In the world of “Parasite”: plot, idea, symbols of the Oscar-winning film
“Parasite” took the Oscar for Best Picture, and this was a significant event in the world of cinema: this is the first time that a non-English-language film has won. And exotic for Europe – Korean.
Director Bong Joon Ho revealed in his interviews the meaning of the movie “Parasite” and its ending. But – a cunning beetle – the main idea was left to the audience to think out on their own.
The genre of the film is transformed from beginning to end. Starting as a simple black comedy, by the second half the film becomes a violent thriller, and along the way acquires the features of a philosophical drama.
What is the movie about
The film is about two Korean families: the incredibly poor Kim family and the incredibly rich Park family. The Kims live in a damp semi-basement in the poorest district of the city, collect pizza boxes for a penny and catch the neighbor’s Wi-Fi: there is no money to pay for their Internet.
The Packs live in a huge designer mansion. One day, the eldest son of the Kims, on the recommendation of a friend, accidentally gets a job as a tutor in the house of the rich Pakov. This is where the adventures of two families begin.
Which of the families are real parasites
The film deliberately does not answer this question. The director’s position is that the entire modern society is built on the principle of parasitism. The rich delegate “manual” work to the poor. A rich housewife does not even know how to load dishes into the dishwasher – she hires servants for this.
The poor, seeing big money, cannot resist the temptation and in all possible dishonest ways sit on the neck of the rich, sticking to their wallet or refrigerator.
The theme of social inequality and the gap between the rich and the poor became the main one for Bong Joon Ho. He began work on the film back in 2013, but in 2019 the theme of universal parasitism has become even more pronounced.
In his interviews, Bong Joon Ho says that the main emotional task of the film is the feeling of fear: he wanted the viewer to be afraid after the film of the scale and inevitability of social stratification. If we continue to live as we live now, and our children live by our rules, we are doomed to eternal imprisonment in the trap of parasitism, dishonesty, selfishness and infantilism.
While watching, it is impossible to understand which side the director is on: does he sympathize with the poor, does he try to put them in the best light? Does he play on sentimental pity for the Kim family? Does he show the rich Pak as cleaner (literally and figuratively) and nicer people? Does he sympathize with the impressionable rich mother, who sincerely worries about the psyche of her son, who is so easily deceived?
No, the director does not create complete images of “villains” and “victims”. He does not love equally, but at the same time he regrets and understands all his heroes. As soon as the viewer takes the side of one family, she immediately commits some kind of abomination. As soon as the viewer decides that the other family are villains, they immediately do something touchingly human.
By the second half of the film, bodily associations with parasitic insects are clearly traced. The poor crawl, run on all fours, hide in dark places. When the living room lights are turned on, Kim freezes on the floor like a cockroach that is afraid of a slipper. And the intimate scene with the rich is similar to the copulation of insects.
Poverty and wealth. Symbolism
If you watch the film carefully, you will see how almost every detail of “Parasite” symbolizes the difference between the rich and the poor. Paki and Kim are mirror images of each other, only the mirror is crooked.
The rich Pack family lives on a hill in a huge futuristic house. Poor Kims are at the bottom of the city, in the basement of a high-rise building.
There are a lot of stairs in the film: in the Pak’s house they go up, at the Kim’s – down. Even in the city you have to go down the stairs to the Kims’ house. It is a metaphor for a “hierarchical ladder” or social “food chain” where the poor are inevitably vulnerable and the rich reign supreme at the top of the world.
The usual heavy rain becomes a disaster for the Kims – their apartment is flooded to the middle. And on Pakov’s lawn, the lawn only grows greener.
The director says that the motto “you must try, then everything will work out” is often a false promise. Social status and unemployment are stronger than ordinary people.
The episode at the beginning of the film is symbolic – the Kims abandon the idea of fighting cockroaches and leave this problem to chance. And it works: a disinfection car drives along their street, which disinfects their basement through open windows.
The complete absence of a plan of action, lowered hands, total poverty and a special ineradicable unpleasant smell – this is what fills the image of the Kims. The quality that helped them achieve success for a short time is cunning.
At the same time, the Kims are talented. The son teaches English very well, and the daughter draws beautifully and copes with the extraordinary son of Pakov. The mother immediately masters the intricacies of housekeeping in the new house, and the father professionally masters the management of the new car. Their poverty is a fateful external condition that gives them no choice but to become criminals.
Paki, by virtue of their position, disdain poverty. These are stereotypical rich people: they are not talented, infantile and selfish. And the quality that eventually killed them is naivety.
Bong Joon Ho inserts the line in the film: “500 people with higher education apply for every vacancy of a security guard.” The director heard this statistics about South Korea somewhere on the news, and he was so impressed that he appeared in the film. This is a really big problem for Koreans: fierce competition puts a lot of psychological pressure on them.
