Parasite ★★★★★

“I just feel comfortable here”

For as long as humans have existed, there has been a divide between the haves and the have nots. It’s appeared across all cultures and throughout history, for this separation between the well-to-do and those who struggle to make ends meet is ingrained within our very DNA. For those suffering from scarcity, studies show that the mind goes into tunnel vision, literally unable to think about long-term consequences; it becomes so maniacally focused on short-term solutions that people lose sight of their priorities. On the other hand, rigged games of Monopoly reveal that when a player is given a certain advantage like double the starting money or more dice to roll, dramatic behavioral changes happen them, ranging from louder, more forceful movement of their game piece to seemingly trivial things like eating more pretzels. In one humorously shocking example, one of the advantaged players, after successfully winning the game, was heard explaining what he had done “strategically” to succeed and win, attributing the win this their skill alone. What’s remarkable is that as soon as these afflictions disappear--poverty or affluence--these mindsets disappear as well, almost like a switch that can be activated in anyone’s brain who finds themselves in one of these situations. Despite the reversibility of these psyches, they’re still viewed as the cause, rather than the symptom, of these conditions, that people who are poor are that way because they can’t think ahead, and people who are rich are so because they are willing to take risks--when in fact, it is the other way around in both situations. The mistaken way we view the mentalities of the rich and the poor leads to an unjustified caste system to separate people who are fundamentally the same, and it’s this fallacy that lies at the heart of Parasite.

Social thrillers have dominated the film industry the past few years, especially with movies such as Get Out in the cultural zeitgeist. No stranger to this genre of societal critique, Bong Joon-ho follows up Snowpiercer and Okja with Parasite, a tale of two families--one poor and one rich--and their increasingly shackled fates as one begins to work for the other. The upward path for the poor Kim family is no easy feat in this aggressively vertical South Korean city, but the everlasting angelic light from above fuels their fierce determination to climb higher. Watching their plans unfold on screen, there’s an artform to worming one’s way into the upper class, and there’s a lot of fun in the filmmaking depicting the craftiness of the Kims deceiving their way in exactly like a heist movie. At the same time, the rich Park family live an unsuspecting, idyllic upper-class home full of aesthetic symmetry and adorned with a luscious, symphonic score full of luxuries like string sections and even a harpsichord. They’ve worked hard for their comforts, the Parks believe, and as a result there’s a line that separates them from those below, often literally framed with the camera in this aesthetically designed film. That line is delicate and absolutely uncrossable, for doing so would threaten the hierarchy that keeps people where they belong. So fragile is the rich ego that any crossing of that line is met with swift and guiltless action, with the rich more concerned for their own well-being than that of those below them. It’s just the way it has to be, these high-class people believe, with the lowers classes so different from them--after all, they all smell the same.

Thematically rich and unapologetically realistic, the most impressive part of Parasite is just how universally accessible it is, destined to join the ranks of other culturally relevant masterpieces that have defined an era. With its simple camera movements and engaging plot, the movie is unpretentious, speaking to all with its talented filmmaking that never becomes off-putting. This hypnotizing camera hooks audiences into an iconic world, one with moments of heavenly ascending images and other times with inescapable descents into darkness. The message never becomes muddled, sticking to its core theme in scenes such as when a flood destroys a poor community that also has one rich character commenting how the rain washed away the pollution to make for a beautiful day. At the same time, there is no need to hide subtlety in this film where the poor live quite literally underneath the rich, but the story gives quite a few thought-provoking ideas as well, asking about the danger of chasing wealth and the frustration of making plans only to see them all come crashing down. Littered with many memorable sequences and more than a few twists and turns, Parasite is a story of the air of superiority vs air of desperation, of seeing what lengths people will go to in order to secure their place, no matter how delusional it may seem, but no matter what happens, the same fight occurs again, and others will try to move their way up like boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

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