By Samuel Still, Assistant News Editor–
*May contain spoilers*
Upon its release, Parasite (2019) received nearly universal acclaim. Most reviews commented on the quality of the film’s writing, directing, acting and/or production, which are all masterfully done, but what else these reviews noted was the film’s central theme of class struggle. This theme and the way the film explores it is what, to me, cements it as both an analysis of the state of the world as it was and a brutal portend of what the world was to become.
Parasite follows the story of the Kims, a poor, barely working-class family that struggles to keep their heads above water in South Korea as they become increasingly entangled with the exceptionally wealthy Parks, who spend most of their time spending their wealth and never thinking of the world outside of their upper-class bubble. The lives of the Kims and the Parks stand in stark contrast to one another. For the Kims money is a luxury they deeply desire, and for the Parks money is a non-issue they have never worried about before.
The Kims and the Parks come together in the film’s beginning hour when the Kim’s son, Ki-woo, is hired to tutor the Park’s daughter. Witnessing the Park’s extravagant wealth in-person, Ki-woo realizes that the Parks are a means to satisfy his desire to attain wealth and success for himself and his family. Ki-woo then hatches a scheme with his family to install themselves as the Park’s employees. Ki-woo convinces the ditzy, vapid mother of the Park family to hire his sister to be an art tutor for the Park’s son and together they use their positions to install their father and mother as the Park’s new driver and housekeeper, respectively. In their new positions they revel in the money they make off of the Parks, who are too oblivious to notice the Kims’ scheme, and they finally feel they are a part of the rags-to-riches capitalist dream. They soon learn however that their ascension is only a fleeting moment in time that they were never going to be able to maintain.
Two events throw the Kims’ ingenious plan off-course: the return of the Park family’s former housekeeper, which puts the Kims’ plot at risk of being exposed, and a raging storm, which floods low level areas such as where the Kims’ semi-basement apartment is located. The return of the housekeeper leads to a struggle between herself and the Kims as both parties fight to maintain the minimal, but valued statuses they achieved, and meanwhile the flooding caused by the storm leaves the Kims without their belongings and their home. For the Parks who return to their home after their plans fall through due to the storm, nothing out of the ordinary is happening. They do not notice the struggle between the Kims and the housekeeper and for them the storm is “such a blessing” as it brings clear skies and fresh air. They are blind to the suffering of the lower-class and for them the greatest disasters could, at best, only be a temporary setback.
This blindness reminds me of the current struggle we see going on in our own societies because of the pandemic and climate change. The pandemic has caused people to lose their jobs and puts them at risk of evictions, homelessness and supply shortages. Working-class people have to fight to make ends meet just as the Kims do in Parasite. Meanwhile the affluent remain relatively unaffected. They can quarantine in their vast estates with relative ease or, as we saw with those who fled New York City as virus cases skyrocketed, they can go to their second homes on the lakes, in the mountains, or other rural areas. This is a luxury that the poor simply cannot afford. Additionally, with the increasing threat of natural disasters related to climate change, the rich can lose more without fearing the results of their loss. A home burning down in the West Coast wildfires does not mean much to the rich who can simply rebuild or buy a new residence. A house and all its belongings being swept away and/or destroyed by hurricanes in the Gulf Coast region is less of a nightmare for someone who can afford to start over. For the poor, rebuilding is not always an option. When wealth is hard to come by, every disaster, whether interpersonal or natural, leaves those with less at a greater risk of destruction than those with more.
The struggle between the Kims and the Parks is presented as a representation of what we the audience know is happening in the world – that those on the top do not face the same repercussions from capitalist-related struggles that those on the bottom do. Parasite, more than any other film I have seen in recent years, understands that class is a global struggle, and the solution to these issues is not by fighting against each other as the Kims and the former housekeeper do, but by coming together and fighting for a more just and equitable world.