SR Film Review: “Parasite”

In many ways, Bong Joon-ho’s film has lived up to its hype. Although slapstick to the point of ridiculousness and relatively hokey, the film is quite enthralling, entertaining, and depending on who you are, it can be quite thought-provoking with it’s elaborate (in its own limited way) scenarios and characters.

The first thing one notices when the movie begins is a mark of relative taste: a shot of a window with a hanger in front of it carrying socks set to dry as the opening titles appear to the right of it in what is in itself already quite tasteful, but then shot goes even further with a camera pan down from that position in one single take so as to show the rest of the semi-basement that the characters live in. The technical footing and feeling that’s displayed in those brief moments are already enough for you to know that you’re in for a pretty good exercise in visual storytelling (of course though if you haven’t seen it, that description means very little). Later, to give another random example, we’re more than delighted to find montage moments and sequential instances to which classical pieces are set and play, as their auditory accompaniments do, with a certain and fine orchestration— rhythm and visual constitution that flow with as much assured grace as they do a sense of impending doom.

I mean this in rough comparison to the majority of media output these days, the film seems to be carefully composed and executed. As unrealistic as it is, it does subtly compel you to watch it and keep watching it with a faith in its capacity to keep doing what it’s doing and to do it just as well. Additionally, with its expertly crafted framing, visual progress, and informational communication, it’s a work that not only has its fingers on the pulse of clever filmmaking for a captivating experience, but it also serves as both a story for our times, with the appropriate style and content, and of it, all the while defining what that even means and looks like. The film does very well in exemplifying what good technique and presentation look and feel like in 2019, as well as evoking the sense of the day for its narrative and tonal purposes; It does well by both echoing the zeitgeist and technically defining it further through its very example. Though, with that all said– it has its technical and tonal shortcomings (or rather, construct limitations) that hinder the film from being the “masterpiece” that it’s lauded to be.

Though praise is not unsubstantiated, as I’ve already explained, and most of that substance is found in the resonance of the film’s political/literary focus. The film is both a statement on personal politics and a basic yet pointed picture of their societal extension and what that all means in a specifically emphasized context. Each character regardless of other conditions has some sort of advantage over another, and some interest being met through the tugging of those strings. The film examines a demonstration of everyone operating with a capitalist modus operendi and aims to look at the many ways that such dynamics are at play even in seemingly “normal” contexts, and how massive injustice and exploitation is occurring right under the noses of those benefiting and those losing from it, without insight into a better world for even those that are relatively aware of what’s going on around them.

The point (s) is (are) made both subliminal and overt in many ways and often both at the same time (though its best not to go into too many of the details that amount to them). The characters themselves are very poor— living in a semi-basement, scrounging for money to pay any bills, resorting to using random public Wi-Fi sources they can find just be effective people in this day and age. When the film opens, we find them folding thousands of pizza boxes (a job that I had no idea was even outsourced to people’s homes) and as much as they have a sense of humor and sharp wit, they are very aware of the depths of their poverty and the hopelessness in their prospects. One day, Kim Ki-woo, the son and eldest child of Kim Ki-teik and Chung-sook— later branded the name, and thereafter referred to as “Kevin”— is recommended to the affluent Park family to tutor their daughter in English. Part of his recommendation is a con, considering he forged certification and experience, but the other part of it, to which the deception is in service to and in another way indicative of, is a genuine truth because, firstly, he is more than capable of doing the job, and secondly and more importantly—he’s brilliant (or at least indicative of such insomuch as a film of such simply telling gestures can convincingly and pointedly indicate). In fact, his whole family, along with the friend that recommended him, and as we find later on- to a lesser and cruder extent- other downtrodden individuals as well, are brilliant and, in the context of characterization in this film, remarkable individuals, despite their impoverished dispositions and limited to the point of virtually non-existent prospects.

As soon as the Park family are introduced the juxtaposition between their lack of motivation- lack of true distinguishing quality- and their affluence is overtly palpable and readily comparable to the condition of others, namely the Kim clan. When the yet-to-be-named Kevin first arrives to meet the woman he’s gone through such lengths to dupe, he finds himself in a truly graceful and inspired abode—designed by a prominent contemporary architect for himself, before he sold it to the Park family—wherein which the walls are made of glass, in through which the madame of the house can be seen quite inelegantly sleeping on her garden table, in the middle of a sunny and lively day, as she is expecting an applicant whose appointment she holds in high priority, and must be woken by her housemaid to see.

