Parasite (Bong Joon-ho, 2019)
With a perfect screenplay and an impressive commentary on contemporary society, Parasite instantly becomes one of the best films of the 21st century.
There’s no better feeling than watching a movie for the second time. And when you encounter a piece like Parasite, that feeling is indescribable. I went to see the Korean acclaimed film back in December and it blew me away. I wanted to see it again before writing my final review for this year’s runner-ups for Best Picture, and the follow-up séance was an absolute revelation.
Out of all the nominees for Best Picture this year, Parasite is a film like no other. Of course, there’s the obvious fact that it is a foreign film making history within Hollywood -and here’s to hoping that it will make history on Oscar night too-. But more than that, Bong Joon-ho’s instant classic breaks down the boundaries of cinema itself. With an uncharacterizable plot and a story that develops in the most unexpected ways, I would argue there is almost an impossibility to classify Parasite within one specific genre. The movie starts off as what would appear to be a drama, evoking films like the recent and also widely acclaimed Shoplifters. However, as the story unfolds, the film takes a turn into the realm of suspense, adding subtle hints of comedy and elements of horror here and there. The result is a thriller that evokes some of the best of the genre; something we don’t see much of these days in the lost art of the thriller genre.
Bong Joon-ho’s proclaimed satire is here to leave its mark, even beyond Oscar night. The screenplay is golden. It is clever and original, and it develops perfectly alongside an outstanding score and a wonderful level of visual mastery. Regarding the visuals, I think it’s almost imperative to specially mention “the peach sequence”, an entire scene that allows for a full display of delicacy and craftsmanship on behalf of Joon-Ho, as well as amazing acting abilities from each one of the cast members, who carry out the story with remarkable performances. Let’s just say the SAG award for Best Acting Ensemble this year has definitely been one of the most deserving awards in the entire season.
But Parasite doesn’t remain on the making of a nearly perfect movie, as critics have called it. Unlike films like 1917, that end up being just a sum of technical achievements, Parasite poses fundamental questions at the core of modern society, creating a poignant social commentary with more than a thousand layers -unlike the so-called faux critique of Joker-. First, there’s the obvious commentary on inequality and class. The Kims enter the lives of the Parks with the intention of living off of them, earning their trust and infiltrating their lives. The movie uses several elements to show the everlasting gap between both families. One of the most notorious ones is the significance of the rain for each family. For the Kims, it’s losing everything they own. For the Parks, it’s having a sunny morning. This is further emphasized by a sequence that shows the Parks in the commodities of their home, choosing what to wear from their walk-in closet, while the Kims have spent the night in a sports complex, sleeping on the floor next to a hundred strangers, searching for something to wear from a literal pile of clothes. Moreover, what’s probably the cleverest tool in addressing the issue of class, which is also used as the trigger for the story’s denouement, is the smell. Specifically, how the Parks feel the Kims smell in a certain way, a difference they can’t even describe, being eternally oblivious to its implications.
Now, having already posed an important question to the pillars of modern society, Parasite still manages to go beyond this obvious statement, creating a story filled with symbolism and many possible readings. The film is packed with metaphors, such as the repetitive element of the stairs, which calls to the place each of the characters -or families- hold in society. The Parks live way uphill. The Kims live on a ground floor -like cockroaches, which is also implied in the beginning of the film-. This is especially emphasized on the night of the incident, when they finally manage to escape the Parks’ house and walk in the rain towards their own home. The entire path to their home is filled with multiple stairs, and they are shown going further and further down. Also, there’s the fact that just when they finally seem victorious, living like the people they have scammed, the story takes another turn into the basement, where they encounter people who they consider to be below them. So it is no surprise that the basement becomes a central element in the story, even to the point that to be freed from it, “all you have to do is go upstairs”, which is what Ki-woo hopes to tell his father one day.
I could go on with many more elements to read into (the meaning of the rock, the whole speech about not making plans, etc.). However, what truly strikes me from Parasite is the way its social commentary is imbedded in the idea of erasing the limits on who you can call the good guys and the bad guys. I read somewhere that, going past their class-conscious structure, the Parks aren’t really bad people, whereas the Kims aren’t exactly what you would call the morally flawless protagonists -the Kims even have a conversation revolving around this, discussing whether the Parks are rich but nice, or nice because they’re rich-. I believe this is where the true essence of the film lies. Who is to blame for the tragedies portrayed? Who is the victim and who is the hero? Who are the true parasites? Bong Joon-Ho masterfully creates a story that points to the fact that both the victim and the victimizer hold the same place. We are all one and the same. We are all the parasites, victims of a system that makes us feed off of each other, one way or another. Thus, the blood is in none of our hands, and all of our hands at the same time, and there is no one to blame but society itself.
Call me poetic, but what I look for in a film, more than anything else, is that when I leave the cinema, I leave feeling all sorts of things. Things I simply can’t describe. That’s what Parasite did to me. And that’s what I’ve been attempting to convey in these written words. Whether I’ve managed to achieve that or not, there is no doubt Parasite is one of the best films of 2019. It is funny, unsettling, poignant, witty, and devastating, all in one. It’s an entertaining thriller that will shock and wow you, making you laugh, gasp, and applaud more than once. It’s a movie that speaks to everyone -whether or not they want to hear its message-, a movie that addresses important contemporary issues, and a movie that filmmaking is a space where you can be both technically skilled and socially critical.