iron; those creases get all smoothed out.”

In his poem, The Ballad of Reading Gaol, Oscar Wilde said: “Each man kills the thing he loves.” This is the first thought that came across my mind after watching the black comedy thriller masterpiece Parasite. Bong Joon-Ho’s film has so far claimed the Academy Award for Best Picture, Cannes festival’s Palme d’Or and many other accolades. While this film boasts many prestigious awards, it is also a portrayal of the cruel reality of class struggle, inequality and social disparity. Bong’s movie is well crafted with dark humour and sophisticated metaphors, all of which play a critical role in the movie that makes us think about the inconsistencies of our post-modern society and its socioeconomic system.

The story revolves around two households from completely opposite socioeconomic backgrounds; the Kim family and the Park family. While the Park family lives in a sophisticated, luxurious mansion that resides over the clustered slums of Seoul and enjoys delicately cut and decorated fruits prepared by their housekeeper, the Kim family, in contrast, roams around their gloomy semi-basement apartment hunting for free Wi-Fi signals and barely making a living by folding pizza boxes. While the Parks play with their lapdogs in their lawn, the Kims try to enjoy the benefits of free disinfectants sprayed on their impoverished neighbourhood, even while they almost choke on the fumes. 

But things change when one day Ki-Woo, the son of the Kim family, receives an unexpected visit from his friend Min-hyuk. He offers them a scholar’s rock that promises wealth, while also offering him to take over his job of tutoring Da-Hye, the daughter of the wealthy Park family. Ki-Woo, who has no qualifications whatsoever for the job, takes help from her guileful artist sister Ki-jung to forge a college certificate. However, Yeon-kyo, the naïve wife of Mr Park is easily fooled by all the fancy tricks pulled by the new tutor. Ki-woo, after keenly observing the whole household, soon realizes that this family is completely dependent on hired help. Perceiving this, he develops a cunning plan to involve his family to fill up the roles of such hired helping hands. The journey of the Kim family begins as they wheedle their way into the Parks household. Just when the Kims start to enjoy the privileges wealth brings to them, things take an unexpectedly dark turn. As the cinema continues, it almost cruelly reveals the complexities of class conflict and inequality of the post-modern society.

As for the storyline, Parasite is meticulously crafted with allegories. To begin with, architectural metaphors represent a key aspect of this cinema. Stairs, basements all somehow resemble the socioeconomic ladder. In the key scenes, we see how oddly the characters resemble their social status as they walk up or down the stairs. Whether we consider Moon-gwang, the former housekeeper of the Park family sheltering her feeble husband down at the Parks secret basement, or Kim Ki-taek, father of the Kim family condemned to live in that same basement for the rest of his life after one bloody afternoon; they all convey the same message: No matter who lives in that luxurious mansion or that filthy basement, the situation is always the same: the rich will feed on the poor, while the poor will always struggle to live at the mercy of the rich. 

As the movie goes on, the scholar’s rock plays a curious role through it. Starting from acquiring it to lastly dumping it, this rock continues to indicate the ironic role of wealth in both the families. 

The sewage water flood caused by heavy rain can be considered as one of the turning points in the cinema. While the Kim family suffers terribly as their apartment gets flooded and they become homeless, The Park family celebrates their youngest son Da-song’s birthday the very next day. A scene worth mentioning here is when Kim Ki-taek is forced to come to work the very next day of the flood to help Yeon-Kyo arrange the birthday party. While driving the car, he hears Yeon-kyo exclaiming to one of her friends, “The sky is so blue, and no pollution thanks to all the rain yesterday!”

This is a soul-crushing scene as it inevitably forces us to witness the bitter contrast and distance caused by something as materialistic as wealth. Throughout the day, while Yeon-kyo worries and whines about a perfect birthday party, the Kim family struggles to keep up with the jolly spirit of the Parks. Soon enough, things turn into a bloody massacre that afternoon and unravel the bitterness of the atmosphere.

However, the notion of smell was the final essence of that bitter afternoon. When Mr Park expressed his disgust again for the people who “ride the subways”, the bitter contrast between both the families becomes too unbearable. The movie approaches its ultimate climax, drawing a dystopian conclusion later on.

Parasite’s well-composed film scores containing light minimalistic piano notes, tense operas and orchestras perform a significant role in accompanying the dense atmosphere. The third-person view of shots encourages the audience to engage with the film from a more personal point of view. The actors, especially Park So-dam (Ki-jung), Choi Woo-shik (Ki-Woo), Cho Yeo-jeong (Yeon-kyo), and Kang-Ho Song (Kim Ki-taek) have all done a marvellous job portraying their characters.

However, the real question arises as the movie continues; who is the real parasite? Is it the Kim family, using tricks and manipulation to sneak into the Park’s family and scrape off their wealth, or is it the Park’s family who lives their lavish life without any consideration for those who help them get by, or is it the deep-rooted system of social disparity itself that has crawled into our mentalities? I think that is the legacy of Bong’s well-crafted story. Even after finishing it, the question still lingers in our mind; who’s the real parasite?