This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
yuefei’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
A faint nausea accompanied me as I stepped out of the cinema last night, and it stuck with me in the tarnished city air, in the sunken seats of the bus and in the darkness of my bed as I tried to sleep. I was restless, my head was spinning with no respite trying to take apart and put to words what I had just seen. My mouth foamed with ideas, my head was full, and there was too much that I needed to record before I forgot.
To make this entry a little more comprehensible, it will be split into two sections: the first focusing on review, the second on analysis.
Bong Joon-ho's Parasite is a satirical tragicomedy about the relationship between, quite literally, the upper and lower classes. The story is told through the perspective of the Kims, a family living in poverty. The Kims' familial warmth, fierce intelligence and sharp personalities effortless charm us, and before we know it, they begin to live off of the Park family, who are wealthy but fragmented. As soon as the Kims' son, Ki-woo, steps into the Parks' manor, we feel not only Ki-woo's displacement but the vacant emptiness that pervades the Parks' household. As the Kim family leeches off of the Parks, they become careless and the tensions rises immensely. There was an unshakeable feeling of "whatever goes up, must come down". The film flawlessly transitions from a comedic satire to a demented horror show, and achieves a perfect tonal balance between the two, offering relief and tension, lighthearted seriousness. You'll see countless other films trying to achieve what Parasite did tonally and narratively, and that is creating a violent, blood-red climax while feeling completely grounded and important. I was profoundly disturbed (something Guadagnino's Suspiria wanted to do but couldn't). I stared blankly at the screen in disbelief as I saw the shadows of each desperate action prancing manically before me, none of the characters deserved it, but a part of me understood that it was inevitable. With the Kim family, my heart sank to the depths.
One other thing I noticed was the similarities this film shared with Jordan Peele's Us, which was released earlier this year. Both were heavy with metaphor and satire that dealt with the relationship between the privileged and the oppressed, and both tried to balance comedic entertainment with demented violence. Us lost me halfway through, as I grew tired of its tonal shifts and unfocused metaphorical development which was trying to do too much at once. Parasite, on the other hand, felt comprehensive when it came to its metaphorical execution, and it was effectively entertaining when it came to tonal shifts, creating a film experience that was memorable, addictive, and reflective.
God, where do I even start with this. I think it's very easy to interpret the film with our already substantial knowledge of class divisions and criticism of capitalism, but I'm very uncomfortable with the idea of using a film like this to reinforce ideas we already hold (which are possibly very reductionist). Parasite seems to be exploring at once family dynamics and class relationships, as well as the correlation between them. With a written analysis, I'm hoping to find meaning in the film without straying too far from the original material. The analysis itself will be split into smaller sections, for the sake of accessibility.
The Metaphor of the Stone
"It's so metaphorical!"
Ironically enough, Ki-woo's response to the "collector's stone", given to him by his wealthy friend, couldn't be more accurate. Ki-woo's character is, in the traditional masculine sense, weak. His limbs are flimsy and he's humble and shy in social situations. He has no physical or social power. Ki-taek, his father, explicitly expresses admiration for the courage and strength shown by Ki-woo's wealthy friend, who is like a foil to Ki-woo. When Ki-woo is given the stone, he admires it intensely. The stone is a trophy for the rich and "cultured" who have the ability to appreciate its beauty, and a lucky charm that is to bring the family material wealth. Thus, it is already heavily symbolic of culture and wealth. Ki-woo admires it for it represents the future that he dreams for, and when he talks of the stone's "metaphorical" richness, it is a poor man's eerie imitation of a rich man. Despite his "weakness", Ki-woo struggles to be strong throughout the film, which can be seen in his determined attempt to "finish what he started". The stone is used to represent the heavy, interlinked responsibilities that Ki-woo carries on his shoulders: supporting his family, the dream of wealth, and personal growth. This is especially prominent when Ki-woo takes the stone down to the bunker to kill the other family, for he is literally taking his responsibility in his hand, and is prepared to kill for the sake of his dreams. The heaviness of the stone, however, ends up proving too much for Ki-woo and results in the nightmarish death of his sister and the disappearance of his father. For me, the metaphor of the stone is a reflection of the pressure that young men from poor families have to achieve a dream that was force upon them. Ki-woo's eerie imitation of his wealthy friend gets to the point where he falls in love with the same girl that his friend loves, and promises to marry her after college, just as his friend did. This is a devastating statement of how the lives of the rich are idealised by the poor, and that, because they weren't born in such an environment, the working class will always be imitations of romanticised ideals of the rich (an idea also explored in Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby).
The concept of the underground serves to highlight the place of the poor in society, including their low social, economical, and living status. Drunks piss near their property and they can't do anything about it: their confidence has been weighed down by their experience in poverty and they've come to accept every bad thing that happens to them. The oppressiveness of their lives are further established by the fact that they only have one window to look through, which often brings in more bad than good (their house was flooded all due to an open window). The claustrophobic underground that serves as the dwelling of the Kim family is then massively juxtaposed with the open mansion that the Parks live in, which in turn represent the lifestyle of the rich. What's even more amazing is how uncomfortable we feel as an audience when Ki-woo first enters the Parks' household, simply because of the massive juxtaposition between the two lifestyles.
It is later revealed that the husband of the previous housemaid lives in an underground bunker hidden beneath the Parks' house. This seems to imply that the working class are parasites, living off of the rich when they have the opportunity to, and they're satisfied with living underground if they have the occasional glimpse at the lives of the wealthy, towards which they dream. Nevertheless, when the two families discover each other, they fight like animals for the position to work for the Parks. Even our protagonists, who are initially introduced as kind-hearted and likeable people, end up accidentally murdering someone in the process of keeping their positions in the household. It isn't exactly subtle, but this is a cynical representation of what greed and competition does to initially kind-hearted people: the reason why poverty is often considered a "moral wasteland".
Satirising the Rich
The rich and wealthy have been the subject of cinematic satire for millenniums now, usually with an anti-capitalist sentiment attached (see The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoise and American Psycho). Though Bong doesn't have a new take on the emptiness of the upper-class lifestyle, he manages to capture it with to great comedic effect. This can be observed in the relationship between Mr Park and his wife, who is used for her physical attractiveness and housekeeping skills rather than "love". In other words, their relationship is like a transaction, similar to what is explored in The Killing of a Sacred Deer.
(Work in progress)