Bong Joon-Ho’s dark comedy thriller Parasite has grabbed any and every audience’s attention and gained praise from critics, audiences and lastly won the highest praise from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences: an Oscar for Best Picture.
I also experienced this movie recently, and it is safe to say that Parasite is one of the most interesting, weird, thought-out, semantically complex and funniest macabre movies I have seen in a while. It is most certainly worth a watch, so I will list the many highlights and impressive aspects of the movie as key points.
This is a spoiler-free essay – however, if you have already seen Parasite, feel free add your opinions and impressions in the comment section!
The topographical aspect. The plot of Parasite revolves around two families from very different backgrounds, and stairs as well as what they represent in society is a visual key element in this movie. It was called ‘the stair movie’ by its staff (Korean herald) because almost every key scene is somehow connected to stairs.
The sets of the houses of both families are made in such a detail-oriented way that even Korean audiences didn’t recognize the Kim family semi-basement as a set but thought it to be a real street. The elaborate and elegant Park house is also an architectural masterpiece, and the differences between its levels and what is hidden inside it essential for the shocking plot twist in the end of the movie.
The sociocritical aspect. Directly in connection to the stairs metaphor, Joon-Ho has commented on the usual distancing of the classes, and how that is depicted in the movie:
“In reality, it’s very rare for the poor and rich to come [that] close. (So close they can ‘smell’ each other, ‘smell’ being a common referent in the film.)
[In society] we operate in completely different [areas]. In flights we have first class and the economy, we go to different restaurants, we’re always separated in the spaces that we occupy. Only when they’re working as tutors, drivers, and housekeepers do we have the opportunity to come close to each other.” (Forbes)
The way the Park family and Kim family dynamics are shown as a very different microuniverse is highly fascinating. Clearly highly talented and at one point successful in their careers, the parents have a strong bond and high work ethic to put food on the table, and although there is a certain level of sibling bickering to be seen, they work as a unit, ensuring the family to succeed. Usually squeezed together very closely due to the tiny size of their apartment, they have no energy to focus on being annoyed with each other, but are bound by the goal of survival.
By contrast, the Park family are rarely seen together, since everyone has at least one large room to their own, and as such their personalities are indicated to remain egoistical, eccentric and in no way interested or invested in the well-being of other family members – their fascination is with trends, idols or objects, but not to make a human connection. Even the relationship that blossoms between tutor and teacher grows only from vanity, not from pure feelings.
The comedic aspect. Parasite is described as a dark comedy thriller, and its ability to surpass any genre is maginificent. Yes, there is some heavy violence involved, so it’s certainly not a light watch, but rather a movie of substance – but the amount of laughs Joon-Ho has still managed to extract while keeping the tone of the whole movie serious and somewhat gloomy is astonishing.
It is in particular Mrs. Park’s simplemindedness, her obsession and overbearing emotional investment with her children that gives the movie its comedic element. In addition, the timing of certain scenes (even if they are connected to people murdering each other) also has a comedic element to it. Also, the movie knows very well which classic elements of Korean movies it is depicting in which way, so the irony of several members of the Kim family describing certain items at several points of the movie by declaring: “It’s so metaphorical!” does not go unnoticed.
The complexity aspect. In connection to Korean movie traditions, Joon-Ho is playing masterfully with symbolic elements such as the aforementioned stairs and compositions of charaters in certain scenes, parallels between elements in the two households, placement of certain objects and, of course, tones and colors.
The complexity aspect is something each viewer must further discover for themselves, since I have promised to remain spoiler-free, but for me it was very enjoyable to visually and compositionally experience how Joon-Ho has put this story into existence and crafted it for the viewer to enjoy.
The fusion aspect. On one hand, this is a very Korean movie about two Korean families living in Korea, and in that sense holds a sum of smaller details that might remain hidden to the European viewer. Nevertheless, Parasite touches on very critical points in our society and has a universal value for any viewer.
In fact, Parasite has many contentual parallels with my other Oscar favourite and amazing movie, Joker: struggling to dispute and preserve one’s basic human dignity in a severely unfair and class-driven capitalist society, the additional weight put on one individual if there is a family unit to support, and the degrees of violence and destruction of self and others those struggles can lead to.
(Yes, nuances differ and if you have seen both movies, I’d love to chat about that in the comment section! Here is a link to my blog about Joker.)
In conclusion, Parasite is a movie unlike any other and I believe anyone can enjoy it thoroughly. The amount of layers and interesting aspects put into this movie is masterful, and of course the acting performances (see how I have completely failed to get into those since this blog is already quite long) are, without exception, excellent.
What a marvelous masterpiece.