Bong Joon Ho's Parasite – last year's Best Picture at the Oscars, winner of the 2019 Palme d'Or at Cannes – is a meticulously crafted film full of symbolism and motifs that reveal how pervasive capitalism is in deepening the societal divide between rich and poor.
On the surface, Parasite is a story set in South Korea, about the destitute Kim family consisting of a father, mother, son and daughter, who devise a plan to infiltrate the wealthy Park family by posing as an English tutor (the son), an art therapist (the daughter), a driver (the father) and a housemaid (the mother). The Kim family successfully gets the Park family to hire all of them in the aforementioned roles – under false pretences – but what ensues is a series of events that changes everyone's reality.
The moment you think you have a full grasp of the characters, plot and themes, it pulls the rug from under your feet, becoming an unpredictable spectacle of epic proportions.
While the first part of the film is light and charming, the second part broaches an ominous area that gives way to the darker third act. Regardless of how clairvoyant one fancies themselves, there is simply no way of predicting what unfolds as the story reaches its climax.
Often categorised as a drama or dark comedy, Parasite deviates from any formulaic underpinnings of genre and is instead an expertly told genre-bending tale. There are moments in the film where you will blatantly laugh out loud at the humorous antics of the poor but bubbly and resourceful Kim family.
Then in the same breath, there are moments that will leave you reeling, overcome with emotion at the painful ridicule and othering the same family is subjected to by the more affluent Park family.
As you watch intently, the telltale signs that have been hidden in plain sight start to reveal a gist of what the film is truly about.
Through the symbols and motifs that undercut the sequence of events, the plot is revealed to be a deep examination of the dichotomy that exists between the rich and the poor in South Korea. It is told with such panache that it is resonant with the inequality among classes of the rich and poor in the rest of the world.
We see how poverty among the lower classes is akin to a scourge, given the life it forces the underprivileged to lead. Low-paying, unskilled labour proves to not be enough for the Kim family, as they are forced to exist in a cramped room, huddling around for basic resources. This forces them to be incredibly cunning, resorting to dishonest means to have a chance at a semblance of a normal life.
In a glaring contrast, the affluent are revealed to be completely oblivious to the plight of the bottom-rung in society. Instead, they see them as simply being the help, who exist to help them lead their luxurious lifestyles.
Convinced that they are making a difference, the Park family fires their previous employees at the drop of a hat to make way for the Kim family – showing how expendable the poor really are in the eyes of the rich.
The true horror of capitalism is illustrated in the final act of the film, where we see how each group becomes brutally cutthroat in holding on to the resources and privileges they have amassed. Because people have been reduced to animals in classes, their only motivation is survival in an increasingly capitalist world. The lengths they would go to to protect their standing knows no limits.
- Parasite is available to watch on DStv Catch-Up