Parasite ★★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

Compare the living room windows of the Kim and Park families. Parasite's opening shot begins with the former - a vantage point that is below street level, permeable to all of the filth, clatter, and hardship of the slums. Moments into the film, Kang-ho Song's Ki-taek Kim encourages leaving the windows open so that pesticide can seep into the apartment and exterminate an infestation of stink bugs for free (or the low cost of the family's discomfort). Though the Park family's window is more readily transparent - a floor to ceiling glass exterior - it looks out upon a barrier to the rest of Korean society; hedges taller than the residents wall off the outside world, sealing off the family's lavish mansion. Dong-ik Park repeatedly warns Ki-taek not to "cross the line" referring to the candor of their conversation, but Joon-ho Bong suggests that line is a lot more metaphorical ("It's so metaphorical!"). In the world of Parasite (and, considering Burning deals with similar issues, contemporary Korean society, in general) the layers - or lines - stratifying the classes are akin to hermetic seals. The wealthy treat the poor like a disease, anxious that if their staff are not vetted correctly the "wrong" people could get in. Of course, like with any parasite, infection is often inevitable.

The stratification is not only horizontal (the view out the respective windows), but vertical. Comically vertical, in fact, as a series of shots after the climax of the film indicate through the Kims' extended descent from the Park mansion back to their own semi-basement level home. In a society where the elite literally live atop the impoverished, how could there not also be a toxic power dynamic? Much of the film's humor revolves around the Kim family gaining a sort of dominance over the Parks by outsmarting them to leech off their fortune. Of course, Joon-ho also emphasizes how this sort of stratification creates infighting between those at the bottom, all of them ready to claw and scrape to attain a slightly higher position. A pivotal scene pointedly shows the Kims - now glutted on a taste of the Park's wealth - adopting the callous egotism that comes with the insulation of wealth. Yet, no matter what sort of upper hand they think they have attained, they can never truly become betters or even equals of the Parks; they will always be a nagging smell.

As the conclusion of the film indicates, money, counter to one character's claim, is not an iron; it only seems to flatten out the disparity between the classes from the perspective of those with the iron. Those at the bottom will always have to gaze from afar at those above them.

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