Review: Parasite


Safa Hameed

Over the course of the past month, the South Korean movie Parasite has become the talk of the town, and rightfully so, after sweeping the award season and adding four Oscars, including Best Picture, to its arsenal making it the first foreign and South Korean feature to do so.

For those unfamiliar with the movie, Parasite follows the lives of the impoverished Kim family who infiltrate the lives of the superfluous rich and naive Parks. The two families form a sort of symbiotic relationship that develops as a result of the natural order and relationship between class and survival in modern society. While this may be a short synopsis for those who were looking for more, in the words of director Bong Joon-Ho, “It’s better to go into this cold, knowing nothing.” 

The overarching theme of Parasite, and the most obvious, would be class inequality, as well as the hand-in-hand relationship it has with violence, greed, hope, and survival in this capitalist world. One of the deliberate ways that the film portrays this is through the specific use of architecture. In other words, the Kims live in a common type of housing for the poor, known as a semi-basement, which signifies how their economic disparity literally places them half-way underground, so in order to climb up the social ladder, they must, in a sense, dig their way out of a grave. While living in the basement, they have access to the smallest bit of sunshine through their rickety window, which symbolizes the chance to improve their economic position. However, even though they have the chance of climbing higher, they also risk falling lower. As noted by Bong, “There’s also the fear that if you sink any lower, you may go completely underground.” On the other hand, the Parks live in a spacious complex on top of the hill, while the Kims live at the bottom, so in order to arrive at their house, they have to travel up a series of staircases that become an iconic structure throughout the film. These staircases represent a straightforward symbol of climbing up and down the ladder of social hierarchy, so much so that Bong even refers to Parasite as an “upstairs/downstairs” movie.

The movie showcases the increasing gap between the rich and the poor, and as it portrays this, there is noticeable, upfront violence and jealousy between members of the working class, who instead of working together to better their shared condition, pit themselves against each other. For example, at the beginning of the movie, the Kim family makes ends meet by folding pizza boxes; after they get their new jobs, they are able to afford a sit-down meal, which results in the manager of the restaurant bitterly serving them. The Kim’s are guilty of this too, as they sabotage the house staff in order to get them fired, so that they are able to place family members in these job positions instead. When they do show concern for the chauffeur, who was fired because of the Kim’s, the sister, Ki-Jung, exclaims that they should stop worrying about other people and focus on their own family,”—-rich people! Just worry about your own goddamn family!” 

Up until this point, the Kim family has been living under the delusion that they can keep up this charade forever. On one hand, the Parks are completely oblivious to the fact that the Kim’s are actually family and have been fooling them, which explains why the Kim family feels they can keep up the charade. However, the Kim family also fails to account for their own feelings and tensions regarding the social differences between the families and they take it more personally than the Parks, who work to distance themselves from the working class and are unmindful of these feelings. Snide comments about how they smell or how a catastrophic rainstorm was actually “a blessing” put the Kim family even more on edge. Through this, the Parks demonstrate just how much they live in their own world, and how detached rich people can become from society. For example, they fail to realize that the same storm that will make for a great picnic also left hundreds homeless the night before. All of the things that the Parks say and do greater the social differences between the two families, which in return contribute to the tensions that build between them. This lead to an inevitable snap, in the form of a bloody birthday party, demonstrating just how much class inequality can feed into violence.

At the Parks’ son’s birthday party, the bottled up anger that the families have for one another ends up exploding, resulting in the deaths of Ki-Jung and Geun-sae. This ultimate clash of the parasites ends with Mr. Kim locked in the bunker in order to avoid the police, which Ki-woo later discovers after having searched for his father. Ki-woo vows to one day make enough money to buy the house, in order to set his dad free, after having an idyllic dream that tells him that all he has to do is “walk up the stairs,” referencing the stairs hierarchal symbol. Unfortunately, that fantasy ends with a shot of Ki-woo back in his dark basement, a contrast against the light-filled dream, symbolizing how the Kim family has successfully made their fear a reality; they have sunk even lower, now completely underground. This pitting of his dream against the stark reality of his position both figuratively (class-wise) and literally (him being underground in the basement) helps put an end to any hope that the audience might have had that Ki-woo would get a happy ending. As sad as it is, this scene beautifully summarizes and puts into light the harsh truths that we as a society face today.

All involved are parasites, including both the Parks, Kims, as well as Moon-kwang and Geun-sae. The Parks make their money and are able to enjoy their wealth through the exploitation and harsh working conditions of people like the Kims, who infiltrate their lives and are able to live off of them comfortably, as shown in the first half of the movie. 

All in all, Parasite is well-deserving of its awards and recognition, despite the language barrier, as it is able to convey a story about a worldwide problem that we are all able to relate too in a unique way. Furthermore, the film has encouraged many people to open up their field of media and cinema to beyond just American, English-speaking films. This is very important because international films hold a lot of value, in that the small price of a movie ticket can be a big step into different cultures from around the world. Parasite was able to captivate and bring together a very diverse audience through the understanding that we experience the same issues and problems, whether it be in South Korea or the United States.