Parasite, the latest dark comedy by director and writer Bong Joon-ho, is the best movie for 2020. While its (deserved) recognition as Best Picture of 2020 may be foiled by what Bong Joon-ho dubbed the “one-inch tall barrier” of subtitles, it is indisputably the best picture for 2020.
As the global economy struggles with rampant inequality and the narratives to explain it, Bong Joon-ho offers us the macabre cinematic constructions of Parasite.
“Economy” is metonymic for a system that often flattens human beings into consumers or producers. Its etymological heritage, however, is more humane. Economy comes from the Greek oikonomia, household code or management, which offers a more holistic understanding of humans than as contributors to GDP and suggests that economics has a relational heart, with concerns woven of covenants and decisions that determine the material nature of our relations within and between our households.
Parasite is about the economy of a household—two households, really, living in one house, intertwined in a toxic marriage of interdependence. The house’s foundation contains a literal fissure from which arises the agent of chaos who exacerbates the divisions between its members to the point of bloodshed.
Parasite captures the zeitgeist of 2020, of widely felt frustrations with inequality and rigged systems, the obliviousness of the privileged, and the bleak reality of the disenfranchised. “They’re rich, but nice,” says Kim Ki-taek (played by Kang-ho Song), the paterfamilias of the struggling Kim household, of their wealthy employers. His wife, Kim Chung-sook (played by Hye-jin Jang), scoffs. “They’re nice because they’re rich.” Kindness is a luxury you can afford when you have a roof over your head and food in your belly.
At the beginning of the movie, we meet the Kim family in their squalid basement apartment as they face a hurdle both quotidian and catastrophic: the owner of the wifi network above them has put a password on their source of internet. Kim Chung-sook nudges her husband: “What’s your plan?”
Like social niceties, plans, too, are the luxuries of the rich.
Or maybe not. The plot is set in motion as their son’s friend arrives with an unorthodox offer. He asks Kim Ki-woo (played by Woo-sik Choi) to take his place teaching the wealthy high school girl he tutors, Park Da-hye (Ji-so Jung), introducing the Kims to the Park family, a host who can provide them with much more than free wifi.
Seeing his son head out the door for an interview with the Parks, Kim Ki-taek’s face lights up: “You have a plan.” After getting hired as Da-hye’s new tutor, Kim Ki-woo finagles each member of his family into the Park’s employ. Their symphonic scam is orchestrated to near perfection—until one single storm destroys their plan. The change in weather patterns causes an avalanche of catastrophes that reveals a ghost living a dark parallel to the Kims’ existence at the Parks’, leaving the Kim family homeless and hopeless.
In a gym sheltering flood survivors, Kim Ki-woo asks his father: “What’s your plan?” Kim Ki-taek’s face reveals the bitterness of poverty and his self-loathing at failing to provide his family with a safety net. He replies: “The best plan, son, is no plan.” He points to the people surrounding them. They had plans, none of which included sleeping in this gym tonight. Don’t plan and you will never be disappointed. The only sure having in this world is to have not.
Bong Joon-ho’s social commentary is served piping hot. “It’s so metaphorical,” coos Kim Ki-woo, beckoning viewers to see the truth behind a painting, a rock, the film in which he appears. Parasite is metaphorical, ripe with symbolism. But, like any good political art, it simply tells a story.
Story-telling is an inherently bold venture, wagering that any of our individual stories can stand for more than just our story. Storytelling is born from the hope that someone could watch, read, or hear the story I tell and find in it something relatable.
Parasite ends with a desperate act of communication, a father telling a story across an impossible distance, in the hopes that he will be heard. Against the odds, his son receives his story and is moved to act. Kim Ki-woo forms another plan. But the final frames reveal that the son’s plan has gone nowhere. Like his father, he is unable to rise aboveground. In the end, the plan was only a dream.
Featured image: imdb.com; fair use.