This arrangement speaks directly to the personal placement of the characters in the theater of life and who they are in context with each other. For example, such a scenario and the details of its elaboration, readily invite the viewer to wonder why it is, and what it means, that these particular people are affluent, while these other particular people aren’t—what it means that the Parks are living in conductivity to rich and pointed whimsicality but cannot support or inspire in themselves enough substantial perspective or initiative to live in a manner that truly makes use of (and somewhat retroactively substantiates) that luxury, while the Kim family has nothing but that very kind of inspiration and perspective yet no means of acting on them. In fact, it seems that the only rewarding means of creative expression they have is through their cons.

This perspective is elaborated even further, nuanced and even challenged by the way in which the Kims use that very wit and inspiration to a superficial and relatively delusional end of comfort by deceiving the Park family into firing their previous staff of various positions and filling them with each other, without the Parks having any idea that they’re being led along and manipulated into such things, or even knowing that the Kims are related to each other. The Kims use their new jobs to not only support themselves to what little ends they can, but they more intendedly try to live the life of luxury by proxy, through watching the example of the Park family and sometimes even indulging themselves in secret behind the Parks’ backs.  Of course, the Parks aren’t short of guilt either— they act with just as much self-concern, manipulation,  and exploitation to reach the ends that they see fit within the boundaries of their intentions and circumstances. Not only that, but most importantly, their disconnection from the reality outside of their own- as evident, for example, in Mr. Park’s take on the smell of the subway and people who ride it, a smell he comes to associate with Mr. Kim- becomes not just abundantly clear but it also, in a way, drives the movie’s plot and its point seeing as their ignorance is the most effective. The most important way in which that’s true is in their total lack of awareness as to who their employees, who seemingly blend into their clean and comfortable condition and concept, are and how they each in their own private ways (and this is true for all their workers, not just the Kims) are living lives of desperation and poverty in both faculty and experience. This is made quite clear, for example during a scene involving a storm and the variance in how each party experiences it.

Though they are seemingly ignorant of the inherent dignity of the working class as humans within a condition, and the details of that condition that the workers are too aware of, it does not necessarily articulate conscious political leanings, or at least not enough to totally indicate his political position with doubt or nuance. What’s more, through their ignorance we can potentially take it, or at least it opens up the picture in such way that the Park’s world is away from social affairs and so we can assume that,  more likely than not, they are not in themselves conscious profiteers and have little connection to the world of social engineering and conscious profiteering. In other words, it’s important to distinguish (as much as it might seem like splitting a hair) that they are rich and benefit from a status dirty quo— they are exemplary in that, as the film elaborates— but they arent necessairly culprit, in an inteded sense, in the concious creation or perpetuation of societies woes. In that sense, they are firmly on one side of the fence in life, but they are still, to a degree, subjects to determining factors (which doesn’t excuse them in their affluence and might make their ignorance even uglier in its shades of vanity and oblivious narcissism).

From there the film elaborates on technical extremities, ultimately reinforcing its bleak conclusions and articulating both hope and at the same time a total lack of it (making it in itself even seem kind of pathological in the context presented) and culminating in a conclusion that is at once fitting (although quite reflexively) and ridiculously over the top. In this, Joon-ho’s world, it seems that absurdity is the only certainty—even in its basic tenets and characteristics. As clean as it might seem in some corners, it all distracts from and in its own way indicates many ugly and brutal realities. Genericism, capitalist greed, commodity fetishism, smartphones, insane climate, a grand divide between the affluent and the poor who each in their own way operate on capitalist values, all come together to affect individuals who both are and aren’t benefiting, who both are and aren’t simply colored in character by their appearances, initiatives, and contexts, and who aren’t necessarily justified in their engagement with the world and others, even if their engagement mimics the way the world engages with them or the way the world seemingly encourages them to operate– that is to say an egoist and somewhat brutal mode of engagement, regardless if the agent in question is bourgeoisie, petit-bourgeoise or proletariat—or rather, lumpenproletariat- or even if that agent is aware of the consequences of their actions. Because in the end, outside of true and empathetic insight and initiative- particularly initiatives taken by those who can afford to, and thus should do so- that is truly coordinated and earnestly accommodating to all logistical certainties, it seems that the more likely probability is that things, on all fronts, will get immeasurably worse.







Bong Joon-ho at a Cannes screening of the film


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