Calculated Commentary: Parasite

Ryan Heshmati

January 20, 2023

Parasite, the film, is widely acclaimed and is the first foreign language film to win the Oscars' Best Picture Award. Released in 2019, Bong Joon Ho's masterpiece raked in a box office of over a quarter of a billion dollars. Set in South Korea's center, Seoul, it follows the poor Kim family, led by patriarch Ki-taek, as they each scheme to join the staff of the wealthy Park family, led by successful business executive Dong-ik of a technology company. Commenting on the economic structures and resulting inequalities in South Korea, the film moves deeply beyond the surface through calculated symbolism.

The title itself connects with the questions that arise as the film progresses. Bong has stated that while the Kim family resembles parasites in their leeching off the Parks, the Parks do the same. He says, "…they leech off the poor family's labor." The blurring of the lines forces the engaged audience to ponder what actual distinction the families have if both are responsible for leeching, just in different ways. Beyond the title, additional commentary is found through the film's emphasis on smell; the Parks are heard discussing the Kim family's smell, a detail repeated throughout the movie. Dong-ik describes it as similar to a boiled rag. If the poor are rags, then their boiling is the removal of their individuality. It is through societal "boiling" that individuals are reduced to just "the poor" or "the commoners."

Distances are another tactic employed in Parasite to make commentary. The Kim family lives in a "semi-basement," literally half-below the surface and its eventual flooding can be interpreted as the suffocation of the lower class upon which the rest of society is built above. Even further, the Park family's mansion has a safe room, unknown to the Parks, well underground, where the former housekeeper's husband secretly lives. In the film's final scenes, this man, Oh Geun-sae, climbs from his deeply hidden basement and violently uses a kitchen knife to stab Ki-taek's daughter. Dong-ik reacts to Oh Geun-sae with disgust at the man's smell. Even though the man who Dong-ik is repulsed by has just killed his daughter, Ki-taek puts aside that fact and murders the wealthy businessman. If the worsening conditions of the lower classes continue, the film warns in this scene, they will unite, regardless of differences, and wage a dangerous class conflict.

The South Korean thriller is rich, with far too much meaning to discuss within one article. To truly analyze the wildly popular Parasite, one must not just watch the film but get engulfed in its messages. There is no doubt; Parasite deserves a spot in every movie collection.