Parasite: Spoiler Special
Warning, Spoilers below!
"This repetition of smell and its association with the low and disgusting is a motif built and built upon until it ruptures, and Park Dong-ik is led on the ground dying."
Is social mobility even possible within modern society? Bong uses Parasite to explore this question and the answer is bleak. He uses the Kim family to highlight how South Korea's lowest classes are forced to scrounge and parasite-themselves in this film and what drove them to these situations. This four-time Oscar winning champion appears at first like a light tragicomedy, which takes a sudden explosive dark turn, exploring social-issues and twisting the perfect world of the Parks on its head. Bong's Parasite is used to explore the awfulness of society and humanity within it and it does not let anything excuse its characters and their depraved and despicable actions.
The theme of inadequacy drives the climatic final act of the film and is important throughout. The lower-class 'smell' that permeates Kim Ki-taek, the smell of poverty, of the sub-way; is brought to his attention when he overhears a conversation between Park Dong-ik and Park Yeon-ko. It is a brutal reminder that he is different and the first sign that the Park family view the Kims as inferior. Kim Ki-taek acts as a driver for the Park family and maintains throughout the first half of the film that they are naïve but nice people; he appears almost to take pleasure from his position within the Park household. However, the nice façade of the Park family is slowly chipped at and every reference to the unpleasant smell of Kim Ki-taek sees him grow more reserved and unhappy. It is a prevalent theme undermining the Park family and any sympathies for them that build up as the Kim family pray on their naivety. Their façade is ripped away and the harsh truth is made plain as day in the moment where Kim Ki-taek is trying desperately to save his daughter’s life as she bleeds out in his arms and Park tells him to leave her; that his son's seizure is more important than her stab wound. That his son's life is valued higher than Kim's daughter’s. They are selfish, rich socialites!! The look on Park Dong-ik's face when he has to smell a poor dying man’s body, and the revulsion so clearly displayed on it when he touches him forces the final explosive moment to happen. This is the final straw for Kim Ki-taek, who snaps, plunging a knife into his employer. This repetition of smell and its association with the low and disgusting is a motif built and built upon until it ruptures and Park Dong-ik is led on the ground dying.
The Kim family are just as bad...They strategically worm their way into the lives of the Park family displacing staff left, right and centre. They have no awareness that they are hurting people who are facing the same harsh living conditions as them or worse. The Kim family, and to an extent the Park family, are willing to kill to achieve what they want and are certainly willing to step over others for personal gain. Bong's characters are rotten and inherently selfish, regardless of wealth or station. Parasite is a damning critique on the human condition and character!! It is a bleak outlook on society that is portrayed with overwhelming skill.
Who are the true heroes in this film? Parasite makes you question, what is good and bad? Who do we route for? I spent the first half in support of the down-on their luck Kim family. The parasitical Robin Hoods to the rich and greedy sheriff, Park Dong-ik. But the way they trick the Parks and more importantly, their staff who are just as poor as they themselves are, makes me question their morals and their morality. So, who do we feel sorry for, should we feel sorry for the Park family? They do have their entire lives turned upside down, Dong-ik dies leaving his wife and children alone reeling from irreparable damages dealt them by the Kims. Did they really do anything to deserves this kind of suffering apart from being wealthy and elitist? I think Bong deliberately leaves this question unanswered letting us as an audience decide and discuss together. Personally, I think it shows us that regardless of wealth and class status people are selfish and willing to sacrifice others for personal gratification and gain. The Kim family did not start life as parasites, society places them in that position, economic downturns and bad luck catapulted their family into destitution and poverty. Bong highlighted that it is not their fault, they have to be parasites to survive and that is just the way of society. The Park family is not evil because they benefit from a capitalist system and the joys of wealth and privilege and the Kim family are not good because they are the proletariat rising up! Society is bleak and it is hard to judge Bong's characters on the choices they make in hard, painful situations that you would not wish upon anyone. There is no easy answer to these questions. It is not black and white, and it is not a simple world that Bong paints us.
The second act is dominated by shocking twists, before it takes its dark turn it presents itself as a sort of comedy about a poor family infiltrating a rich family’s home. This is not how it ends but, in the beginning, it is fun, and the mix of amazing classical music and clean modern set design makes it truly enjoyable to watch. The shots accumulate beautifully, and the house is breath-taking but almost too perfect and too opaque; something is off. There is an uncomfortable undertone that shadows the gorgeous world of the Parks. It is all too easy for the Kim family to infiltrate their world, the electric gate and cameras a mocking sham protection from the world outside that so easily creeps in. The picture-perfect postcard family house is turned on its head in the second act when the old housekeeper makes a sudden reappearance to receive something she left in the basement, her husband!! A haunting parasitical force camped out in the lower levels of the house in a bunker emerging to steal food while he waits out the loan sharks that he owes. He is a menacing and creepy twist!! A ghost-like presence that his hosts, the Parks, do not know exist but have inadvertently been housing, feeding and keeping safe. He worships Mr Park listening to his movements and responding by setting of lights as he passes. His presence is haunting, and the final action quickly escalates from the moment of his reveal. He is just one of many dark and twisted moments to come.
Now, let’s talk about the ending!! The Morse-code conversation between father and son explains how Ki-taek can disappear after the murder at the garden party, or I guess I should say murders. His return to the basement of the house to live of scraps from its new host is beautifully cyclical and every detail down to the light being used to send messages mirrors the habits of his parasitical predecessor. It also gives a small glimmer of hope for his son who translates the message and responds, claiming that he will one day manage to raise enough money to own that house lawfully and meet his father in the garden that he loves so much. It is a painful glimmer of a future that might have been possible, Ki-woo is smart and thrifty, orchestrating with the help of his sister, the entire escapade into the lives of the Parks. The fact his head injuries probably make his dreams impossible, emphasises how society wastes potential and trashes lives. The short-montage into the life of an older Ki-woo then is especially haunting, for one agonising moment you think that he has done it and a joyous note will shine through the dark closing act. But it cuts back to Ki-woo crunched up in the grimy house with dirty socks drying next to the window. This is the same tracking shot used in the opening of the film, nothing has progressed, and no one is better off. Was it worth it? Certainly not, all they achieve is death and destruction, ending the film with a dark commentary on the likeliness of successful social mobility.
My love of this film is not something that I have kept hidden and if you are a regular reader you will know that I herald Parasite as a masterful piece of genius created by the one and only Bong. However, I hope I have proven that it is more than just a tragicomedy and more than just a film, Bong is saying something profoundly important about wealth, power and entitlement and he does it in an original and fresh way. This film is funny and thought provoking, fast paced but has room to breathe; it does everything it needs to and more. Looking back, it is not really a surprise that Bong Joon Ho and Parasite now have '4 Oscar Wins' next to their name.