Tuesday, October 15, 2019


Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite is about pretense and pretenders. You have those who live in a world of superficial materialism and those who aspire to it. In this regard the climbers and those who have made it all have something in common. Basements are a huge leitmotif. The impoverished family at the center of the film who make their living folding pizza boxes inhabit one with a small window through which they see the outside world.The son, Kim Ki-woo  (Choi Woo-shik) is offered a job tutoring the daughter of a fabulously rich family, Park Da-hye (Jung Ji-so). His sister Kim Ki-jung (Park So-dam) is then introduced as an art tutor for Park Da-hye's little brother, Park Da-sung (Jung Hyun-joon) who's traumatized. His trauma, by the way, results from the fact that he has seen reality—in the form of an apparition which turns out to be real. Kim Ki-Jung who is introduced by her brother as Jessica, claims to have studied art and psychology at the University of Illinois, when the extent of her knowledge derives from Googling the words “art therapy.” Eventually Kim succeeds in getting his father and mother jobs as respectively the driver and housekeeper for the family. This is accomplished by a host of charades. The former driver is framed as a pervert. Suspicions about the housekeeper having TB are planted. In the beginning it’s all quite funny, with the imposters in their varying roles reminiscent of characters out of Moliere plays like The Bourgeois gentilhomme, Le Medicine malgre lui or TartuffeThe invasion of the servants is also reminiscent of Bunuel’s Viridiana where vandals loot a home. However, the luxurious modernist structure occupied by the Park family has its own basement in which the husband of the now dismissed housekeeper, “the underground man” a la Dostoevsky lives, at one point making his existence known by knocking his head against sensors using morse code. This second basement is a metaphor for the irrational unconscious instincts in which this masterpiece of cinema dwells. All the themes of the film are mirrored. For instance the wealthy family peers out of a huge panoramic window though they’re in the dark about what's really happening to them. Compare that to the impoverished basement aperture through which their poor counterparts view the world. The compromised view ultimately reveals more, but both families share a similar mode of seeing or framing i.e. through pictures. One last visual motif that constantly appears are staircases and inclines. When the housekeeper is let go, she descends with her luggage. There's a lot of rising and falling of fortunes that's manifested in winding “social ladders.” The movie is ostensibly about class, but to see it as purely about social rising is to deprive it of the huge matrix of complexity in which it dwells. Parasite is an "infernal machine," to employ Cocteau's title, that eventually strings a huge net of identity among all the characters. The movie is indeed a thriller and there are some grisly scenes, but one of its most brilliant accomplishments is that whether you regard the imagery as haunting, beautiful or fearful, you can’t stop thinking about it.

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