If you’re wondering if the rich in South Korea are really so paranoid that they’re building bunkers in case of a nuclear war, yes, indeed. Does it make sense? We do not know. But Bong Joon Ho says this is a real Korean practice, albeit among the richest people. Personally, he does not have a bunker in his house.
A notable symbol in the film is the “wealth stone”. The younger Kim receives it as a gift from a successful friend who gives him a “ticket” to the Pack family.
A friend used to be a tutor for the Packs, but is now leaving to study and recommends Kim to take his place. From this moment, that is, in fact, from the moment the stone was received, changes begin. Through deceit and fake documents, he goes to work for them, and then drags the whole family.
It seems to many Russian-speaking viewers that this stone contains some deeper meaning that we do not understand. No, everything is transparent here, and director Bong Joon Ho himself confirms this. “Why stone?” “Because as a child I somehow loved stones.”
This is a notch from which you can count the beginning of the drama. By the end of the film, we see that the stone turns out to be a “fake”, a false hope for happiness: instead of the promised wealth, it brought only trouble and death.
From the beginning of the film until the decisive moment, the viewer is haunted by a special smell emanating from the Kim family, and it is very important.
The Packs do not know that all their servants are members of the same family, but it is their common unpleasant smell that makes them suspicious. It is the smell of cheap washing powder, basement, sweat, dirt, old clothes.
The rich Paki cannot stand this smell and involuntarily pinch their nose. This gesture becomes the main symbol of social stratification, it is also the reason for the bloody action at the end of the film. The Kims, poor and morbidly proud, are offended by this treatment of themselves. Moreover, they understand that the smell is really disgusting. This offends them even more.
At the same time, personal boundaries become an important detail. Mr. Park, the head of the family, often mentions the need to respect personal boundaries – this is his strict rule of life. But at the moment when he smells that very smell of poverty from the driver, the personal boundaries between the two families are destroyed. Returning home, he discusses this smell with his wife, and she confesses that she understands what he means.
Body odor is one of the most intimate parts of the human image, because you can’t smell it until you get too close to the person. This is an interesting subtle moment, hinting at the coming disaster: “something is already wrong with these families.”
The meaning of the ending
Warning, spoilers start here! If you haven’t watched it yet, come back and watch it!
The bunker in which the husband of the former housekeeper has been living for four years is the very bottom of the hierarchical ladder. Below is no longer possible. In part, it dictates the terrible bloody ending of the film. Kim Jr. armed himself with a “wealth stone” and descended into the bunker to kill the housekeeper’s husband, but the husband himself attacked him. It is thanks to Kim Jr. that the husband breaks out of the bunker and goes to kill.
At this time, in the background, the daughter of Pakov rescues Kim Jr.: they are touchingly in love with each other. This is a strong moment that is hard to read amidst the massacre: love lives in the hearts of the guys.
Mr. Pak, being next to the madman, pinches his nose – he smells the same smell. Kim’s father sees this, goes mad with pent-up rage, and kills Pak.
So the image of the crazy husband from the bunker loops with the image of the older Kim: Kim hides in the bunker and begins to live there. Pak’s wife moves out of this cursed place, new tenants move into the house, at night Kim steals food from their refrigerator.
The residents think that one light bulb in the hallway is not working, but it is not: it is Kim sending a message to her son in Morse code, not knowing if he will ever see him. In the end, the son comes to this house and deciphers the letter.
Kim Sr. remains imprisoned at the bottom of the hierarchy, and the mother and son end up in the same place where they were at the beginning. Mrs. Park finds herself without a husband and disappears from view. And only the vague dream of the Kims became more clear: the son is going to learn, get rich and buy this house, reunited in it with his father. Is it feasible? The viewer decides for himself.
The director openly says in his interviews that he does not want to help his viewers with understanding the ending, does not want to give clues. He tells a story: the poor tried to trick their way out of the bottom to the top of the hierarchy, they didn’t succeed.
On the one hand, the open ending gives hope that Kim Jr. will succeed, he will learn, buy a house and save his father – he is really talented and smart. But, on the other hand, how many years will it take? And will they be able to be happy after the carnage they staged? We think not. Korean unemployment and the family’s bloody history almost robs them of any chance of happiness. And this terrible, frightening idea of hopelessness, in fact, Pong Joon Ho wants to convey to us.
Why Parasite won an Oscar
“Parasite” won the Academy Award for two main reasons: Bong Joon Ho brought up an acutely social hot topic that hit the hearts of most film academics. And at the same time, he made a breathtaking artistic picture that really keeps the viewer interested, attentive and tense for two hours. These criteria so rarely meet that they are already enough for an Oscar.
The director himself was sure that “Parasite” would not receive the Palme d’Or, much less an Oscar, because he considered it too specific a Korean film that foreigners simply would not understand.