By Fajar binti Benjamin
Oscar Best Picture Nominee, Parasite, directed by Bong Joon-Ho is an outstanding Korean film that delves into the nuances of the class divide with wit and level-headedness. The story focuses on two families, one filthy rich, one (literally) filthy poor, and how the relationship between these two is akin to a parasite. One leeching off the life force of another.
Who is the parasite though?
Is it the Kims? The Kims who slowly work their way into the Park household by way of deception and devious scheming? Who take advantage of the Parks’ absence from the hilltop mansion by drinking their alcohol and lazing over the designer couches? Who drive out the professionals already working in that setting so as to settle comfortably in pre-warmed places? Who take money and favours despite those things being granted under false pretenses?
Or is it the Parks? The 4 person family taking up enough resources to keep 20 families housed and fed just through their huge living space and careless usage of resources such as water and electricity? The people who feel entitled to the time, energy and dignity of everyone else just because they have the cash to compensate? Who contribute towards a greater proportion of pollution that leaves poorer families swimming in sewer water while they watch dispassionately from huge glass windows?
It’s all cut-throat tragedy and wicked humor. There is little commentary on the morality of our characters’ actions. Generally, we like both families. The Kims lie and hustle out of necessity. The Parks make slights like covering their noses or firing desperate employees out of ignorance. Who is ‘worse’ really doesn’t matter. What matters is that both parties are placed at complete opposite ends of a spectrum, causing an imbalance in the opportunities and experiences afforded to them.
Again, who is the parasite? The hope fed to lower classes that someday they may climb the ladder and reach the ‘top’ if they just work hard enough? The system that leeches humanity out of all classes to grow and resonate in its own influence? The house itself, maintained by the many layers of other homes as barriers against climate change below it?
The eldest son of the Kim family has the smarts to pass college entry exams but no resources to actually enter. The daughter of the Kim family is a natural charmer with talents worthy of art school. Under other circumstances, they’d be able to work their way up the social hierarchy and live fulfilling lives. But alas, they’re born semi-underground: too poor to make anything of themselves, despite having valuable skills and talents. Their one lucky break comes to them solely due to their connection to someone who’s already at a higher social status than them.
The children of the Parks on the other hand, are too rich to lose. Any shortcomings on their end shall always be compensated by extra classes, handouts, favoritism and connections. Think back to last year when Lori Loughlin, along with 33 other parents scammed their way into getting college admissions for their underqualified children through means of bribery and cheating. Or the countless stories you hear of people obtaining internship or job positions simply because their parents know someone who knows someone who knows someone. Privilege inspires arrogance, as seen by Mr Park and his constant insistence that his employees “don’t cross the line”.
Parasite asks the questions: “Is it justifiable for the Parks to live atop their hill without consequence?”, “Is it right for them to enjoy a blissful existence, courtesy of money they’ve earned?”, “Does any human ever really earn the right to look down on others through virtue of the money they make?”, and “What kind of world do we live in where being poor means literally living beneath the feet of others?”. If you sleep through monsoon storms without concern, if you keep the AC on full blast then wear a jacket around your home, if you throw out food because you bought too much, then this movie may make you feel some kind of way.
As we move into 2020 and take a quick glance at statistics regarding wealth disparity in the world, it’s clear that the ethics of wealth need to be reassessed with new standards placed on the wealthy regarding how much they contribute to fixing the major concern that is global warming. The world’s richest 1% have more than twice as much wealth as 6.9 billion people (source). That 1% never has to fear a home flooded in sewage water or a shortage of food due to drought. This simply isn’t fair and more and more movies are starting to reflect this sentiment.
Parasite, Sorry To Bother You, Us, Joker, Knives Out, even Alita: Battle Angel are all recent movies that explore class disparities with a clear overarching message: this system isn’t working. Parasite is exceptional for its rhythmic cinematography, uncanny toning of morbid hilarity, and the strong symbolism that runs from starting frame to end shot. And while there are no clear heroes or villains, we can draw one conclusion: until the world is set right and anyone can climb the ladder on merit alone, we will not stop rooting for the Kims of the world.