Parasite- A living metaphor?

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Bong Joon-ho holds the Oscars for best original screenplay, best international feature film, best directing, and best picture for "Parasite" at the Governors Ball after the Oscars on Sunday, Feb. 9, 2020, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)

This awards season has been a remarkable reflection of the living diversity in modern filmmaking- particularly for foreign movies capturing global attention with their riveting story-telling and copious amounts of talent. But one particular movie comes to mind when projecting representation and cinematic brilliance in an unconventional manner that has not been nearly as explored. That is Parasite, the Bong Joon Ho directed stellar film that has been raving in audiences and critics alike for its genre bending masterpiece and bit more than being just the best foreign film picture of the year. 

As we all know, surviving in Hollywood is not for the faint hearted and especially for directors who do not come from the predominant disposition of euro-centric industries. But Joon Ho’s movie delves deeper into the analogy of social inequality in contemporary South Korea, more from the dual perspectives of either side of the class divide. Much more than the appreciation it is getting (and deserved), I was simply astounded by the miraculous discourse of regional/foreign cinema in terms of the brilliant art form they bring about. 

But before caressing the central tenets of Parasite, here is something to celebrate the film noting it for its unique complexity and dark humour only appropriate that it came from a director that has taken care of his craft sincerely and diligently. Parasite is a dream for every underdog, beside from the jaw-dropping premise but by the simple accomplishment of becoming the first foreign movie to win Best Picture at the Oscars, following it up with sweeping major categories. This is a standing ovation to rising cinema that have always been dubbed as alternatives or been hidden under the carpet to feed into the rhetoric of the existing lack of representation but to no active effort in reviving their potential.

Now coming to the film and why it stands out apart from its political relevance in accolades at esteemed film festivals. Parasite is a metaphorical landmark for inequality, greed, creed and capitalism. Joon Ho declared the thematic entrants for this film as setting a discourse on the battle of class conflict and what modern capitalism has rendered poverty to be an endless pool of misery for those who live in it long enough. The two families in question, the well off Parks and the destitute Kims are poles apart but merge into a web of servitude and deceit while the latter trying to languishing its lavish desires. But a dark secret threatens to kill off their new found happiness when they find that they have rivals in the quest for Parks’ family trust and fortune. That is enough given there are no spoilers!

Intellectually, Joon Ho’s intelligent goal of dressing up the human need for survival into fraudulence represents the ailing moral values the human condition have stooped to. But meanwhile the Kims have adopted their lower middle class lifestyle as an inescapable way of existence but never abandon the hope of a better life. They start degenerating to save their lies and ultimately commit grievances to secure their upliftment. Parasite is a movie with innuendos and metaphors; the objects, the props, the scenery, the characters are all reflections of their circumstances. There is one thing so subtly observed in the dramedy, that class divide is no longer too imaginary for those who can choose to delineate it in their circle.

While not clearly being a horror flick, the horror parts of the movie are not the expected thrills or frights but the epiphanies many of us had in the theatre of how this universal system of exploitation and oppression has enveloped us in ridicule and malice. We not only combat those who have more social and economic standing above us but those who are adjacent to us in our socio-economic grouping. Parasite is a dark satire of how ordinary people are ridden with debt, impoverishment, under-nourishment and over bearing materialism that meet the worst in us. 

What starts out as a comically angled perception of a poor South Korean family making ends meet, turns darker as Joon Ho confronts their inner demons as they battle one another in swindling out the rich Park family. The Kims are not antagonists, just marginal on their livelihoods. Their stench of poverty is their recurrent run in with ridicule, one that sends out a significant signal to the audience of how unappealing the lack of money and comfort can render oneself. And the limits to which they can afford civility are carefully but quite clearly listed out to them while taking on employment with the Parks.

Parasite is wonderfully crafted, not ostentatious in depicting a South-East Asian society that has layers of class embedded in them. There is no need to show native culture or an over the top show of demographic nature to prove its location. It is a seemingly common backdrop and nothing extraordinarily painted situation. But that is the victory of the movie, it is the commonality of living under the daily wage or financial struggle that makes this watch so metaphorically invigorating, in any part of the world. 

The basement residence of the Kims, the Parks’ unassuming but void family life, the distance of the working class and the privileged are all masqueraded into a believable and relatable screenplay that it allows you to wonder what next or confuse you because of your initial sympathy. And the fluidity of genres makes it even more appetizing to avoid a single scope of wishful thinking.

Watch Parasite not because it is arguably the best movie of 2019, watch it because this may be an influential turn of cinematic discourse that highlights the satirical monotones of socio-economic reality. And because of the sheer symbolism and power filmmaking has to transport you into the world of conscious cinema that does not hide the evident social divisions. These are the types of movies that should be endorsed, their depth and effortless style explore our own boundaries to which we yield to and revel at when seen on the big screen. You won’t regret it!


Sumona Bose is a MPhil candidate in Justice and Transformation at the University of Cape Town. She has an undergraduate studies in Political Studies.