Parasite is structured like a hill: the first act is an incredible trek upward toward the light, toward riches, toward reclaiming a sense of humanity as defined by financial stability and self-reliance. there is joy, there is quirk, there is enough air to breathe to allow for laughter and mischief.

i am curious to see how this act holds up on rewatch. i thought briefly of some criticisms of Hustlers repetitiveness; here, though, feels more intentionally cyclical rather than incidentally repeated. the greatest strength, though, are in the marveling performances, especially by Park So-dam, Choi Woo-shik, and Cho Yeo-jeong. you feel a tenderness toward the siblings, and a sharp understanding that they are smart, capable, and cunning, whose talents are left to squander among filth, piss, stink bugs.

but every hill must go down, and Parasite is an incredibly balanced, plotted, and paced descent downward into darkness. the horror doesn’t rely on shock value, but rather is built upon a slow burning dread that is rooted in the tainted soil of class, society, and duty.

these abstract themes, however, have concrete and violent implications and realities. it is as real as the meals cooked thanklessly by a housekeeper, as real as the miles driven thanklessly by a chauffeur, as real as tutors and artists, as real as pizza box folders, as real as mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers. it is as real as doing whatever it takes to make a better life for your family and yourself. it is as real as the rich living beyond their means without even considering the limits, while simultaneously sidelining and burying and dismissing the bodies upon which their wealth is built. it is blood, it is wit, it is happiness, it is sewage, it is snow, it is sunlight.

Bong Joon-ho dresses this disease up in beautiful sets and empathetic framing (the camera doesn’t gawk, but perceives invisible connections and overt inequalities)—only to unravel it with deft hands, revealing a family of wounds for which there is no monetary or dutiful salve. i’d be really interested in someone with more knowledge writing about how he plays with and mutates this particular genre or narrative of family and class… the twists feel particularly nuanced because they’re echoing a history of film and the past itself.

so what, then? if that past is covered in shit and stench and peach fuzz, what now? as dark as Parasite becomes, Bong Joon-ho offers back a sliver of light, but not without the dangerous edges of hope: maybe there is no better tomorrow, not with the poor remaining poor, and the rich getting richer. but… maybe there is. maybe there is a more equal future that can be molded from the pain of yesterday, when we move beyond the “metaphorical” into the painful reckoning with the darkest parts of our collective humanity, of one another, of ourselves.

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