First half spoiler-free, second half watch out
Bong Joon-Ho’s Parasite is a maniacal ride powered by a finely honed engine. It’s a perfectly constructed trap door–-Incredible, you think, as you fall through the beautiful floor after a smooth click. It is a masterful black comedy about class and capitalism and resentment and cruelty and wishes and architecture. It is so much about architecture. GOD I LOVE A HOUSE MOVIE.
Is there something about Korean cinema that lends itself to house movies? The Handmaiden was as well. Parasite bears not a small amount of similarities to The Handmaiden in fact. They both involve twists and turns and wealth and secrets, secrets in the dark rooms of that big stunning house. The Handmaiden is a love story though, and Parasite is…probably a thriller.
Or maybe we can come up with a new genre: the grift movie. Distinct from a heist movie, the grift movie, this year’s Hustlers being another one, backs the pleasure derived from the elegance of the fraud with a sharp wash of financial anxiety. Heists are targeted assassinations—grifts are class warfare. Heists are “jobs” that you complete—grifts are Destiny’s moving car with no breaks. The characters in both Hustlers and Parasite realize they must have had a chance to take an off-ramp at some point, but they missed it, and now their only options are to dive out the door, or just try to ride this all the way to the top without crashing.
I don’t know why I keep trying to compare Parasite to other movies when it’s so much its own thing. Though maybe that’s what happens when a movie’s light shines really strong: it falls on so many others. I thought that about In the Mood for Love as well, and I thought of In the Mood for Love when I thought of the scenes in Parasite rendered in gorgeous slow motion set to Jung Jaeil’s classical score, and all that rain pouring down. It is a very beautiful movie. And riotous fun, and utterly chilling.
Okay, let’s get into it. Look away now if you’ve not seen it and are the sort of person who doesn’t want to know the plot before you go into something.
I thought this movie’s twist was going to be supernatural. I definitely thought something alien and strange was going to be up with that weird looking rock, and that maybe the parasite of the title would turn out to be literal. In fact, what turned out to be very literal was anyone who described this as an “upstairs/downstairs” movie. The rich family with a secret in their house is SUCH A CLASSIC, the horror genre beat drop that feels like missing the last step. For this is definitely horror at times! God I keep remembering the flashback scene of the little boy eating cake in the dark kitchen, seeing the Ghost coming up the stairs to the basement, his eyes glowing over his hungry cheekbones.
But the fact that the Parks don’t know the secret in their house isn’t the way this usually goes. In this way Parasite is not The Handmaiden, or Get Out, or Sorry To Bother You—the Parks aren’t hiding the kind of sadism only money can afford, and afford to keep hidden. In many ways, the Parks are nice, as the Kims talk about as they drink their liquor and eat their food, and they are certainly gullible. But they are also selfish and classist and unthinking, in how the life they want to lead demands the labor of others who will, structurally, never be able to have this for themselves.
What is truly going to stick with me, beyond the face coming up the stairs or the buckets of water being thrown in slow motion or really anything Park So-dam does on screen, is Ki-woo’s dream he describes to his father at the end. That the only solution he sees, is to become the Parks himself. That he will be rich, that he will buy the Big House, because only then will he get his father back. Not blood money: money for blood. The idea that the very bodies of our families get trapped in the architecture of late capitalism, and only through becoming capitalists ourselves can we free them.
“This is so metaphorical!” Ki-woo happily exclaims at multiple points, and every time I felt giddily frightened, what the hell will a movie like this do next. Parasite is bold and brutal and every seat in our theater was taken, because 2019 has found its film.