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Usually when a film talks about what lies beneath, the thing below is demonic, a vampire mutant, or commandos waiting for the signal to destroy. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the Academy Award-winning film PARASITE, but I wouldn’t have been shocked if the answer had included large blood-sucking insects. I was even ready for space-age killer cells that power through the blood stream gobbling up life. Apparently, I watch too many movies.
Instead, I was left frowning at the television screen when the film had ended. Just who was a parasite on whom? The 2019 South Korean film presents two families, one rich and successful and one desperately poor and unemployed, entangled more than they realize, all victims of greed and ego and class. Critics described the story as dark comedy, but I suppose comedy lies in the eyes of the beholder. Many offerings billed as comedy leave me smiling at most and perplexed and bored at worst. I wasn’t bored in PARASITE, but neither was I laughing much. The humor therein is often broad, almost slapstick. The dark side is pretty darned dark.
One of the best aspects of the film is that it doesn’t follow typical patterns. Unless careless reviewers reveal the plot, I can’t imagine anyone predicting the twists and turns. Suffice it to say, we’re left staring blankly at members of opposite socio-economic classes and how they use one another to maintain their daily lives—not maliciously, but sometimes cruelly. And we of the shrinking middle class realize that even if we don’t fit neatly into either class box, we, too, participate in the dance. These days with more people almost hopelessly out of work than ever before, we can look around to see how many people were supporting our whims of what to eat, where to travel, places to stay, things to buy, etc. We avert our gaze as they’re turned away from assistance with food or shelter. We look away as older workers die, thinking they would’ve died, anyway. On TV, we watch looters grabbing overpriced merchandise from store windows, and we cluck our tongues, scowl, and talk about people who take advantage. So what if they don’t have healthcare? But the times have placed us all in a globe and shaken it until not merely the fake snow but also the cute buildings and tiny snowmen are tumbling into a lump that seems to be no more than trash. Up and down no longer make sense. We have trouble picking out the purely good guys. We have to admit no one is absolutely pure.
We know what lies beneath our industrialized countries, what changes when we turn the turbines and conveyor belts off, but we don’t like to see the price we’ve paid. We don’t like to look around to ask, why him and not me? Why me and not her? What does life owe us, if anything at all? PARASITE is one non-English-speaking film that doesn’t feel foreign. The entire world is peering into a mirror, and we think what we see isn’t what we intended to create. As the saying goes, we could do better.