We all know the person. The person that you’re going to see today who will inexplicably tell you that a South Korean film winning best picture is “unamerican.” We know the person that doesn’t want to watch a film because it’s dubbed in subtitles. These people exist and are all around us.
Parasite is written and directed by Oscar-winning director Bong Joon-Ho and tells the story of a family that is trying to rise within South Korea’s aggressive economic landscape. On its surface, Parasite is a good and entertaining film that I think most audience members will enjoy. It’s surprisingly funny and the technical aspects of the film are just outstanding. The brilliance of Parasite really reveals itself the more a viewer thinks and watches the film. It’s dense, but the themes are universal.
America is a very “us vs them” country right now. Conservatives scoff at the mention of democrats and vice versa. Putting everyone into a category in order to prove a point is easier than seeing everyone as individual people and thus treating them like such. The country is at a crossroads in a way it hasn’t been in some time. Social inequality is rising, and it’s really hard for the poor to get out of their situation.
Spoilers for Parasite:
Parasite shows the Kim family constantly trying to get their way to the top. The Park family’s house at the high-point in the city quite literally represents this desire to get out of the bottom and make a life that is better than poverty. When speaking of homelessness here in America, many Americans have the mentality that the homeless should just “go get a job.” This is seen in Parasite when the Kim family realizes that it needs to find something that will improve everyone’s way of life. But, how? The family isn’t educated. They haven’t learned the skills necessary to succeed in an increasingly competitive market. How could they possibly grow? By lying!
The true only way for the Kim family to make more money is lying. I find this funny because it shows just how hard it is to really get out from the bottom, and sometimes lying is necessary for growth. This plays well into the American dynamics I’m getting into. We have a social class structure in this country where acording to The New York Times, the richest 1 percent in the United States now own more wealth than the bottom 90 percent. In Parasite this concept is represented by the Park family. Similar in nature to the Kims, the Parks are decent people who end up quite literally parallel the Kims.
The Parks live at the top. The Kims live in the bottom. The Parks and Kims both have two children, a wife, and a husband. They’re both good families. Here is one of the things I really loved about Parasite: it didn’t villainize the Park family. Sure, we don’t necessarily like them too much because we know that they present some challenges for the Kims, but they’re still honest and good people for the most part. I think this idea is really great because if the Parks were just these evil Trump-like family then it wouldn’t be as realistic. Making them somewhat likable and not totally bad makes the story of Parasite even more impactful.
Even within the Park family’s house, there is a dynamic between rich and poor. There is a man living in the unknown basement of the home. He is similar to the Kim family in that they’re kind of just stuck living below the rich not because they want to, but in order to survive. The man in the basement is seen as primal and animalistic, a way that many people often look at the poor in this country. The symbolism in Parasite just keeps going and going.
The last theme I want to touch upon is water. My good friend and co-host of Overthinking It: A Film Podcast Carson Terrell was the first person who told me about the importance of water in the film. We had a great conversation about it and some of the points I am going to make come from my conversation with him.
We cannot control the flow of water. It always is going to be pushed down. That’s just how things work with gravity. There’s really no way that water can move up a mountain. It can only fall. Water is a huge theme in Parasite. You can’t escape it, and we even see at the start of the film that a man is urinating on the Kim family’s home. It’s a nice little metaphor of what society does to the poor individuals of society. You can’t escape water.
This is best seen towards the end of the film with the Kim family is trying to rush home during a horrible rainstorm. They have to travel all the way down to the bottom of the city, further symbolizing the absolute struggle that the lower class faces in literally going back to the bottom. The Kims belongings are all trashed. They can’t escape the forces of nature that push them back into the bottom. I think this concept is really interesting and plays to a lot of the ideas I’ve mentioned in American society with the poor vs. the rich.
The rich often want the poor to fail. They don’t have to ever go to the bottom where they live. Sitting up on the top with their nice house, they just see rain. They don’t think of the consequences it has on the bottom of the city. To the Parks, rain is only something of an inconvenience. To the Kims, however, rain is a threat to survival. This concept is key to the foundation of Parasite and another dynamic that reveals itself near the end of the film or on a rewatch.
Bong Joon-Ho created something truly special with Parasite. I’m so happy that the Academy recognized it last night and I’m so glad that a lot of people are celebrating this as a victory for film. Foreign film is just as important as domestic film. A story is a story regardless of what medium, language, or platform that it is told in. The sooner we realize that film is about listening to a story, not watching something blow up for two hours, the sooner we expand our worldview and see others not as something else, but as someone else.