Would I have seen Parasite differently if I’d never heard of it and I’d simply stumbled upon it? I believe that I would have recognized it as something unique. But how high would my praise have gone? The important thing now is to go see it! Part of the point of the movement for change at the Academy Awards is to shake up the playing field and reconsider what makes for great cinema. Looking back on the Oscars, I see now how painfully obvious it would have been for 1917 to have won for Best Picture. It certainly delivered the goods but all too much in an Old Hollywood tradition. Director Bong Joon-ho is, of course, well-versed in and part of a new generation that is upturning the status quo. It’s all about mashing up genres and exuberant irreverence. While 1917 is in the great anti-war spirit, Parasite is as disruptive as the best work by another fellow cultural rebel, Jordan Peele. As is the case with many movies that take on an iconic status, you can read all sorts of things into Parasite. Many people, without having seen it, believe it is a movie about the need to care for others. I’m sure that Bong Joon-ho would be the first to laugh at the irony over some of the platitudes being said about his horror fable. Yes, there is social commentary. But, in the end, it is an artful, and highly entertaining, story told well.
It is the contrast between the poverty-stricken Kim family and the ultra-rich Park family that is the linchpin to this tale. We begin with the Kim family and find mother, father, and teen daughter and son literally hunched over in their tiny decrepit basement apartment. Played for laughs, we see them as they struggle to catch a free Wi-Fi signal from a neighbor. They are so starved for space that even the bathroom works as a suitable meeting area. In fact, it might be one of the bigger spaces as all functionality has been pushed up against a wall. You need to walk up some steps in order to reach the open toilet that rests just a few feet below the ceiling. Fast forward a bit and we see that the Kim family has set their sights on exploiting the wealthy Park family. First, it’s the son who lands a job as a tutor and, from there, it all spirals out of control as the whole family takes over each remaining staff position. It is a splendid caper that allows the Kim family to, at least, have a taste of the good life. Representing the best is the Park’s home, built by a famous architect and the ultimate in spacious elegance.
The story takes a decidedly grisly turn once the plot goes underground and focuses on activity in the Park’s secret bunker. Like any good horror movie, Parasite is by degrees turning up the heat in the frog kettle. Without spoiling a thing, it’s safe to say that this is a tale of one thing leading to another and then another and the consequences that arise. One by one, each of the Kim family members must confront what lives in the basement. If not for their own scheming, the Kim family could have remained blissfully poor and naive and all the better for it. But sometimes you gain wisdom once it’s too late. The rich Park family aren’t villains, even if they think the Kims smell of damp old rags. The Kim family only needs to look in the mirror to see the true culprits.
The rich are not like you and me, so said F. Scott Fitzgerald, in one of the most celebrated lines of fiction. Bong Joon-ho enjoys his take on it with gleeful passion. While much has been said about the one percent versus the rest of us theme attached to this movie, another aspect is simply human folly. The rich, just like anyone else, can be utterly duped. The reason it’s important when it happens to the rich is pretty obvious. There’s money to be made from human vanity and ignorance. A perfect example in the movie is when so much is made of the Park family’s little boy who has aspirations to becoming the next Jean-Michel Basquiat. A obviously splapdash painting hangs in a hallway there as a shrine. It is definitely not lost on Bong Joon-ho that Jean-Michel Basquiat himself remains a bit of a mixed bag of authentic artistic genius and oversaturated superstardom. Jean-Michel Basquiat provides a cautionary example not only to the viewer but to the celebrated movie director as well.