A ‘Parasite’ for Sore Eyes

The Class-War Masterpiece from Bong Joon-ho

I saw the Parasite movie, directed by the great Bong Joon-ho. The local art house had been showing trailers for this one for months, so it was like a foreign-film Jumanji finally came to life and enveloped me. The winner, and deservedly so, of the Palme D’Or at Cannes, Parasite is about a poor South Korean family, a middle-aged father and mother and two grown children, who live in a crummy sub-basement flat in a piss-strewn alley. I’m not familiar with any of the actors. The father could be the George Clooney of Seoul, for all I know. But that anonymity borne of our international ignorance makes Parasite more effective, and the film that much more absorbing.


PARASITE ★★★★★(5/5 stars)
Directed by: Bong Joon-ho
Written by: Bong Joon-ho
Starring: Song Kang-ho, Jang Hye-jin, Choi Woo-shik, Park So-dam, Lee Sun-kyun, Cho Yeo-jeong
Running time: 132 min


 

Our heroes aren’t congenitally poor or uneducated, but they face diminishing work and decaying prospects, scraping together an existence by doing demeaning part-time contract work. They gradually con their way into the lives of a family of rich twits, who live in an architectural masterpiece high above the hoi polloi. The resulting income takes our protagonists from eating white bread coated with hot sauce to enjoying homemade bulgogi cooked on a hot grill. That’s the first half-hour.

A series of insane twists, some comic, some tragic, ensue. The situations are outlandish, but never dip further than an inch into magical realism. Bong Joon-ho, in most famous movie, Snowpiercer, addressed similar themes of class conflict, but painted with a broad, cartoony genre brush. Parasite, on the other hand, operates fully in the thriller realm. It owes a large debt to Hitchcock, but also to cheesy home-and-family invasion movies like Fatal Attraction and The Hand That Rocks The Cradle. Parasite belongs in the company of recent American films like Get Out, Us, and Sorry To Bother You as fascinating genre attacks on social inequality. while those movies use broad horror and comedy tropes to make their points, Parasite stays firmly in the noir camp.

 

Like in Snowpiercer, Parasite places environmental apocalypse front and center. But Snowpiercer is about a giant train hurtling the final survivors through the wastelands of a massive Ice Age. A cool concept, but not exactly taken from the headlines. In Parasite, the planet realistically teems with too many people to feed or house properly, and it’s groaning from the strain. In a 45-minute sequence at the film’s center, a massive rainstorm floods the city streets, literally filling our main family’s home with festering shit-water. Meanwhile, the rich family gazes upon the deluge as though it were a painting. Their precious little son sets up a tipi to play “Indian,” and later on they comment on how the rain cleaned out the city air for once. In the movie, as in life, the poor bear the burden of global warming. The rich merely adjust their weekend plans.

The movie contains a number of twists, which I won’t spoil here. But as in all such melodramas, there will be blood, and lots of it. The rich family doesn’t expressly deserve what happens to them, but they’re hardly innocent. Their immense privilege, which they don’t understand or acknowledge, inures them from societal savagery, and makes them cosseted, naive, and subtly cruel. They can lose a lot under extreme circumstances, but the poor routinely suffer even more.

Parasite’s doomed protagonists have a plan to escape their wretched lives. Don’t we all? But in a world where you can’t afford the leather to make your own bootstraps, what chance do they really have? A masterful genre chronicle of savage injustice and a master-class in genre filmmaking from Bong Joon-ho, Parasite is a classic must-see for anyone who loves film. This concludes my review of the Parasite movie.

Neal Pollack

Book and Film Globe Editor in Chief Neal Pollack is the author of ten semi-bestselling books of fiction and nonfiction, including the memoirs Alternadad and Stretch, the novels Repeat and Downward-Facing Death, and the cult classic The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature. He's written articles and humor for every English-language publication except The New Yorker. Neal lives in Austin, Texas, and is a three-time Jeopardy! champion.

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