My fellow attendees walked out of the cinema with grins on their faces — “a superb black comedy!” “uplifting!” “they were resilient!” — while I left in a fug of depression, convinced both families were locked into their respective prisons (one gilded, one grimy) doomed to fight their private battles in the tight limitations of capitalism. It seems Bong had ambitions of provoking both responses, a serious commentary and a work of farce. Clearly he has succeeded. But, as you may also feel about the cultural appropriation of native American tropes near the end, I have reservations.
PARASITE’s key shortcoming is its failure to properly engage with the poor family’s poverty. They are so hard up as to have had all their phones disconnected, and so beaten down by their situation that they lie around their semi-basement in a stupor. Then, when the plot-driving opportunity to tutor a rich student presents itself, they suddenly have access to a hair and wardrobe department — actually, the daughter’s locks are fabulous from the first scene — and the iron confidence of high-stakes scammers. At that benighted level of society, tasks like getting a new phone contract take on Herculean impossibility, let alone showing up at a prospective employer’s workplace with a suit, a tie, and a memorised script to convince the rich man you belong in the support structure of his world.
I never believed their situation was as desperate as it looked because they were able to extract themselves from it so easily. When they do literally lose everything, they are back on their feet within hours. It’s too convenient.
Pity, because so much about this film is compelling. I could almost feel the impersonal chill of that art gallery of a home, the expensive fabric draped around the rich mother’s shoulders — who, incidentally, is the most complete and consistent character, also in a stupor when introduced. The schemes to establish the illusion are superbly executed. A scene in which a character smokes a cigarette on a toilet achieves a rare and ugly beauty. The film’s final lines beautifully express the fantasy of overcoming poverty while also addressing how much easier it ought to be.
I just wish it had tried harder to examine the reality of life in the underclass, especially as it tosses the rich family to the curb in its final act. Which suggests Bong, himself a rich man, is on the side of the poor, disinterested in telling the full story of what our society does to the wealthy, desperate to present how it keeps so many people down, but not sufficiently motivated to tackle the paralysing breadth of their predicament.
Originally posted as a ★★★½ review of Parasite on Letterboxd https://boxd.it/XfYz7