By Ishani Chettri (‘20)
The poor and the rich. These two socioeconomic classes have coexisted in one world where they know not to overstep the boundaries of the other. They have obeyed the limit of their relative social positions in society, creating an invisible hierarchy. Without interference, the relationship between the two is maintained with a lack of empathy and guilt, ignorance, and selfish efforts in aid that only benefits the reputation of the rich in reality.
This simultaneous coexistence and separation of the two entities within one world that is characterized as normal is defied in director Bong Joon-ho’s 2019 blockbuster hit, Parasite. The South-Korean film follows the events of the Kim family’s attempts to infiltrate the lavish lives of the Parks, creating fake identities to pose as workers for the Parks.
The Kims live in a dirty, crowded semi-basement apartment with one window. They fold pizza boxes for measly pay and suppress their miseries with alcohol until they are given an opportunity to escape the depressing lifestyle. Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik), son of the Kims, is recommended as a replacement English tutor for Da-hye (Jeong Ji-so), the teenage daughter of the rich Parks, by his friend Min-hyuk (Park Seo-joon).
Ki-woo takes up the offer and gains the job after fooling Da-hye’s mother, Yeon-gyo (Cho Yeo-jeong). This begins a gradual infiltration into the wealthy class as Ki-woo’s sister Ki-jeong (Park So-dam), father Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho), and mother Chung-sook (Chang Hye-jin) follow suit in fabricating their identities to work for the Parks.
This door into the rich and glamorous lives of the Parks lures the Kims into a spiral deception, societal rejection, and eventually, murder. For a taste of the upper class, the Kims risk everything while losing nothing. That is to say, nothing materialistic.
As each individual member of the Kim family gains the trust of each of the Parks, the Kims fail to view their wrongdoings as crimes. Their acts of forgery, fraud, and exploitation do not compare to the struggles their impoverished identity had provided.
While the Kims feel a bit guilty for lying to the Parks, they reason it out with their service to the Parks. This interference of the two classes is symbiotic. The Kims try to forge a mutualistic relationship between the two families as both parties benefit from one another. It is a simple trade of service for better lives, and surely, the Parks can afford to lend their lifestyle for a bit of time.
But the Kims have it wrong. The Parks look down upon the Kims with whispers of complaints regarding the garbage-like smell that radiates off of the family. The revolting smell of the Kims’ cluttered and cramped home is a lingering yet subtle reminder of their futility and ultimately, the foreshadowing of their demise.
Due to Dong-ik (Lee Sun-kyun), father of the Parks, and his arrogant remarks of disgust to Yeon-gyo’s condescension, Ki-taek grows annoyed and frustrated at the Parks’ superiority. As each whispered comment becomes louder and bolder, indicating normality of such treatment, the Kims are slowly pushed back into their place in society.
They were to stay within their limits by heeding the Parks’ expected demands and never overstepping the line of class. They had to hide from the shadows of wealth and act as mere entities with a sole purpose to serve. They became the parasites of the top class.
Their shortcut to the top, and beginning of their parasitic transformation, is interrupted by Geun-sae (Park Myung-hoon), Gook Moon-gwang’s (Lee Jung-eun), the Park’s housekeeper’s, husband , who has been living in a secret basement under the Parks’ mansion for the last four years.
Geun-sae, a man who has gone insane due to the confines of the basement, emulates the exact thing the Kims try to avoid all this time: uselessness.
As the Kims attempt to keep the existence of Geun-sae and the potential exposure of their identities and lies under wraps, the Kims try to be the Parks.
The Kims look down on Geun-sae and Moon-gwang, who beg for their help. Yet, they fail with this mask of authority as their situation bears too much resemblance to that of Geun-sae and Moon-gwang. Their familial existence is just as expendable as the pair desperately pleading before them, but the Kims go to extreme measures to avoid this reality at all costs.
Parasitism redefines the two families’ relationship as the destruction of the Parks led to the loss of Ki-jeong and the inevitable consequences trailing behind the Kims. But the Kims move forward with their lives and still strive for a lavish lifestyle. This time through long, honest, and self-fulfilling work that they hope will give them the chance to return to the chaotic Park mansion and claim it as their own.
On February 9, Parasite won Best International Feature Film and Best Picture at the Oscars, making it the first foreign film to win Best Picture in 92 years. Bong also won Best Original Screenplay and Best Director, ending his acceptance speech with, “Thank you, I will drink until the next morning.”