Parasite: Does it Deserve the Best Picture?
The short version: Yes. It really does.
Long version: Yes. It really does.
In all seriousness, this South Korean dark comedy thriller regarding socio-economic status in an ever-changing world in which your monetary level determines everything certainly deserved those memorable awards it received at Hollywood's biggest night. The Oscars have surely experienced their fair slew of problems over the years, from lack of hosts to political scandals as their speeches became more left-wing in nature, alienating an entire category of their audience. Nevertheless, this year, they made the correct decision. Bong-Joon Ho's flick depicts a family living in squalor, using guile to worm their way into a rich dynasty's household via scamming their current servants out of their occupations. Ki-woo, the family son, becomes the Park Clan daughter's English tutor, and from there, uses his crafty cunning and master planning to implant his families into the mansion's dynamic, ultimately enjoying a sliver of the luxurious life the Park individuals enjoy each day. Unfortunately, their prosperity is painfully brief, as they uncover a secretive bunker established beneath the house, which reside former mansion staff that have festered beneath the Parks for years. The Kim Clan brawls against these underground occupants. A series of events transpires which leads to Kim-Jung, the poor family sister dying, both incumbent bunker members dying, and the Park Family Patriarch perishing as well.
To say this movie packs heavy symbolism is a hefty understatement. Passing shots, masterful cinematography, and stellar acting performances sell a believable, fantastical tale about lower and higher classes interacting and being mutually incompatible with each other. As an audience conditioned to Western tales of economically less fortunate underdogs succeeding in their trials and tribulations against monetarily powerful, abrasive, ruthless corporate stooges and moguls, we're conditioned to believe the rich family in this movie will hold similarly villainous characteristics to make us side with the less fortunate lineage. However, the Parks act like... just another casually mega-fortunate familial dynasty, if that makes any sense. The parents seem aloof, though loving towards their children, and hold seemingly limitless resources to propel their offspring into greatness. They're not presented as vile, almost ghoulish caricatures whose sole purpose is acquiring money and power. In this context, it's hard to interpret them as villains, especially when they're the ones being deceived, losing truly loyal aides and being swindled. At the same time, the Parks remain willfully ignorant of those beneath them, their struggles being minor inconveniences in their glamorous lives. A specific instance that stayed with me is near the film's climax, in which the Kim father drives the bedazzling Park daughter. During the scene, she expresses her appreciation of the previous day's storm, calling it a 'blessing in disguise'. She doesn't even realize the Kims, among hundreds of other families, were displaced by the ravenous storm and lost their homes during the chaos.
Another facet of the film's symbolism is the visual dichotomy that is emphasized between the Parks and bunker residents. Quite literally, the unappealing, sweltering, depraved individuals residing beneath the architecturally stunning manor in a damp, claustrophobic setting are pictured below the Parks. Socially, they are forever cut off, culturally, economically, and politically from the Parks, thus doomed to rent out an eternal, depressing epoch of servitude to them. This similar situation befalls the Parks. While they certainly take advantage of the innate, aloof kindness presented by their opulent counterparts, their work still provides their rich overlords continuous prosperity and, time and time again, affords them the luxury of remaining distanced from the concerns of the poor. In a blast at South Korean society, and possibly international, globalist capitalism, the genuine, strenuous hard work of the lower classes barely raises their own statuses, while making the lives of their employers far easier. The Kims receive an illusion of reward from their scheme by receiving incrementally better food and quality of life items, but even so, these begotten gains are undone by the disastrous birthday party of Da-Song, the Parks's baby son, returning them back unto a realm of squalor.
One could see Parasite as simply examining a two-pronged life in South Korea, but it most certainly addresses more international concerns. The rise of corporate billionaires and the cementing of an upper-class of which most individuals can never hope to reach their status. Throughout the movie, the Kim family members and bunker residents display heavy admiration for the Parks, revering them as benevolent souls that have granted them stay in their mansion. This metaphor relates to our world. Today, the most popular digital stars aren't those with creative talents or brilliant innovations, but more often than not, people that laud their wealth and attract followers by the millions. These idols aren't necessarily evil, in fact, many are in the business to provide joy to their endless swaths of subscribers, but does that change the fact there is a definite gap in the relationship? Nope. Parasite does what many movies that attempt to comment on social issues fail to do, it succeeds at being both insightful cultural reference and an excellent cinematic piece. The best movies which tackle heavy historical or contemporary subjects are those which also exceed at being entertaining, heart-wrenching, jaw-dropping watches. Godfather, Downfall, Slumdog Millionaire, the list goes on. Parasite has entered the halls of these great, immortal legends, as both a cautionary tale about the power of wealth in society, and a thriller with a satisfying plot.
Of course, this review isn't solely about Parasite. I was admittedly disappointed when flicks like Joker or 1917 didn't win the Best Picture award, but did I feel incensed to anger by the result? No. For me, Parasite is an entry into a totally new genre of film, a cultural movie instead of a blockbuster. I only heard of it through occasional whispers and discussions until it won the Oscars, then I realized it was probably worth checking out. And I'm glad I did so. Parasite most certainly earns its 10/10.