There’s been some anger over this movie winning an Academy Award. It’s hard for me to judge if a movie deserves to be considered the best film of the year, because the majority of movies that I love always end up being Italian end of the world movies or Mexican ripoffs of American horror tropes. Who am I to judge quality, I asked into the abyss, ignorant of the fact that I’ve created an entire site where I do exactly that.
The idea for Parasite comes from Bong’s own experience: he was a tutor for a wealthy family and imagined what it would be like to infiltrate their life. The title, which the director argued for, has a dual meaning. Sure, the poor servants are living off of the rich, but the masters are living off the labor class. They’ve lost the ability to clean and even move around for themselves. Everyone is a parasite in their own way.
Instead of taking an existing home, the house was specially made for the film. That’s because each character has a place that belongs to them and another place that is secret to them. Boon also spent considerable time storyboarding the entire film, as he believes that he must be ready for everything before the cameras start capturing footage.
There’s a phrase in South Korea called Hell Joseon. It means many things — unemployment, economic inequality, excessive work hours, the fact that poverty is inescapable for the lower class and that the system is rigged for the rich — but it generally means that life is hellish and hopeless.
This is not a phrase that is unique to South Korea.
What spoke most to me is that the history of the world — major battles and the plight of Native Americans — has been reduce to party table formations and the hobbies of disconnected children. The poor have been reduced to, at best, slave labor and at worst, ghosts. A ghost that appears to ruin the illusion that money and status seems to afford, but any man, no matter his station, can ruin and end the life of another.
I’ve always realized that no matter how good or bad your life is, there are always people with a status above and below you. But I’ll lean in and show you my hand. If there is any group that I’m prejudiced against, it’s the rich. Yet it’s hard to be for the family in this movie, as their machinations only prove that when they get the status they want — even for one fleeting night as they steal whiskey and a view of a yard that can never be theirs — they still hold down and destroy the lives a level beneath their own, only to then learn that their home has been flooded and taken away.
There is no escape for any of the Kim family yet they try to defeat the system through their attempts at grifting. But the system was built by people with far less scruples and morals. The home that promise luxury is also a prison, offering none of the comforts that Ki-taek dreams of, only a place to sneak out of at night and take his own life in his hands just to steal food.
At the end of the film, I felt worry for each character and knew they were all doomed in their own way. They are all trapped, whether by death or hope or the house itself. No one gets a happy ending, even if we wished for one to come true. Is having hope in the midst of Hell Joseon worth it? I’d like to think so, even as this film doesn’t.
Is it the best film of the year? Is it worth the hype? Is it worth watching? I can’t answer the first two questions, but definitely can say yes to the third. It takes time to get to the point when the staircase to the basement is revealed, but the movie had me from that moment.
It did make me think, as all good movies should. Is everyone a parasite, unable to function alone in this world? Should a father’s pride come in the way of his freedom? Should children be overindulged? How crazy is Morse code? These are the real questions I had.