Parasite ★★★★½

This is the fourth of Bong Joon Ho's films that I have seen. It's probably not my favorite of his (that remains "Snowpiercer") but it has the same tonal shifts and wickedly satirical bent as his other work. This one is more grounded than some of the others, however, focusing mostly on a single unemployed family and the wealthy family that they infiltrate to better themselves. It also handles those tonal shifts more deftly and precisely than something like "Okja", for instance.

The film is consistently funny, but with a thick tension laid beneath anything. The tension comes from the contrast between the rich and poor characters and the fact that Bong's storytelling avoids the typical structure and story beats of the average film in favor of a near-constant stream of surprises and revelations. The characters are richly drawn and engaging. They're all likable and they're all kind of despicable at times too. I anticipated that this would be a story of how the rich are terrible and the poor deserve better. But, really, the poor in this story do some pretty reprehensible things in order to better themselves and the rich seem, with a couple of exceptions late in the film, to be naive and kind. Their privilege has perhaps distanced them from the rest of the world to such an extent that they don't have the sort of distrust and paranoia that the average person does. They float on a cloud, above everyone else, without even realizing that they're ON a cloud. Bong seems to be indicting a system where the rich exist within a rarefied bubble and the poor are reduced to criminal actions and subterfuge and deceit for the slightest chance to better their situation, without making any of the characters within this system into outright monsters. If the main characters in "Parasite" are criminals, then it is because Capitalism has made them that way. "Parasite" also finds a novel way of illustrating (sort of like Jordan Peele's "Us") that there's always someone beneath you, that this society is structured on levels of oppression and misery to benefit those at the highest level, and that it is structured in such a way that those on the highest level don't even realize how they benefit from this unfair system (that's why they are so shocked when it is pointed out to them, most of the time, and refuse to believe it). But those in the middle don't seem to realize how much worse those in the levels below them have it either. It's a system built on ignorance more than almost anything else, separating all the levels from each other to such an extent that a greater understanding between classes is virtually impossible.

"Parasite" is an allegory, but far from a preachy one. It's instead committed to entertaining and surprising, to eliciting gasps and laughs and keeping the viewer so thoroughly engaged that they barely think about the themes thrumming beneath this work until the end credits have began to roll. At least, that was my experience with it. I have probably barely scratched the surface of this film, but that's my intention. I want to whet your appetite for the movie, which really is as good as this Awards season has suggested, without spoiling anything about it. I went in nearly blind and was wonderfully surprised and delighted by the experience. Bong's direction and storytelling instincts have perhaps never been this powerful. It's a fluid, engrossing, masterfully calibrated experience. I probably still prefer the surreal satire and dark fable that is "Snowpiercer", but this one runs a close second...and might even overtake "Snowpiercer" (which tackles many of the same themes in a similarly exciting and surprising fashion) on repeat viewings.

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