***SPOILER ALERTS AHEAD***
Disclaimer: If you haven’t seen the movie yet- stop reading now, and go rent it. Watch it in Korean, with subtitles if you don’t know the language.
Since I’m a gal who loves themes, it seems each week has taken some sort of overarching idea for my 2-blog posts: love, journeys, myself, etc.. For some reason, this week I really wanted to talk about money.
I already examined the extremes of the elite upper class in my post about Kylie Jenner, so it only feels natural to examine the extremes of poverty and the lower class system.
About a week ago my roommate Jaein and I sat down to watch the movie of the year, Parasite. Not only was there tons of hype surrounding it, but also I live with two Korean women, who I’m lucky enough are willing to share bits and pieces of their culture with me.
I had absolutely no clue what the film was about going into it, but it became very apparent within the first 15 minutes that this was a statement on the cutthroat rigor of the class system.
Writer and Director Bong Joon-ho is not only genius in the way that he weaves this story seamlessly in his writing and gracefully directs his actors around the script, but it is the symbolism he infuses throughout the story that makes this one of my personal favorite movies.
I’ve watched this movie a couple of times now, each time noticing different aspects of Bong’s genius. So, I thought I’d break down the symbolism I’ve found in Parasite, whether that be through reddit research or simple observation.
One of the first apparent metaphors Bong uses is the title of the movie.
For context: the movie centers around a lower class family (the Kims)- in South Korea, living in a sub-basement and barely scraping by for a meal. The family consists of a mother (Choong-sook), father (Kim Ki-taek), and their two young adult children, a boy (Ki-woo) and a girl (Ki-jeong). The movie begins with a friend of the boy gifting their family a “Suseok”, or a scholar rock- which is said to bring those who own it material wealth. Soon into the movie, Ki-woo gets a job as an English tutor for a wealthy family (the Parks). Gradually, he begins to see job openings within the house (some earned through throwing the previous position owners under the bus), where he brings in his other family members (though the wealthy family has no idea of their relation to each other). Over the span of a few weeks, the poorer family begins to take over the house in the way much like- you guessed it- a parasite latches on to and feeds off of its host. At one point, the mother of the Kim family even describes her husband as a cockroach, someone who “would scatter when the lights come on”. In fact, at points in the movie, the Kim family is required to scatter on all fours to prevent being caught doing something they shouldn’t by their employers.
Though it’s an obvious line to draw between the Kim family and the idea of a parasite, some speculate the actual parasite may be the Park family. As the elite in their society, they constantly benefit at the expense of others. The youngest child of the Park family (Da-song) has an obsession with Native Americans, often donning headdresses and shooting toy arrows while the Park family laughs at how he plays. The Park family constantly benefits at the expense of the Kim family- much like the European colonizers of America benefitted at the expense of the Native people.
Nearly every scene features a staircase of some sort, and someone (usually the Kim family) ascending or descending these stairs. The stairs are a representation of each rung on the ladder in class systems.
The climax of the movie reveals another vertical floor, even below what the Kims are aware of- and there is a couple who live in a hidden basement in the Park house. This place has no windows, a contrast to the Kim’s sub-basement living situation. Here, Bong suggests that the class system is not a fight between the rich and the poor, but instead the poor and the poorer.
Throughout the film, Mr. Park emphasizes the importance of “not crossing the line”.
At one point, Mr. Park tells Mr. Kim he “can’t stand people who cross the line” (in reference to his past employees). Cinematically, Bong includes various literal lines within the movie, often times having the Kim family or others cross it in the frame.
Despite Mr. Parks emphasis on the importance of not crossing “the line”, the Park family does not seem to have a problem with intruding on the Kim’s lives. The Park family calls up the Kims whenever needed, including on weekends when they’re off duty.
Smells are inescapable in Parasite
It first begins when the youngest Park child, Da-song mentions that his housekeeper and driver smell the same (unaware that they are in fact, husband and wife). When the Kims return home that night, they brainstorm how to differentiate their scents- proposing washing their clothing in separate laundry detergents. Ki-jeong, mentions, “it’s the semi-basement smell. We need to leave this home to lose the smell,” symbolizing the need for the Kims to move somewhere nicer to lose their metaphorical stench of poverty.
The Parks are found throughout the movie plugging their noses around the Kim family, making statements like: “it’s been ages since I’ve ridden the subway,” “people on the subway have a certain smell” and “his smell crosses the line”.
There is a massive storm in the second half of Parasite, which proves life altering for some, and a minor inconvenience for others.
This storm completely submerges the Kim’s sub-basement in water, ruining all material possessions and leaving them homeless for a few nights.
Similarly, the storm is a great inconvenience to the Park family, who has to cut a camping vacation short. This storm demonstrates the idea that, when money is not available as a backup, everything can be unhinged in the blink of an eye.
The ending of Parasite ripped my heart out. We seem to end on a happier note, with Ki-woo vowing to earn enough money to one day buy the Park’s house for his family. We are shown the Kims buying and living in the house, even basking in the sunlight of the backyard. The screen fades to black, only to quickly come back on to show Ki-woo still sitting in his family’s sub basement, indicating he was only hoping and dreaming of better days.
Like I said, this movie is absolutely a work of art. Its masterful storyline demonstrates how our society does not allow for social mobility. It doesn’t matter your qualifications- the Kims are qualified, clever and creative while the Parks appear naïve, gullible, judgmental and spoiled throughout the film. And it doesn’t matter, because at the end of the day, someone is always sleeping a floor below yours, and they’re not going to make it up without taking you out.