While watching Parasite, Boon Jong-Ho’s critically-acclaimed, Oscar-nominated treatise on class and really nice architecture, I found myself remembering something that I hadn’t thought about in a long time: when Mhairi Black, the youngest elected serving member of the House of Commons, made her first speech in front of Parliament in 2015, she remarked on a previous comment from a Conservative chancellor rejecting improvements to the benefits system – he had asked why, when the sun was shining, would we bother to repair the roof, to which Black responded, succinctly: “I would have to ask on who is the sun shining.”
And I can’t think of any better way to sum up the central thesis of Parasite. Following the struggling Kim family, who face the creeping dread of poverty and unemployment, as they connive their way into the home and payroll of the obscenely rich and slightly odd Park family, the very literal impact of sun and rain on those with differing social standings is an important representation of the story Joon-Ho is trying to tell.
But it’s far more than just a treatise on class – there’s a reason that everyone has been losing their minds over this movie, and it’s not just because the proletariat is finally on the brink of an uprising. Joon-Ho is an unarguable modern master of cinema, so fluent in the language that makes up this medium that watching his films is a pleasure no matter what he makes them about: his direction is handsome but unintrusive, his script wry and witty and twisted, his character work impeccable and careful. The film is only a couple of hours long, but somehow the giant ensemble all feel like they get a solidly satisfying amount of screentime.
The most compelling thing about this fabulous movie, though, is the way it investigates the parasocial relationships that exist across class like this. Sure, the Parasites of the title make sense as the Kim family, infiltrating and unsettling the home of their wealthier counterparts – but it’s really the Park family, utterly useless and reliant on the labour provided by the people they pay to do everything for them – to wash their clothes, cook their food, fix their fucked-up children. These people feed off one another, and watching a talented filmmaker like Joon-Ho tap into such rich subject matter is a total gift of a storyline.
But the best thing about this film, for me, is the way it transcends culture. The fact that it fits so beautifully in with the point of a speech made five years ago in Scotland by a woman addressing totally different circumstances just speaks so powerfully to the universality of the issues that it’s addressing here – the violence of the class system, the seemingly deliberate ignorance of the people which actual power to change things in the face of the suffering around them, the way that people at opposite ends of the social spectrum are so often thrust together with hideous results. Beautifully crafted and endlessly relevant, Parasite is one of the most impressive cinematic achievements of this new decade so far – and it’s going to take a lot to topple it from that podium.
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(header image via Hollywood Reporter)