“Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.” – Cesar A. Cruz
ith six Academy Award Nominations and four Oscars, the movie that is on everyone’s lips has reached its peak of achievements. Parasite, a movie about social and economic division has resided into every viewer’s mind and has left them in utter contemplation. Even though it received its awards months ago, Parasite’s concept proves to be timeless. The actuality of the movie’s purpose lies in the social interactions between people, without any virus included.
The introduction of “Parasite” – Warning – Spoilers Ahead
The story of Parasite begins with a shot of the living arrangements of the main characters- the Kim family. In a sewage part of town, the family lives under low class conditions, with the youngest of the bunch trying to scavenge free wifi from their cell phones. Their current living conditions inspire their desire to find any income for themselves, often having low paying jobs, like one of assembling pizza boxes. When given the opportunity by his college-educated friend, Ki-Woo sets out to become the next tutor to the daughter of the high class Park family. As he is tested in his abilities by Mrs. Park, the devoted wife to Dong-ik, Ki-woo becomes acquainted with their daughter and secures his job at the high class mansion.
This is the part of the film that completes the rising action of it all, as Ki-woo recommends his sister to the Parks as an art therapist to their hyperactive and deeply troubled child. Ki-woo does not mention that she is in fact his sister, but advocates for her intelligence and studies for behavioral child psychology. Now, the acts of recommendation by the characters result in their entire family attaining jobs at this household, yet at the expense of the previous workers there. With quick tricks and wit, the Kims eliminated both the respected personal driver to Mr. Park and the Parks’ devoted housekeeper.
During their celebration of the success of their plan, on a night where the Parks went camping, the Kims hear the door bell ring in the Parks’ mansion. As a surprise, the old housekeeper was at the door during a downpour, asking to come in because she had forgotten “something”. The Kims scram and allow Mrs. Kim to open the door and let her the old housekeeper in, and as she does, the housekeeper bolts to the basement.
Running at full speed down a narrow passageway, the old housekeeper finds her ravenous and dehydrated husband almost ready to pass away. She feeds him through a bottle while Mrs. Kim is stunned by the events that followed. In a flurry, the old housekeeper begs her to not call the police, as Mrs. Kim is ready to turn them in. At the same time, as her family eavesdrops on their conversation, they tumble down the staircase that lead them to this secret hiding place…
The learn about the events that follow, stream Bong Joon-Ho’s Parasite on Amazon Prime.
What “Parasite” is about
To start off with the title of the film, Parasite, is a symbolic representation of the harmful symbiotic relationship between two animals, or humans in this case. Scientifically speaking, one could be named the “parasite”, while in this film, both entities of rich and poor are deemed parasitic. The poor- the Kim family- are leeching off of the rich by deceit and persisting to come to their home and live like them uninvited. The Parks on the other hand, are parasitic to the Kims by being ignorant with their living space – (for ex. The lights that are not manually turned on) and discriminatory to other people’s living situations like the Kims’ smell. They also feed off the hard work that their workers provide for them, while reaping all of the benefits and good graces by their other rich friends. On the other side of the poor, the old housekeeper and her husband are parasitic to the Parks, as they gain shelter from their property and eat their food.
The competition that both poor families apply when their place in the Parks’ household is threatened develops a shock factor to the viewers as they both dispose of any moral code. Both families admit that if they were caught, the consequences would be infinitesimal, so their solution to their problem is to outdo the other and make sure that the others are kept hidden. Violence plays a big part in this and augments the need for survival. After all, the hidden irony behind their actions is the fact that the characters are resorting to violence instead of being sympathetic when they are in fact in the same situation.
Hidden messages in Parasite
“Those who read the symbol do so at their peril. It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors.” – Oscar Wilde
With the help of many sources from the Youtube community, here are some breakdowns on the hidden parts and symbolism that Bong Joon-Ho has included.
- In the beginning of the movie, Mrs. Kim said, “You should have brought food.” when they received the stone from the college friend. Jessica later didn’t bring the food down the basement to the housekeeper and her husband, while instead the son brought the stone down, causing the murders.
- When Jessica was in the bathtub with a glass of wine, this frame exemplified how she fits in this lavish lifestyle. Her reality is later portrayed when the viewers see her sit on the exploding toilet while lighting a cigarette in her mouth.
- “The rain last night was a blessing” – Mrs.Park. This is a contrast to the downpour effects on the Kims’ house, making it completely flood and damage all of their belongings, while she (the rich) is oblivious to their misfortunes.
- For the birthday party of her child, Mrs. Park is stuck choosing clothes from her walk-in closet while the impoverished people who lost their homes are scrambling to find clothes from the donated pile.
- When the daughter of the Parks was carrying the bleeding body of Ki-Woo, she represents the youth not caring about the status that one has, but their life. She was in love with him despite his upbringing while also representing a new generation of privileged kids who can see beyond status. This also a contrast to Jessica bleeding and the Parks not caring about her because she was of lower status than them.
- When Mr. Park was talking about the smell of Mr.Kim in relation to the subway, he was talking about the conditions of the poor and how disgusted he was from them. Because of this, Mr. Park was not born into riches and knows the scent because he was in those conditions previously before becoming affluent. Mrs.Park and the rest of the family do not notice the scent because they are born into riches unlike him.
- In the beginning of the film, the Kims were getting fumigated with a spray in their home, in relation to getting rid of “parasites.”
