Parasite (2019) dir. Bong Joon-ho
“What sort of life is ours?” said Lulù Massa in The Working Class Goes to Heaven (La classe operaia va in paradiso, 1971 by Elio Petri), when he too acquired class consciousness and was finally aware of his status as a submissive. The proletariat therefore had to stand united against bourgeois society so that the class struggle would lead to the abolition of private property.
History has taught us that Marxist theories have failed the test of reality and Parasite (2019) shows its nefarious developments.
The antagonists shatter into a myriad of particles that struggle frantically not for a common good but for the satisfaction of their own needs, for the will to assert a certain social status. And what better way to claim one’s place in the sun than in the security of private property, of a place that certifies one’s privileged position.
A shining mansion with a double garage and well-kept garden, this is what the protagonists of Bong Joon-ho’s new film aspire to.
The Kim family lives in a basement, father and mother just scrape by odd jobs, the two sons, unsuitable for a brilliant as expensive university career, try to exploit their particular artistic talents to ensure a better position.
On the threshold between the golden bourgeois world and the tiny shelter for mice and cockroaches in which they live, the Kims dream of going out one day from that box in which they find themselves trapped, an imperfect box like the pizza containers that they have to fold only to earn just a little bit of cash.
The opportunity arises when their son Ki-woo is introduced into Mr. and Mrs. Park’s mansion to tutor his young daughter. With clever ease the boy weaves an ingenious plan to let the rest of his family enter into that charming environment.
The intrusion into the domestic environment is not a new theme in Korean cinema. Kim Ki-young dedicated a large part of his career to it, starting with The Housemaid (Hanyeo, 1960), to continue with the subsequent variations on the theme, and Bong makes no secret of having been inspired by his works.
In Parasite, as in Kim’s films, the place where the events take place becomes a threatening and looming element; the rigid architecture of the Parks’ house, with its hidden entrances, as well as the cramped spaces of the wretched Kims’ hovel, seem to want to suck its inhabitants.
The staircase, which in Kim’s film The Housemaid plays a fundamental role, here splits up to represent in one case the ascent towards a position that satisfies its aspirations and in the other the fall in the quicksand of oblivion.
Not only closed places but also the surrounding open spaces become symbols of social inequality. As Kurosawa Akira well exemplified in High and Low (Tengoku to jigoku, 1963), the prominent position of the residents of the rich entrepreneurs visibly contrasts with the obscure slums of the suburbs, the light that breaks through the windows of the houses on the hills does not come to illuminate those who reside on the lower margins of city. Nevertheless we soon realize that under the shining surface of these privileged places lies a hidden shadow.
Even the parasite, by definition an organism that lives in or on another and takes its nourishment from that other organism, duplicates itself and with its double fights to continue to feed on its host and ensure its survival even at the cost of crossing certain forbidden limits.
The discreet charm of the bourgeoisie risks to crack when the intruders try to overcome the invisible border that the conventions forbid to cross. Going beyond that line of demarcation awakens the senses of the homeowners, it tickles their sense of smell, pushing them to awaken from their quiet torpor. If initially only the youngest son of the Parks is able to notice that all the members of the Kim family have the same smell, in the end that suspicion will hit the Parks with all its extreme consequences.
A river in flood that overwhelms everything and everyone, which drags with it the vain hopes and faded memories, which uncovers the house of cards with feet clay. This time the monster has no form, it has no definite shape, and for this reason it is even more frightening.
There are neither good nor bad, only human beings who try not to be overwhelmed, who defend themselves with the weapons they have at their disposal, be they a stone, a peach or a mobile phone.
Unlike other situations, in which wealth is displayed by those who possess it, in this case the Parks are not seen as the villains simply because their being wealthy appears to be a natural fact; Mrs. Park seems so naive because she really doesn’t know the world beyond her walls. It is therefore not surprising to see how the ‘strange smell’ emanating from Mr. Kim is noticed by her only after her husband has pointed out to her the thing.
To recover her son from the trauma that he experienced in seeing a scary ghost on his birthday, the mother prefers to choose to escape, to hide everything to forget, to avoid having to face the unknown. And even when the woman is forced to confront, the suggested solution is to wear a mask and reduce everything to a game, a carnival representation.
A farce that should arouse comedy but which in the end serves to reveal the true nature of its onlookers, a dance of reality that forces them to come to terms with the roommates of this world.
The similarity that sees the two heads of the family dressed as Indians at the party for the little Da-song is only formal, because different is the spirit with which the two men have played the game, to win love and gratitude in the case of Mr. Park, to earn extra money in the case of Mr. Kim. A short-lived equality however when it will be clear to all that no good Indian will come to save them.
The bodies fall down, the masks fall down. We want to live! they all seem to think, and while the ghosts of today and yesterday come back powerfully, each one fights for his freedom, rich and poor, parents and children, elders who continue to live in the past, waiting for a fratricidal war that probably will never begin, without realizing that the respect to which they feel obliged to, diverts their gaze from the macroscopic social conflicts that they must daily confront, and young people who, with their concreteness, plan things and believe that the future can still be changed.