Parasite ★★★★★

A timely film. Perched on the edge of the 2010’s decade, this reflection of our social reality is remarkably relevant to the changing times, and consistently clever in how it presents those themes. Whereas other films in the sprawl of the streaming industry have worn themselves into a rut, Parasite bursts through the bounds of genre and delivers something fresh and exciting. It lives in our world of ever-present technology and ever-increasing inequality, but captures it in a way that hasn’t quite been seen before. Showing a phone screen is often un-cinematic, with its small text and obtrusive glare— but in Parasite, the presence of technology doesn’t feel out-of-place, since it is deeply integrated into the wider commentary that the film puts forward. This commentary revolves around the paradoxical polarity of wealth; that while the income-gap pushes the class divide further apart, their inextricable reliance pulls them back into the same spaces. 

First: the nature of plot expectation in a time saturated with stories. It is rare when I watch a film and have no idea of how things will resolve. Especially in this decade— when there are more films being made than ever before, and audiences have easier ways to access those films than ever before. There are currently over 100 different ways to stream movies or TV online. With such a proliferation of films, many of them tend to fall into basic genre formats, or recognizable formulas. Audiences, exposed to more stories, have come to develop a sense for how plot arcs might develop. A smarter audience has led some studios to move away from tired tropes, by invoking ’surprising’ twists. But, these too have become a trope of their own, as they are often not set up well, or added merely to ‘shock.’ This can be seen in the recent overuse of the ‘twist villian’ trope in Disney films, or the way that the popular phrase ‘subverted expectations’ has acquired an often sarcastic and negative connotation. Needless to say, it is difficult to avoid the well-worn furrows of formula.  

This makes it so much more refreshing when a film, such as Parasite, is so unbound by the constrictions of formula. Parasite dabbles in many different genres, choosing a bit here and a bit there— family-drama, suspense, heist, horror, thriller, comedy, satire, and something else unique to glue it all together. Bong Joon-ho is a master chef, well-versed in traditional recipes, but experienced enough to mix-and-match them in a playful fusion. The whole film resounds with a clear and unified directorial vision. The cinematography is elegant, the editing brisk, the music expressive. These excellent formal elements then become cohesive through the film’s sturdy thematic skeleton. And one of the many concepts that Parasite gets so right in its thematic repertoire is the current form of our technology.

In the beginning of the film, Ki-taek’s family scrambles around their basement-apartment, waving their phones to search for a precious few bars of wi-fi. It’s funny, a little absurd— and entirely insightful. In our age of speedy connections and instant communication, wi-fi is increasingly becoming a resource close to the same level as money and food. And if not on the same level, then certainly an important tool to reach that level. The family needs their wi-fi to check Whatsapp, in order to co-ordinate their job making boxes. The use of cellphones isn’t merely a convenience for them, but is necessary both for the folding of pizza boxes, and the unfolding of their larger plans as the film progresses. Yet something else happens as the film progresses— that is, phones and their ease of recording video turn from a useful resource into an awaiting danger. In this way, technology isn’t treated as something extraneous to the characters, nor is it looked down upon with that ‘kids these days on their phones’ attitude. Just like the extremity of wealth, or the mutability of genre, technology is shown to be fickle; shifting from a useful ability to a dire detriment at a mere moment’s notice.

This idea of opposing forms draws us to the most prominent feature of Parasite, its economic critique and social satire. The upper-class Park family is oblivious and naive, living in their spacious mansion and all its wide rooms, wide windows, and wireless wi-fi. The living room wall integrates the space with the immaculately pruned backyard, just past the transparent pane of glass. This is a false integration; the glass allows the sight of nature, but is designed to keep the other senses at bay. Rain is seen, not felt. The green grass is visible, but carefully curated, manifestly manicured. While the house may appear be a sleek shell of modernity, it only mimics the principles of minimalism, for just out of sight, it bursts with excesses. The fridge is always well-stocked, the son is gifted an unnecessary amount of the newest toys, and an abundance of helpers tend to every need of the Park family— tutor, driver, art teacher, and house-keeper. Amongst this surplus, one would think the Park family would be depicted with disdain or scorn. Another strength of the film— it makes no villains, except that of circumstance. The social environment splits the upper- and lower-class metaphorically, between height and space. And these contrasts work as differentials, drawing people as if by osmosis into larger spaces, up to higher heights. The more this happens, the higher the chance for a reaction— a conflict, a spark, a verve of violence. And, long after the film has ended, it lives on parasitically in the mind, completely refusing to be shaken off or simply forgotten.

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