- The “self portrait” that the child drew was not a self portrait at all, it was the housekeeper’s husband, the “ghost.”
- Jessica’s death lies in the Parks’ home, exactly when her brother said that out of the entire family, she belongs in there the most.
- The trauma that the Parks’ child endured was when his birthday was celebrated in the house (as said by the mother), but when it was held again at the house, the “monster” came back.
- Mr.Kim’s quote: “Only one plan works out: no plan at all” is retold back with the actions of the son saying he has a plan, to get a job so he can buy the mansion and free him while the reality is told exactly with him thinking of it as only a dream and never going to accomplish it.
- The stone: to provide a future of wealth/ has a peak with high point against lower points, alludes to societal hierarchy.
- The positions of the toilet: higher than the rest of the Kims’ living space.
- The constant of the rich going up the stairs and the poor going down the stairs: the stagnation of their statures and how the lower class can never go up.
- Cockroach: The night of the Kims’ celebration, Mrs.Kim said that her husband will scurry off like a cockroach when something drastic happens, his escape in the end proved her theory right.
- “She eats enough for two” – Even though the housekeeper denied that she gave her food to her husband, she was making a facade to appear more noble and generous with her saying that she bought him food with her own money.
- Giving the rock back to nature: to symbolize its path home to end the cycle of wealth.
- The cycle of Mr.Kim coming back to take the place of the housekeeper’s husband, an ironic spin of how the lower class cycles back and takes the place of another once they are “exterminated”.
- The dish of Ram-don has an aspect of having a rich steak sit on top of bargain noodles, making sure that the rich are over the poor.
It is Bong Joon-Ho’s World and we are living in it
It is not merely a coincidence that a film like Parasite sets a tone and shocks people’s comfortable lifestyles, without the mind behind it all being its number one supporter. Mr. Joon-Ho’s mix of humility and propensity to make the viewers aware of the social situations and relations in the world is indisputable. As he talks to The Guardian, he mentions that most importantly we need to “maintain mutual respect towards each other” alluding to the fact that all of the characters in the film had little to none respect towards each other, regardless of class.
During The Guardian’s story about Bong, they revealed his social situation during his childhood. “Bong’s father is actually an art teacher. He places himself in the middle of Korea’s social ladder…” In the article he mentions that he grew up in the “middle,” “between the semi-basement home and the rich house you see in the film.”
When searching for the meaning behind Parasite, Bong talked with Vulture about what he wanted to portray in the film’s end, “Maybe if the movie ended where they hug and fades out, the audience can imagine, ‘Oh, it’s impossible to buy that house,’ but the camera goes down to that half-basement,” he says. “It’s quite cruel and sad, but I thought it was being real and honest with the audience. You know and I know – we all know that this kid isn’t going to be able to buy that house. I just felt that frankness was right for the film, even though it’s sad.”
The dynamic of Bong’s character when receiving his awards is something that Vogue would describe as a “human sunbeam.” At the Oscars, from his inspiration and studying of Martin Scorsese, he shouted, “Our great Martin Scorsese!” As the magazine would continue to describe this moment, they wrote, “The crowd stood up to cheer, and Scorsese, visibly emotional, gave him a thumbs up.” Bong and Martin’s relationship didn’t end, as Scorsese wrote Bong an emotional letter after the event. Bong would not expose the contents of the letter due to it being personal, but the part that he revealed said that he has “…done well. Now rest. But don’t rest for too long.”
Along with Scorsese, the public is awaiting Bong’s next projects- a film in Korean and another in English.
How not to be a Parasite in our world today
Talking with Vulture, Bong says, “ There are people who are fighting hard to change society. I like those people, and I’m always rooting for them, but making the audience feel something naked and raw is one of the greatest powers of cinema,” he says. “I’m not making a documentary or propaganda here. It’s not about telling you how to change the world or how you should act because something is bad, but rather showing you the terrible, explosive weight of reality. That’s what I believe is the beauty of cinema.”
In this excerpt, Bong’s explanation of the purpose of the film reveals his intentions behind the film’s concept. In contrast to his view of the aftermath of this film, uneasiness about our reality will follow and will inspire some to change their behaviors regardless of the director’s intentions for the film.
If you are one of those people who wants to change the world, anyone can begin to change their perspective on life and those people in it. Awareness is one part of the film’s ideas, as one can always begin to replace their first world problems with becoming more sympathetic to others around them.
With that said, following awareness, one can begin to resonate with what they have learned. Social hierarchy? Become more human by volunteering or giving back, being able to learn more from people regardless of class will broaden your horizons and will make an impact on them. Not only that, but treating people the same way regardless of class will encourage humility (instead of being disgusted like Mr. Park for example). Climate Change? Minimize your plastic, begin to recycle, plant a tree. Seeing racism on the streets? Advocate for people who are victims due to the Coronavirus epidemic (or any kind of racism), stand up for those who can’t by themselves.
And yet the movie proves that oppression will continue to cycle, and that some will continue to live rich without any drawbacks in their lives, while others will bear the constant need for survival. But as the end of the movie leaves us with a bit of hope and we can use it to decide for ourselves to progress forward and never back.
As for the things mentioned above, even if they may seem trivial, these small actions can contribute to slowly getting out of the constant, recycling societal gap and ease our drastic world problems.
In the end, we need to practice humility over superficiality because all of our lives, regardless of class, will end the same way. Only our character will be represented by our actions, not by the things that we possess.