Parasite: Or “There Will Be Flood?”
Me and my Jungian shadow.
Me and my Jungian shadow.
(Some First Act Plot Spoilers, and broad thematic hints)
There’s something about Mr. Kim, — Mr. Park’s new limousine driver. Park can’t quite put his finger on it. He likes Kim – admires and respects him even — for his ability to approach but never cross “The Line.”
I feel much the same way about “Parasite,” auteur Bong Joon Ho’s latest film. It is perhaps the finest piece of allegorical cinema since “Chinatown.”
In addressing class relations, Jungian shadow repressions, and questions about human agency in the face of nature and generational inheritance, “Parasite” is much like Mr. Kim – masterfully testing the boundaries, and never crossing “The Line” – as far as you can tell.
The jaunty, often hilarious early plot seems to place the film’s titular target squarely on patriarch Kim Ki-taek, and his family. The Kims – lower-class, semi-basement dwellers, depicted in circumstance and behavior as a pack of rats, or cockroaches; relatable human vermin. The Kims scheme and scuttle to survive in solidarity, family against the world. Chaotic Mr. Kim recounts his many failed business ventures. Planning Son (Ki-Woo) and Daughter (Ki-jung) plot their way out of the societal cellar. Mom (Chung-sook) glues the whole hot mess together. One family member’s opportunity is every family member’s obligation to chip in and help. A series of marginal ventures keeps food on the table, and holds the family unit together.
The world seems to be winning until the Kims’ fortunes turn, on receipt of an auspicious gift: a “Landscape Rock,” that the planning son Ki-woo notes “Is so metaphorical.”
Landscaping. The art of planning, drawing lines, erecting facades, shaping what “is” into what you wish others to see. Hiding the ugly parts of your property. Getting out of the basement requires landscaping. Maintaining the landscape is a life’s work.
Almost immediately, Ki-woo lucks into an opportunity with potential to lift his entire family out of squalor. Ki-Woo’s departing high-school friend (Min) offers his position as in-home English tutor to the wealthy Mr. Park’s teen daughter. The planning son is fatally oblivious to serendipity’s role in his life plans, on multiple fronts.
The Kim family sets itself to “landscaping” Ki-woo’s resume. His sister’s Photo-shop skills contribute layers of authenticity, forging impeccable, seemingly valid credentials. On the recommendation of certificates unearned, testimonials unspoken, and degrees unattained — the Parks voluntarily open their secure, architecturally “important,” meticulously landscaped world. Ki-woo crosses a line. The infestation has begun.
The rest of the family will soon follow. Mrs. Park insists that she only, ever, hires by trusted recommendation which guarantees she won’t be scammed, so under equally false pedigrees the entire Kim family invades. Daughter Ki-Jung as art therapist for an unmanageable young child, suffering some unspoken trauma; Mr. Kim as driver for Mr. Park and Shopping Assistant for lazy and clueless Mrs. Park; Mother Chung-sook, as Cook and Housekeeper.
All wheedle their way in: out-competing the incumbents with insidious tactics and economic ruthlessness you might have been expecting from the Parks. The family of grifters gains a foothold in the upper class, with the Parks’ complicit assistance – symbiotes in mutual exploitation, only too willing to accept false pedigrees in exchange for ease, allowing the Parks to maintain a facade of grace and luxury.
The Parks gladly engage with the lower class, as long as they don’t cross The Line.
“Parasite” is a brilliantly executed and visually stunning jaunt through a fabricated landscape that morphs from Comedy, to Farce, to Horror, and repeats. But for viewers with a discerning nose, the movie advances and answers the following questions:
Is a parasite an objective thing? Who gets to define who is parasite and who is host?
Can landscaping, camouflage, or embellishment grant class mobility?
Is marriage a good path for class mobility?
Is an upper class possible without a rapacious, symbiotic relationship with a lower class?
Will human machinations stave off unexpected natural interruptions?
Can past traumas be ignored and hidden away, or will they haunt a family or nation for generations?
In the best Jungian analysis available, can the shadow be repressed forever, without consequence?
Does “planning” work any better than “going with the flow”?
Is “trickle-down economics” a more apt description than “shit flows downhill?”
Can one undo trauma — escape one’s shame — by recapitulating the same trauma and shame?
Will the wealthy ever be able to see past their own trauma to appreciate the trauma of those who serve them, and acknowledge who inflicted it?
Will sons ever understand their fathers, or are they fated to spend a lifetime decrypting coded messages, half-transmitted across the generational divide?
Are we going to escape this perpetual cycle, each few generations thinking they’re the first to encounter any of it, knowing how to fix it all?
It seems Bong Joon Ho’s answer to all of these questions is a resounding “No!” and in paradox “Parasite” reveals itself to be the most pragmatically nihilistic movie since Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road,” only fun! It could easily have been titled “There Will Be Flood.”
In broaching these ideas, “Parasite” definitely crosses the line. The Line is the taboo against impinging on another person’s fantasies. Bringing discomfort to another person’s world. Injecting realities one would prefer to ignore or pretend don’t exist, or of which the fantasist is blissfully ignorant of, and prefers to remain so.
But don’t worry! You’ll probably like the movie, and won’t sense it crossing any lines — other than forcing you to read subtitles, and leaving you scratching your head, wondering about a story that defies a tidy wrap-up, and instead only keeps unfolding and repeating.
As Arthur Fleck said in “The Joker” movie, “That’s Life!”
== == = An ode to Parasite == == ==
Who is parasite? Who is Host?
Surviving symbiote matters most.
Adapt or die. First past the post.
That scorched image is “Jesus on Toast!”
Any pictures on life’s scorecard are likely Photoshopped,
Archetypal myths are written and redacted by Panglossian survivors.