Two households, both very different in social standings. Bong Joon-ho’s Oscar Winning film Parasite crafted a fascinating blend of efficient use of cinematography, perfectly calibrated pacing and its blunt yet terrifically disturbing plot. An artistic creation so remarkable it rivals that of Hitchcock.
In some ways, the continuous nods to Alfred Hitchcock, rife with enough motifs and voyeurism to fill your own elaborately furnished mansion, make this experience almost like an homage to the classic era of horror/thriller-esque filmmaking. The very title itself screams symbolism with each family being unable to exist without one another, leading to a horrific yet quite hilarious entwinement of fates. After Ki-woo is given the unexpected opportunity to home-tutor a rich school girl, he manages to continue his façade in successfully duping a wealth Seoul family into hiring all of his family for service jobs. In contrast to the Kims’ cramped and leaky “semi-basement” apartment, with views of urinating drunks, they’ve now bluffed their way right up to the privileged sphere. Perched high above the slums of Seoul lies the Parks’ elegant mansion blessed with views of starry night skies. A juxtaposing choice of set designs which I’m sure wasn’t just a coincidence.
Stairs and buildings are a frequent motif within the film to reflect the opposing ends of the socioeconomic spectrum. Where each character is placed vertically, they become a signifier for their class. The Parks’ house is uphill with big open windows to allow the sun to shine through yet the lowest classes are presented as living underground completely devoid of light. However, the Kims depict an in-between state with their semi-basement; while they are still underground, they still have some light shining through. As Bong said himself, it is a house that “wants to believe it is above the ground.” This ability to seek out a better life gives them hope, yet this hope proves to be their dramatic downfall. It creates a pseudo-Marxist reading in their utter false consciousness of class. The Kims are deluded into believing they are now superior to other lower-class characters within the story. They assume their duplicitous actions have successfully led them to acquire power and status.
However, as soon as this façade is turned off, they are made to descend the stairs back down into the slums, revealing how superficial this class transcendence really is.
As the Kims are symbolically forced to venture down to the depths, the sharp slope of a seemingly never-ending descent of steps serves to reinforce how lower in social standing they are than the parks. This world is one of vertical non-integration. The descent back down towards poverty made even worse when finding their semi-basement flooded with sewer water. Whilst those above the slum area will see a powerful rainstorm as a minor annoyance in ruining a camping holiday, livelihoods amongst a significant portion of the city have been destroyed. Yet Bong goes one step further.
He emphasises that gap even further in exposing a heart-breaking dark reality. With an array of heart-breaking tonal shifts, from the wife browsing within her room full of expensive clothing to people literally fighting over one item of clothing over another, the tension slowly builds up to one of my favourite scenes in the film. A day after the flood, the wife raves on the phone about what a blessing the storm has been in leaving a nice blue sky for their outdoor gathering. However, unbeknownst to her, Ki-Tek in front of her, had been wading through sewage to save himself and recover as much of their belongings as he can. This superbly crafted scene not only amplifies those strained class relations but also reinforces how crucial foreknowledge is to pull off the “show don’t tell” technique. After seeing how much unpleasant hardship has been caused within the city, and then to hear someone describe it as a blessing, creates that underlining feeling of resentment that will fuel the denouement.
Parasite’s symbolism is a gift that just keeps on giving and has set an impeccable precedent for future filmmakers. With such a flawless ensemble cast, alongside Jung Jae-il’s atmospheric score, Parasite is a cinematic masterpiece which will slowly eat away at you whilst on the edge of your seat.
By Katie Heyes
Image: By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=62809787